Tuesday, 24 November 2015

A Harrowing, Horrifying Experience

Last Saturday was a day that is eagerly awaited by us every year. The third Saturday of November is when the Mistletoe Market is held at school and we all look forward to it every year. (For those who want to know more about what Mistletoe Market is all about, read one of my oldest posts with that title. I tried but I'm unable to link it directly here!). My husband joined us after office and we spent more time than usual there as we had bought tickets for the School Play and it was scheduled at 4:00 pm the same evening. My daughter has put together a troupe of high school girls of Indian origin for a Bollywood dance and they have been selected for the school's talent show, to be held this week. So she and the other girls practised while we watched the play.
The rain began around half an hour before the play ended. It drummed hard on the auditorium roof, at times drowning out the voices of the actors. By the time we streamed out of the hall, it had been raining really heavily and my husband, like many other parents, had to make a dash through the rain, when it let up slightly, to get the car inside the school gate. Due to Mistletoe Market held earlier in the day, all cars had to be parked outside. I had brought the children to school in a taxi earlier that morning so we could all go home together in his car that night.
We started driving home slowly through pouring rain in really low visibility. We avoided our usual route through a slightly lonelier inner road since it was rather late (it was almost 8:00 pm) and chose instead to take a road that would be busier at that time of the night. There was a squat, box shaped car just ahead of us and the driver was driving very cautiously and also blocking our view of the road ahead. My husband was joking that this was definitely a woman driver! (Most men I know firmly believe most women don't drive well, but that is a topic for a separate post altogether!) Suddenly at a newly installed roundabout, the driver veered sharply to the right and turned abruptly away from the road we were on. We wondered for a second why and then continued for a minute further down the road we were on, realizing then that it was water logged! The cars further ahead had moved on and just as we were navigating our way through the water, it suddenly became deeper and deeper as it was rising steadily! The car stalled and the engine died out.
In the sudden silence my husband yelled at me to call AAK ( Automobile Association Of Kenya) whose membership we have paid a fortune to take for just such an eventuality, of our car/s stalling in the middle of nowhere, specially at night, in Nairobi. I could barely see the numbers posted in the car through my panic stricken eyes and even as I was fumbling with his phone, our son shouted that water had begun seeping into the car! Once again my husband yelled ( he never yells and is always the epitome of calm ) for us to get out of the car NOW. He knew water could spoil the electronic door/ window system, jamming them, and effectively trapping us in the car. We all simultaneously opened our doors and jumped out, he grabbing the umbrella he keeps on his side.Mine was in the back in my shopping bag but he did not let me stop to retrieve it. He drives a Toyota Harrier Lexus 350, so it's not a small car that would have stalled in a bit of water! Ever jumped into a roiling river directly from your car? Well, I hope you never do!
Sloshing through muddy water that was more than knee deep for us and above my son's thighs already, we crossed to the side of the road, abandoning our car in the water that was still rising. We thought of going towards Westgate Mall which was directly ahead of us. But local Kenyans who were on foot and had been caught in the sudden flash flood and were waiting on slightly higher ground with water raging all around them, shouted to us and we asuumed they were warning us not to go in that direction, as there was an open water draining canal there that we could have fallen into. Electricity wires hung periliously low overhead and my biggest fear at that point was any of them coming into contact with the water, leading to instant electrocution. So we turned around, crossed the road and moved to higher ground which happened to be pieces of dug up road! But not before I had tripped on what I suspect was a huge rock and fallen full face into the water as the ground was very uneven and we could not see where we were going at all. Which once again brings me to the importance of pledging your eyes for donation! It was awful not to be able to SEE where we were putting each foot! Imagine living like that all your life... I must have swallowed a pint of dirty water and I will know soon enough if I have contracted some water borne disease!
As we began scrambling our way over the stones, now walking away from Westgate, it continued raining but the water did not seem to be rising any further. A number of vehicles had lined up at the edge of the water and now they were making U turns to avoid the road after seeing our stranded car. Just then, my husband spotted a tow truck right at the water's edge. Now if this isn't Divine intervention, I do not know what it could be. We had never got through to Automobile Association, repeatedly getting the message that all their agents were busy. We knew that by morning we would find only the skeleton of our car, as once the rain stopped, the notorious car thieves of Nairobi would materialize out of nowhere and strip it systematically to its very bones. Even the act of walking to a safer, drier place was fraught with danger. Though I rarely harp on this in my posts, it is a well known fact that you cannot be Indian and walk safely on most of the streets of Nairobi, even in the day time. Strolling around at night is totally out of question!
