Thursday, 27 September 2012

0 Degree Latitude-The Equator!

I can safely say that the Equator forms part and parcel of my earliest memories.In fact,I do not remember a time when I did not know of the Equator!All thanks to my mother who ensured that a huge map of the world covered one wall of the bedroom which I shared with my sister.No matter where the Indian army posted my father and how often,no matter that we were often in temporary housing,given the chronic shortage of houses for officers in those times,that map always adorned a wall.Hence I grew up with countries,their capitals and their locations,latitudes and longitudes,the poles,the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn,the Greenwich Meridian,the International Date Line and of course the Equator firmly embedded in my mind.
That map had a different spin off as well.All the countries were coloured in bright colours,different ones being used to show the various countries.So I still think of India as bright bubblegum pink,the former Soviet Union was a rich cream(yes,I grew up at a time when it was a unified whole!),the United States Of America were a Weikfield vegetarian custard yellow and Mongolia a deep green,to name a few.I wonder how many people of my generation remember such maps and those vivid colours!
Despite having spent six years in Tanzania and flying over the Equator numerous times(friendly airline pilots often announce this fact!),we had never visited it as it does not pass through that country.But when we moved to Kenya I knew it was too good a chance to miss and so when we had family and friends visiting from India last May I was ready with some well laid plans!
The designated day saw us setting off early,as the town called Nanyuki,where the Equator passes through,is a four hour drive from Nairobi.A packed lunch of Aalu(potato) Parathas traveled with us as I thought expecting vegetarian food at the Equator was pushing our luck too far!It was a glorious drive.Gently rolling green hills ran along the smooth highway and cattle grazed in the mild sunshine in the dales.We drove through many small villages as yet untouched by the ravages of modernization,barring the ubiquitous cell phone towers which were as common as zebras are in Africa.It was hard to believe that we were in the Equatorial belt,as the coniferous vegetation was akin to that of the Temperate Zone,all thanks to the high altitude that we were at!There were fields of 'Christmas' trees as far as the eye could see...If William Wordsworth saw daffodils,we saw pines,cedars,bamboos and the like stretched in a never ending line...
The four hours had long passed,Mount Kenya loomed majestically over us,but where was the Equator?Alright,we knew it was an imaginary line,we knew it was not as if it would be marked in white chalk,but could we really have been silly enough to have overshot it?A mild drizzle added to our anxiety and whenever we stopped to ask anyone where the Equator was,we got the standard Kenyan answer 'not far'.But the Indian concept of 'far' differs vastly from the rural Kenyan concept of the same word!What's far for us is near for them,given the long distances they walk to get from one point to another!
Finally,to our unmitigated relief,we reached Nanyuki,a town set up in 1907,by who else but the early Kolonialists.We were actually standing on the Equator,at an equal distance from both the Poles!We had thought that it would be unspeakably hot,the direct rays of the sun would beat down mercilessly on us(remember the Earth bulges at the Equator so we were closer to the Sun than we had ever been) but to our delight,thick white clouds scudded across the sky,it was cold and very windy!A few quick photographs later,it was time to see another phenomenon.
A self designated "professor",after settling on a price that was cheap by Nairobi standards,proceeded to show us something very unique.He put a jug of water down directly on the Equator and then put an ordinary match stick in it.Right before our very eyes the match aligned itself to the Equator,which means it remained in a straight line in an East -West direction.Then we all moved a few paces North(so now we were in the Northern Hemisphere!) where he repeated the same experiment.This time,the matchstick began moving in a clockwise direction!Then we crossed the Equator again and came a few feet into the Southern Hemisphere.Wow!Now when our 'prof''dropped the match in, it began swirling anticlockwise!
The same thing happened when he poured water from one jug into another in both the hemispheres!He helpfully told us that when you flush a toilet bowl in the Northern Hemisphere,the water swirls clockwise and vice-versa in the Southern Hemisphere!And to think we never noticed despite having lived for long in both the hemispheres!We determined then and there never to use a washroom located bang on the Equator!Remember what happened to the matchstick in that position?!
Then it was time for another exciting part of our trip.Shopping!There is a whole cluster of shops located right along the highway at the Equator.I have shopped at many places world wide but surely shopping at this particular location has a charm of it's own.We bought souvenirs for ourselves and gifts for friends and relatives.My son bought a lovely Masai shield for himself,my daughter stuck to buying her usual jewellery  and our guests shopped till they dropped too!And the icing on the cake was that compared to Nairobi,we got bargain prices and the shop owners were thrilled at the amount of business they got that day!I guess the direct rays of the sun have the effect of loosening purse strings!

The other day I overheard my son  learning the definition of the 'Equator' for a Social Studies test."It is an imaginary line that divides the Earth into two equal parts....."I smiled to myself and thought that it was not all that imaginary either!

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