All posts written about places in Africa and all posts related to Africa will be published under this category. This may include the author’s experiences as a Volunteer.

Just another night at the Jemma El Fna

On reaching the intersection we quicken our steps. We cross the busy road which brings us to a long walkway. The smell of horse dung stands out distinct from the other other different smells that pounds at our olfactory senses. A sea of people walk in multiple directions, oblivious to one and other. Merchants accost us, pushing their wares in front of us.
The end of the walkway opens into an large open square. We stop abruptly, unsure on how to continue,a little intimidated by what lies ahead. Behind us in a mosque an Imam calls the faithful to prayers. Above us the light fades as the sun slowly dips lower and lower. In front of us the snake charmers pack their wares, picking up their snakes and packing them into baskets woven of palm leaves. An entertainer locks a cage with a monkey inside; the monkey submissive of his fate.
Musicians walk across the square, each group laying claim to prime real estate before anybody else. They settle down, unpack their instruments and arrange chairs in a circle around them and call out to people. Somewhere in the square the drums sound out rhythmically. Closer to us a storyteller refuses to continue until people drop money into his upturned hat.A few oblige, most preferring to to stand by watching, waiting for someone else to partake of their money. The faint sounds of cymbals and an unknown( to me) wind instrument starts off slowly and in a few minutes reach a crescendo. At the same time the distant reverberating drums refuse to be muted. They work together to add to the sounds of the night. Each maintaining their unique sound without drowning out the other.
Lights come up in the far corner of the square reserved for the food stalls. Rows of competing food stalls pop up under pitched white tents selling the same dishes. The sounds of hot oil bubbling every now and then joins the cacophony of the vendors and the customers. Trapped smoke pries free of the canopy to escape between the gaps of the tents. It rises high into the air and melts into the night that has engulfed the evening.

The seven of us, aliens to this kind of energy gape with open mouths trying to digest the fact that this was after all just another night at the Jemma El Fna.

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A culinary experiment

[This article was originally published in We are Holidays].

” It’s usually round” I tell Taeko as a way of an apology.

” Ohh! Its like the map of Australia” She squeals looking at the chappathi that I had rolled out.

We are standing in Taeko’s small kitchen. I am teaching Taeko how to prepare an Indian dinner of Chappathi and chicken curry. We are lacking a few basic ingredients like the atta to begin with.

” But is it not important?” Taeko had asked when I mentioned it to her before that start of our experiment.

” That’s alright” I reassured her.  “We can use a substitute like flour”. I  had spied a half empty packet of flour sitting on her kitchen shelf.


You can read the entire article here.

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Bounty in dearth

[Originally published in Media Voice, April issue]


Original Publication

I have always considered myself to be a strong,fiercely independent woman;confident that I could take on whatever the world had in store for me. Yet,one warm October afternoon I sat on a bed somewhere in a village in Coastal Kenya doubting everything I thought myself to be.
At my feet on the dirty ground was a jug of water my host had offered me. It was brown in color. While I sat reeling from the shock a cockroach boldly emerged to inspect my backpack. I fell back on the bed and looked up. I saw the clear blue sky through a hole in the roof.I let the tears roll. Dear Lord, this time I have bitten off more than I can chew.

The first few days at Bamburi were the hardest. I barely drank water. Dehydration seemed an easier way out when compared to the toilet I would have to use.I even frequented a nearby cafe, drank  very expensive tea just to use the bathroom.
Water was a major problem, not just  for me but for Bamburi. But only I seemed to be affected by it. On a good day the water was brown, on a bad day there was no water. What was worse was that in my compound there was only one tap shared by seven families.
Another problem was the ever prevalent threat of mosquitoes ;dengue by day, malaria by night. At the slightest buzz I would apply a thick layer of mosquito repellent.
In a nutshell there was a general lack of sanitation. More than once I felt like leaving it all behind and going home. I felt like the hypocrite I truly was.

Then on my third day while I was helping my neighbor and her daughter bake bread we started talking beyond the usual pleasantries. We sat kneading the dough sharing stories of family, culture, parents, men, India, Africa and baking. We had similar stories made dissimilar  only by a geographical location and time zone. While the bread baked I became one of the family  and Bamburi was never the same again. They opened their doors and their hearts to me, a total stranger.