So when my husband saw the God sent tow truck, he shouted for us to keep moving ahead and he plunged into the shallower water again to approach the truck, falling into a water filled channel in the process. Remember visibilty was very low and the whole road was under water though the deepest part was where we had been stranded.My daughter screamed that she refused to abandon her Dad and began giving chase across those wet and slippery stones even as my son cried out for his sister to come back! I, too, turned back and told her the children's safety was our priority and to come right back and start walking with me. By this time he had waded through the water, reached the tow truck driver and made him agree to pull out our car. We saw him getting into the tow truck and only then did my daughter consent to walk with us towards safety. Not for nothing is she a Daddy's girl!
Now for the next few minutes we were sitting ducks for an infamous Nairobi mugging. I had my purse with my expensive phone in it, more cash than I would usually have had, the ATM card as I had withdrawn money on the way to  school to shop at Mistletoe Market and hadn't gone home since and my daughter had her exhorbitantly priced lap top (it had the music for the dance they are doing) and her pricey phone.I finally reached the end of the road, kids in tow and we crossed over the remaining water via a convenient plank some one had put there. It would have taken us two minutes to drive across the now flooded road on a normal day and then we crossed a dry, higher road to knock on the closed gates of a serviced appartments complex that is there. Westgate, of the terribly tragic Mall attack fame was diagonally behind us and in full view. Paris, the city of the most recent terror attacks was on our minds as we had just watched the first week rememberance of the attacks on television. But for that day, as we entered the security guards' tiny booth, we were safe. The guards were kindness itself, standing outside with their umbrellas in the pouring rain so we could occupy their booth as we waited. They refused to come in and wait inside with us, just so we could have more space and I tipped them generously with a sopping wet currency note when we finally left! I will always be very grateful to them though I did not even ask them their names...
My husband's phone had become water logged so he could not hear a thing as I called him to tell him where we were. Instant messaging and Whats Aap saved the day, and kept me updated about his whereabouts, as even getting into an unknown tow truck is risky in Nairobi but he had had no choice. The car was out he said and we should go home. I called our trusted cab driver  and he sent a reliable person who was in the area within ten minutes! You cannot get into any random cab in Nairobi. Soon our car came to the head of the road, tied to the tow truck, and we  watched it being towed away and then we were on the way home ourselves.
By the time the three of us had showered and were warm and dry, my husband reached home, having had further adventures along the way, by way of the tow truck stalling due to going into such deep water, then running out of petrol and finally breaking down outside our compound gate! The car had to be pushed into our parking slot by our security guards.
Sunday was spent in drying all that was wet. My purse and everything in it, my son's sack with his market shopping in it and my daughter's bag, her Macbook Air and phone and my husband's wallet, belt and phone. Sadly the Mac, which seemed to have survived on Saturday night, did not start on Sunday morning and has now gone for repairs. My husband's car's engine got water logged and has been hauled away to the garage. I have a gnash on my leg as does my husband on his palm, so tetanus shots had to be taken but by and large we survived unscathed, considering how much more could have gone wrong during that nightmarish hour!
The brands that DID survive what could have been their watery grave are : Samsung phones: both the S4 and the S5, the Lenovo phone, Metro Shoes ( my sandals look better than new!) Titan watches: I was wearing the oldest watch I own, a gift given almost twenty one years ago from my then to be husband and it took a good dunking that night when I fell and Nike: the shoes that  both my husband and son were wearing!
Now for the strangest part, other than the tow truck sent by divine intervention, which gives me the goose bumps. That morning, while browsing through books in one of the stalls at Mistletoe Market, I had come across a copy of the Bhagvad Geeta, our holy book, in English. Since my copy is at home in India, I bought it immediately, thinking I could read out one verse every day to my son. The Geeta, along with the rest of my market shopping was in a bag right at the back of the car. My husband did not allow me to retrieve the two bags from the car boot as water was rising rapidly around us when we got out. No water reached that area of the car! And mind you, unlike in our sedan at home in India, it is not a different part of the car, just an extension behind the rear seats which can be accessed from both sides. So logically, when water seeped in from under our doors, it should have seeped in through the back too or at least traversed there from the front. But when our security guards got those two bags up, they were bone dry, unlike the things scattered in other parts of the car...And yes, for the skeptical among us, the slope of the road there is such that the rear of the car was slightly lower than the front of it.
Now tell me if this was a mere coincidence? (Replace this with the Holy book of your religion, if you are not a Hindu.) But do tell.

