Three chunks of jaggery,a whole coconut and a hungry elephant

Building a house in Mallikassery is an art and an experience in itself.It is a remote place where most of the hi- tech gadgets built to make life simpler

a) will not work due to frequent power shortages

b) will not reach due to the terrain and remoteness.

What we lack in construction technology we make up in elephants.

Meet Shreeram, our local crane. He was transported by a truck and unloaded half a kilometer away from the house site. The whole process of unloading him and walking him to the site took about an hour.

He seemed like a nice guy, rather shy. He sure did take a long time making turns.

Elephants have a reputation for being very fickle minded. One minute they are all slow and easy and the next they can be fiery and dangerous. In lieu of this Appa kept a safe distance and watched from afar.

Appa keeping his distance

Maria on the other hand was rather brave. She fed  him three chunks of jaggery and a coconut. Shreeram did not seem very excited about the jaggery and the coconut. He dutifully opened his mouth and received the jaggery from Maria’s hands while Appa looked on anxiously. The mahout placed the coconut under his legs , he casually stepped on it cracking it open and proceeded to eat the flesh.

Maria the brave

What he did get excited about was the palm leaves.Elephants love palm leaves. Luckily for Shreeram we had a palm tree that was to be felled.  While the leaves were being cut, Shreeram , tied by a thin rope to a tree stood without moving, only occasionally letting out a snort. The minute the first leaf touched the ground, he started flapping his ears and swaying from side to side.  However he did not touch the palm leaves at his feet till the mahout had tapped him on the trunk and shared a few words with him.

Shreeram with the palm leaves

Shreeram took 3 days to move 48 tree trunks.  He was tied by a thin rope to a tree around which Amma’s precious plants grew. Every morning Amma checked on her plants ; not one was them was trampled upon.

And all the while that shreeram was tied at our house site, Appa did not sleep a wink.

Confessions of a volunteer

I look at the  circled quote, ‘The more you move, the stronger you grow’.- Ha Jin. Below it I write ” I have moved and indeed I have grown; grown in courage, in endurance and in relationships’.

The flight attendant announces ” We will be dimming the cabin lights….. “

I fasten my seat belt over my blanket, adjust my pillow and drift off to sleep.

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Julius is smiling broadly; Dougy and Kevo as usual watching CSI Miami outside Mamma Kevo’s kitchen. I laugh when I see Ian and Bridget fighting over the paper crown; Taeko patiently sits beside Grace while she scatters the toys.

My quiet moment is broken by a ” We will be boarding Zone….

I close the lens and turn off my camera. I open my sisal bark basket bag to drop my camera in. I spy my travel journal. I dig it out of the junk that I have collected during my three weeks in Kenya. I open it to the last entry.

‘The more you move, the stronger you grow.’ – Ha Jin.

I look at it for a minute, three weeks in Kenya flash through my mind. I circle the quote, shut the book and drop it back in the bag and proceed for boarding.

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” Oh, you got the basket bag”.

“Yes I did”, I reply.

Kevo and I  are waiting for Nino and Yusuf . I am nervous, I am getting late for my bus.

“Relax”, Kevo soothes. “You will get there in time”.

And with Nino at the wheel I get to the Coast bus boarding on time.

” I will miss you so much Kevo”, I hug him goodbye. He says he will miss me too. I wave out to Nino and Yusuf and I board the bus.

Ten minutes later my bus leaves Mombasa en route to Nairobi.

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” The next time I will stay longer”.

“Yes you should”, answers Willy, while Mamma Kevo and Tina nods in unison.

“I will”.

Another round of hugs. My eyes fill up.

I walk outside. Kevo and Dougy are watching CSI Miami on the laptop.   I take out my camera and click a picture. Dougy looks at me, ” I will  miss you “.

” Me too ,Dougy, me too”.

Kevo walks me to Taeko’s place. At the door he smiles and says ‘goodnight, see you tomorrow’.

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” I will miss you so much”, I say between hugs.

“You are my best friend in all of Africa Taeko” .

” And you mine. Thanks for coming to St. Peter’s”.

I don’t believe it. It’s time to leave already.  I look at Taeko through teary eyes and realise that she is crying too.

I don’t have the heart to leave Taeko.

” I will come back in the night”.

***************

Today is my last day I tell the nursery kids. I don’t think they really understand.

Teacher Maggie asks ” Class what will you tell teacher Lisa?”

Karen starts ” Tiger Tiger burning bright…..” . Everybody joins in.

I laugh.

During lunch I walk over to Julius and tell him I am leaving. He smiles and asks when I am  coming back. ‘Soon’,  I tell him, ‘soon’. He smiles for me while I click his picture.

I walk over to Taeko’s class. She is sitting on the floor with Grace, with all the scattered toys around. I tell her I will drop in at her place in the evening.

‘Sawa , sawa’, she says.

***************

“Where did you go after school?”

“Oh, Nakumatt“, I answer. ” There has been no water at home for a week now. I really needed to use the bathroom”.

Taeko nods understandingly. ” You can take a bath here today, I have some water stored.”

I smile at her and say,” Not like I needed an invitation!”.

She smiles back.

***************

” Tiger tiger burning bright…
in the forest of the night
what immortal hand or eye
dare frame thy fearful symmetry”.

I sigh ,maybe I should have picked an easier poem.

I feel a lot better when its time for creativity. The paper crowns are a big hit. The kids are very excited about it. In her excitement Bridget tears her’s in half. I try sticking it with glue. I wonder how long that will last.

I switch my camera on and tell them all to smile. Just when I click Bridget pulls the crown from Ian’s head.

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” We have an integrated programme at St. Peter’s. The special needs children study alongside the normal children”, explains Madame Deche as she takes me around the school.

At the end of the short tour she asks,” When do you want to start?”

“Tomorrow!” I answer.

***************

I look excitedly out of the window. I see blue asbestos sheets. Kenya is close, so close now.

I pull my seat back to the upright position and try to contain my excitement as we touch down at Nairobi.

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 I write in my journal ,”The more you move, the stronger you grow”.- Ha Jin.

I close my eyes and make a promise to myself that I will keep a regular journal during my three weeks volunteering trip to Mombasa, Kenya.

After what seemed like a million years, the attendant announces that Kenya Airways is ready to board their flight KQ 320 to Nairobi.

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