Shortly after my first week in Bamburi Taeko came into my life and my view of life was realigned forever.We bonded over red wine mixed with mango juice and stiff chappathis  made from self-raising flour. She was unlike any other person I had met before. She had signed on for two years at Bamburi working with the special needs children at the school. She was one of those people who are contiguously passionate about making an actual difference to almost everybody’s life. Together we worked on promoting the handmade bead necklaces made by the children.

But my most proud achievement was teaching a bunch of children to count till ninety-nine. I never got till hundred. The excitement on their faces as they progressed up the number chart made everything worthwhile. They waited with bated breath and excited eyes while I read them stories. I was their hero. They fought to hold my hand. They longed for me to talk to them.
Suddenly the color of the water did not matter, the mosquitoes did not seem threatening.

When I look back at my time in Bamburi I wonder at how much I really knew myself; of my ability to endure, respond, connect,give.
I went to  volunteer teach, when in truth I learnt more than I could have ever possibly taught. I learnt that I can survive without clean water, I learnt that I can give unconditionally and not expect anything in return; I learnt I can trust in abandon; I learnt there was a lot about myself I am yet to learn. I surprised myself!

For all those joyous smiles, quiet conversations, lasting friendships and painfully tight hugs I would do it all over again; in a heartbeat.

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The Rift Valley Railways

When it comes  to traveling from Nairobi to Mombasa one has options. There are comfortable luxury buses, expensive of course. There are less comfortable, less expensive buses which traverse the same distance as the luxury ones and the good news is that they take the same time.

You could fly of course. Saves time. Let’s not discuss the economics of that.  Then there is the Rift Valley Railways. It takes twice as much time as the buses,twice as expensive and twice as fun!

I had barely been in the African continent for a day when I boarded the train at Nairobi. I was so excited that it drove me to the point of confusion.  Now,  I have traveled extensively by train in India and so there was no rhyme or reason to my excitement.

I had booked into a second class compartment and was  fortunate to find that Roda from Mombasa would be the only other occupant of my 4 sleeper room.

It was dark when the train pulled out of the Nairobi station and it as it chugged its way through the country it got darker and darker. I looked out of the window into the night. The air smelled crisp. Thanks to my imagination ( being  the hyper one that it is), I could see the occasional acacia tree that is characteristic of African landscape. Through the darkness I could see the brown of the dry parched land. This is Africa I told myself and boy! was I glad to be here.

At a respectable hour most people had retired into their rooms and lights had been dimmed. I still stood by the window gazing in to Africa beyond the darkness. The only light I could see was the red of the American’s burning cigarette butt at a window in a compartment ahead of mine.

Falling  asleep was interesting. For starters the train was on vibration mode. You can’t wash your face without splashing water all over your self. (You would be lucky if a little water landed on your face). A close second was the thunderous lullaby of the train. At one point I fell asleep only to be awakened by the jerk of the train braking.

I jumped out of bed and ran to the window to see if we had stopped for a passing  elephant or maybe even a lion. This is Africa , animals have the right of way, correct? I strained my neck out in to the darkness trying to will an elephant or a lion or at least a deer to pass by.

The patrolling security guard in my compartment rather amused at my antics demanded what I was up to. I did not appreciate his sardonic grin when he told me that we had stopped for passengers to de -train and there were no animals ‘railway crossing‘ at this time of the time. ‘Sleep time‘, he said.

With that I continued my sleep time. While I slept, I dreamed of the occasional acacia tree in the dry parched land; of elephants moving in herds and of lions lying in wait for deers. This is Africa and boy! was I glad to be here.

So you can imagine my surprise when I woke up in the morning and looked out of the window to find trees with green leaves all around and around those trees with green leaves goats were grazing on the green grass that grew in abundance.

O Lord Almighty! While I was sleeping someone re painted the African landscape!

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Destination: Fort Jesus, Mombasa, Kenya

[ I have enrolled in a 12 (read more than 12) weeks travel writing course with the Matador University. As a part of our course work we write articles and publish them in our blog. This photo essay  is part of the eleventh assignment. The objective of this essay is to tell a story/present information using photographs.]

The tagline for Kenya’s tourism department reads “Welcome to Magical Kenya”. A walk around the old coastal town of Mombasa will stand testimony to this tag line!

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