                                                              Our submerged car.
                       The road became a river beacuse I found out later this is a Riparian area
                                    We blindly sloshed through this! Who says there is no God?

(Picture credits my husband, who actually had the presence of mind to take these photos, in case they were needed for insurance purposes!) Well, they are serving my blog purposes just fine!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Paris- Gay No More

Last night as we slept snug in bed,
In Paris there rolled many a head.
Once again, the innocents are dead...
Blasts, not cheers, greeted the goal in football,
Bullets, not applause, ripped through the concert hall.
There were bombs and gun fire,
There is angst, there is ire.

Once again, a city came under siege,
Again, a country was brought down to its knees.
The blood drenched sites have bouquets blooming,
The agonising areas have candles burning,
The television visuals have left many a stomach churning.
The French Flag at half mast is unfurling.
L'Arc De Triomphe is bowed down in sorrow,
For many in Paris there is no tomorrow.

Mickey and Minnie in France's Disneyland squeal no more,
There is an unheard of lock on Cinderella's castle door...
No children can enter for Snow White to greet,
No tourists can under Tour D' Eiffel meet...
But humanity, as usual, stands strong and tall,
As all emergency personnel urgently respond to the call.
Family, leave, sleep, forgetting all,
They report for duties, big and small.

The common man has joined ' Ouvre La Porte',
Paris has shown her people are her forte.
People have thrown open their doors,
There are strangers sleeping on their floors.
The Mumbai and the Nairobi attacks come to mind,
Where people helped each other in cash or kind.
I long for those long gone days when my knowledge of Paris,
Came through the wonderful book 'Flowers for Mrs. Harris'.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Chocolate Chitter Chatter

