Thursday, 29 September 2011

Maid In Kenya.

A little girl was once asked by her teacher what she wanted to be when she grew up.The little girl immediately replied that she wanted to be a maid!The teacher was shocked and wanted to know why she had this ambition.The girl answered that she had never seen her mother as happy as she looked every day when she opened the door for the maid!So she,too,wanted to make her mother that happy!
This happiness is true of women all over the world  if they employ daily help,no matter how educated or efficient they might be otherwise.And this joyous feeling becomes multiplied when you have a maid or a 'house girl' as they are called here in Kenya or anywhere in East Africa.
In Kenya,unlike in India,being a house girl is like any other full time job.They come in at 8 o clock sharp in the morning and leave around 5.30 in the evening which are regular office hours.They don their crisp checked uniforms,put a scarf around their head,roll up their sleeves and set to work to transform your house!Paying the minimum wage set by the government is compulsory,else you might be paid a surprise visit by the labour officer!The employer has to give them breakfast and lunch.Sundays are a paid holiday,they get a whole months paid leave once a year and if you call them on public holidays you have to pay them extra for that day!And of course you have to contribute to their social security fund which they get when they leave your employ!In fact,these women hire babysitters for their own children,while they wash and scrub,dust and rub,chop vegetables exquisitely,iron and even shop for you.To say nothing of rolling out the mountains of rotis without which any Indian meal is incomplete!They are as good as the London chars(Flowers for Mrs.Harris,anyone?) except that they work in just one house at a time.Scarlett O'Hara's Mamie often comes to mind as you watch them go placidly about their work.
Now imagine if you offered all these benefits to your poor overworked Laxmi Bai back home in India.She would smell something fishy and run away immidiately,if she didn't faint first!Not only that,she would warn the entire army of maids to keep away from your house painting you as a dubious character who wants to trap maids for nefarious activities!But all said and done,dealing as they have to with a drunken,abusive husband,a brood of children,the pressure to produce a male child,scrimping and scrounging to save to buy a tola of gold for a daughter's wedding and a witch in the guise of a mother in law,while working for a pittence,I feel our maid in India is truly a soni kudiya!(with apologies to Alisha Chinai!)

Saturday, 24 September 2011

It's a jam!

Anyone who has ever visited Nairobi in the last few years has surely experienced the one thing it offers without fail-a traffic jam!You might have been caught in one on your way home from the airport or on your way to the airport-at the risk of missing your flight,as my husband did once!
The line of cars and matatus(the mini buses which are the sole mode of public transport) stretches on the road as far as the eye can see merging into the far horizon as you stew in your car.You slowly inch your way forward through the never ending line,glancing at your watch every few minutes.But what is most astonishing is the silence!Apart from the smooth purring of your Toyota(yes,Africa is total Toyota country!)there is no other sound on the road as the car creeps forward.Where is the cacaphony of horns,the drivers shouting abuse at each other,people almost coming to blows due to road rage?We,from India cannot imagine a traffic jam without all these!But here the people patiently accept these jams as part of their daily life and just build their schedules taking into account the time wasted in the jam.Wow!
The biggest culprits responsible for these jams,I thought,were the huge roundabouts that you see in Nairobi.They occupy a large area and seem to be the epicenter of all jams!They appear to be a Kolonial legacy as I remember that Pune too had these huge roundabouts at all the major junctions,the most prominent one being the one at the Pune University circle!Then,as the city grew and our roads were widened,all of these were demolished and replaced by token dividers.Therein lies the solution,I feel,for the Nairobi jams too.Though the roundabouts have such beautiful flowers and shrubs that they almost make up for the discomfort of being caught in a jam!
It is worse when it rains!Nairobi old timers love to recount horror stories of the jams on rainy days when it takes seven hours for what would ordinarily be a forty minute journey!And if you are low on fuel,as a friend of ours was,during such a jam,only God can help you.Specially as chances are high that the petrol pump you manage to reach will be bone dry too!Why?The tanker coming to replenish the fuel is caught in the jam somewhere miles behind you!Thats a Nairobi jam in a nutshell for you!

Monday, 19 September 2011

A garden as British as British can be!

Last week end my son was invited to a school friend's birthday party.The area where his friend stays is near the United Nations building in Nairobi and has lots of embassies too.There were lovely bungalows all around and we located his and the security guard let us in at the gate.As we followed the trail of balloons to the rear of the house,we stepped into the back garden!And we were transported to a Kolonial era of over fifty,maybe even a hundred years ago....we felt as if we had stepped into a garden that Rudyard Kipling,Agatha Christie,Ruskin Bond and of course our beloved Enid blyton have described over the course of so many books.A garden tailor made for children of all ages where they could amuse themselves from morn to dusk and still be reluctant to come into the house!
There was an absolutely enchanting tree house that just seemed  made for children to clamber into and the way out of the house was over a precariously swaying wooden bridge that would surely thrill any child and make the supervising adult's heart race too!
There was a massive rubber tree which was at least three floors high and threw shade over a large part of the garden.The rest of the area was dappled with sunlight.So a child could choose to bask in the sun with a book in hand or snooze in the shade!
There was a pole in the centre of the garden on which an adventurous child could shin up and then slide down and a glassed in porch to take your high tea while watching the antics of the children.A rustic wooden see saw filled our hearts with delight!Once upon a time a pond existed too but it had been sanded over.I suppose too many frisky children had tumbled into it!Masses of lillies,bunches of peonies,clumps of maiden hair fern,rambler roses of varied hues,a large hibiscus bush with bright red hibiscus flowers,a sprawling lawn,other ancient trees that looked as if they had watched over generatons of children playing in that garden.....
That Nairobi garden belongs to another time,another era.An age when children did not need play stations,game boys,an X box...A time when mothers never heard the words 'Mom I am bored,what should I do?'No chance!Such a  magical garden took care of every need any child ever had!

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Masai Markets

You cannot be in Nairobi and not visit the Masai market!Unlike Tanzania where there is a whole village of ebony carvers,tinga tinga artists,bead makers and so on,the one in Nairobi is a roving one.They move from one shopping mall to another and have fixed days of the week for each mall!So if it's at Westgate on Tuesday,it's at the Village Supermarket on Friday,a musical one at that and its at the Yaya Centre on Sundays.
And it is a thing to behold!Whether you are shopping for souvenirs to take back home for family and friends or looking for little knick knacks to brighten up your house in Nairobi,this is the place to visit.Your budget could be just a dollar or it could be a thousand dollars you will find what you want at the right price right here!And bargain you must else where is the fun in shopping in a Masai market?!
The first thing that strikes a person entering the venue is the riot of colours!From the black and brown of the ebony statues to the bright reds and oranges of the Masai shukas(sheets/blankets)to the carved bowls of green malachite,the blues,pinks,yellows of the beads in beautiful necklaces to the glint of silver coloured bangles,the gleam of an Africa shaped brass pendant,the burnished gold of the giraffe shaped earrings,it is dazzling to say the least!
A variety of masks frown or glare or smile,as the case may be,on you and many are painted in enchanting colours.It is indeed a tempting array.A mask can be as small as your palm or it can cover half the wall in your living room,you can take your pick!Then there are the Kangas and the Kitenges,the traditional African cloths which are of pure cotton with block prints on them and proverbs printed on them too.Though these are to be worn on the body they double  up as unusual diwan covers too and really brighten up a room!
The Masai Market is a paradise for young girls who love jewellery as there is an amazing range available here.From the traditional Masai beaded designs to the more modern pieces as well,you will get what you are looking for!In fact the little boys feel a bit left out while shopping here unless you indulge them with a Masai spear and a good,old fashioned catapult!Then see them smile!
Intricately carved bowls and plates with animal designs,matching trays,water glasses with animal etchings,you truly feel you are in Africa!And if nothing else,at least buy a fabulously carved chess set before you leave.It will give you hours of brain excercise and,who knows,might be a family heirloom a hundred years down the line!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Its colder when it rains!

Another cold rainy morning in Nairobi!It becomes even cooler when it rains but the house remains snug and cozy.The house is huge and it makes me feel that our match box makers,sorry builders,from aapla Pune should learn some lessons from their counter parts in Kenya!All the houses that I have seen so far are really spacious.They are flats but give the feel of being in a bungalow.Could it be part of the Kolonial hangover?!After all the British had made Nairobi their East African headquarters for many years and some old Kolonial bungalows are still seen in and around Nairobi.
And the greenery!The children and I go into raptures just looking at the beautiful green trees,the myraid shades,shapes and colours of the flowers!Be it the humble bougainvillea or the stately lobster claw, the colours and the variety is mindboggling!I am sure no  top notch designer of textiles or cosmetics can match the shade of blood red bogainvillea we see here!The cactus plants grow so much that you can pick cactus flowers ,which again are beautiful beyond words,from the first floor balconey if not the second floor!
Just outside the house we can see a quaint banana grove,some beautiful Christmas trees and lots of tall flame of the forest trees.If it had'nt been for our daily routine we could have almost forgotten that we live here and are not holidaying in some hill resort!
What is this life,so full of care,if we have no time to stand and stare?We are doing a lot of standing and staring as we drink in the green sights of Nairobi.She really walks in beauty!!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Its been a month....

Yes,today its actually been a month since we left our dear hometown Pune to begin our adventures in the Kenyan kapital Nairobi and I thought its a good day to take stock.If there is one thing that stands out about Nairobi ,its the cold!It seeps into your bones,wracks your throat,creeps in under your blankets and makes you feel your age!Specially for us Punekars for whom a severe winter is the equivalent of a hot Russian summer.Africa and cold?Its the usual incredulous reaction but yes it is!
The children like children around the world have been able to adapt and adjust(the favourite Indian word specially when it comes to scounting for a good daughter in law!)since day one.They have taken to Nairobi like a parched throat takes in water.To look at them it seems as if they have been living here all their lives never mind the cold!
The location of their school is on the outskirts of the main city and it was once a coffee estate!Its beautiful,open,green and cold!!The drive to their school is even more lovely as it takes them through a wooded valley,thousands of flowers and some of the most beautiful bungalows and villas we have ever seen.I hope they remember this sight all their lives and if ever, God forbid, they are feeling down and low this scenic beauty should leap up before their eyes and, like Wordsworths daffodils, their hearts with pleasure fill!

How I got An Impromptu Valentine Lunch

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