I am being bombarded from all sides. It feels like there's no escape. If I open the newspaper from India, I almost drown in my own drool when I see those full page advertisements. Even when my husband turns on the television to watch the news from back home, there is no respite. The bottom corner of the screen is monopolized by the advertisement, teasing, tempting, tantalizing poor me! Honestly, the makers of these adverts need to be prosecuted and the photographers of these delicacies, that make you want to bite straight into the newspaper itself, should be locked up without even a trial! Diwali, the most important festival in India is here and India's leading brand is making a no holds barred attempt to woo the Indian consumer away from traditional, festive Indian sweets to brown, melt in your mouth bars of, what else, CHOCOLATE, of course!
Not that I need any wooing. I am a die hard fan of chocolate anyway. Give me a plain milk chocolate bar, fine make it a hazelnut bar, over any other sweet any day. I was chocolate deprived in my childhood and so now I lay the whole and sole blame for my chocolate cravings squarely on my mother! She had this weird idea that chocolate spoils teeth...( Honestly, where did she get this idea from? Maybe from Dr. Benjamin Spock, America's celebrity paediatrician-author?) I mean, what are dentists for then? She allowed my sister and me just one measly bar of chocolate each, on the first of every month. And then, nothing, not one tiny cube even, for the rest of the month! So you can imagine how much we looked forward to visitors who gifted chocolate, but sadly they were few and far in between... Most people stuck to giving us healthy, edible gifts! Call it a coincidence, but it is a fact that neither my sister nor me ever needed dental treatment throughout our childhood. So along with my own feelings of deprivation, our dentist must have felt severely deprived too!
On a more sobering note, we really were privileged to have even that one bar of chocolate. The Indian Army assigns one soldier as a helper to each officer. The helpers make sure the uniform is in ship shape, clean and polish those army boots and run errands to make the officer's (and his family's) life easier. Usually my sister and I went to buy our own chocolates but in a particular month we were busy studying for our exams and so my mother sent my father's helper to the shopping centre with money and instructions to buy two chocolate bars. Even as we waited in anticipation and could barely focus on our studies, he came back within ten minutes, empty handed! When asked by my mother why he hadn't bought them, his answer was 'Madam, each cost ten rupees,(less than one sixth of an American dollar today), they were too expensive, so I did not buy them.' We were humbled and speechless at the same time and I don't think I complained too vociferously about getting just one a month since that day.
When I got married, my husband was working for the Schwepps part of Cadbury's- Schwepps in Russia. So the Cadbury's distribution office was just one floor below his, plus he got an employee's discount whenever he bought anything. Even before I landed in Russia for the first time, he had bought every single variety they had on offer and had stocked up our fridge, turning it into a chocolate haven! Not hard to believe that I felt as if I had landed straight into chocolate heaven! And my age and metabolism in those days ensured I could pig out on the chocolates to my heart's content and never gain a kilo or bloat an extra inch. In those days, a newly liberalised India had only a couple of chocolate brands and you could count the variants on the fingers of one hand. So this sudden exposure to different varieties of chocolate, trying out world renowned brands and the freedom of starting my day with chocolate gave me a high like no other! While it did go to my head, I'm so glad it didn't go to my waist then!
Since I was brought up on the Indian Cadbury's chocolate with an occasional lesser known Amul chocolate thrown in, it remains my favourite brand to date. Nestle, with its mooing Swiss cow, launched its chocolates in India as late as when I was in high school! So, unlike my children, I don't feel naturally bonded to Nestle, the way I feel completely connected to Cadbury's. I adore people who gift us chocolates when we are in India for the holidays and we often joke that Cadbury's India sees a sudden dip in sales after we come back to Kenya because either we are buying chocolates for ourselves (we have a fantastic variety to choose from now) or someone is buying them for us! Our friendly neighbourhood grocer does see a drop in his earnings when we leave and has been known to actually say so...
The reason why I feel persecuted when I see these advertisements nowadays or when I go to the supermarket for grocery shopping and those chocolates seem to greet me around just every corner is that today, a bar of chocolate, when I have it, unlike the days of yore, goes straight to my ever hungry fat cells. Hard to believe? Listen to this story!
Last month my husband had gone on a business trip to Dar Es Salam, Tanzania. Our dear neighbours, way back from when we lived there, invited him for dinner and my friend sent a TIN of chocolates for me. Well, maybe she sent them for my kids, but I always assume all chocolates are mine alone. My daughter, who recently certified herself as a chocolate addict in her psychology class, would strongly disagree with my assumptions! Anyway I ate most of the chocolates from that tin, leaving only the ones filled with gooey orange, strawberry, raspberry syrup and the coconut ones which I cannot abide at all, for the others in the house. Then I messaged my friend to thank her for this lovely gift and confidently predicted that I would have gained half a kilo by the next day. Sure enough, the scales did show an increase of exactly 500 grams the next morning...
So now, sadly, I am back to the pattern that I was brought up with, much to my mother's delight! One and only one bar of chocolate when I go grocery shopping at the beginning of the month. And no going grocery shopping for things you don't really need that urgently, just so you can buy chocolate.It's not permitted! If people choose to gift me (us) chocolate in between, it doesn't count! Though my weighing scales will keep an accurate tally of it of course...

                                                          This magnet is on my fridge!

                                             If this was real, only those crumbs would be left!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Pocket Money Matters

Who doesn't like money in their pockets? Everyone loves the feel of crisp, fresh from the mint, currency notes and the cheerful jingle of a pocket full of coins! Yes, having change, (of coins), too, comes with its own particular pleasure....

To read more, do go to: www.parentous.com/2015/11/07/pocket-money-matters-for-children-anupama-sharma/

I've been selected to write for a parenting blog back home in India and my first article was published last week! If you haven't read it yet, please do so. Thanks to the more than a hundred people who did read it, sent me lovely feedback and to those who said they will start giving their kids pocket money now! A few of those who do give their kids pocket money already, did say they feel completely validated after reading this post... Tell me which side you are on!Pocket money matters

Helpful Houseguests Make Happy Hosts

No matter how much we protest, a time comes when our children go off by themselves to friends’ houses for short as well as long durations o...