Thursday, 26 April 2012

Feed A Giraffe....Or Pet An Elephant Calf!

When we came to have a look at Nairobi last May,we did not know whether we would be relocating here or not.I was not sure if we would find a school that would match our expectations and also be worth leaving Pune for and the other major factor was that my husband's work permit had not come through and there was no guarantee it would before the start of the new academic year in Nairobi!So,keeping in mind the fact that we might not get another opportunity,I had two places on my list of 'must-sees' which we simply had to visit!
One was the Giraffe Center and the other was the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage.We had been listening to people talk about the amazing experience they had had in the former throughout our stay in Tanzania!The latter was my widely read mother's discovery.She had been collecting articles about the elephant orphanage for years and so we were determined to visit it despite the fact that we paid the entrance fees charged to 'foreigners'which are huge compared to what we would have paid today as residents of East Africa!But that did not deter us for who knew if we would get such a chance again!
A typical,cold,cloudy,Nairobi morning found us speeding(well,as much as you can speed in peak hour Nairobi traffic!)in a taxi(we were tourists,then,remember?)towards the giraffe park.A quick stop to purchase tickets as soon as we reached and then we were set to do something unique!The Giraffe Center was set up in 1979 in a bid to save the endangered Rothschild Giraffe and has been hugely successful in doing the same.The best part of visiting the center is that you get a chance to personally feed a giraffe!I backed out at the last moment and was content to watch the children who very enthusiastically fed a number of giraffes.The giraffes,with their thick,leathery tongues couldn't wait to gobble up the treat offered and slobbered saliva all over the children's hands!They did not mind in the least but the guide must have seen my look of disgust because she was quick to inform me that giraffe saliva has antiseptic properties!Thank you but give me Dettol or Savlon any day!
Then we read a lot of information that was displayed about this elegant animal.My son solved the huge wooden giraffe body parts puzzle kept right there,we purchased a few souvenirs of this delightful place,I made the kids scrub their hands raw and we were set to visit the next place on our agenda!
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was founded in memory of David Sheldrick,the founder warden of one of Kenya's most famous National Parks-Tsavo East,by his wife Dr.Dame Daphne Sheldrick in 1977.Among their many commendable projects is the one in which orphaned baby elephants are reared by hand by a team of handlers till they are old enough to be released into the wild again.At 11:00 a.m every morning these babies are fed by hand from milk bottles in front of an adoring crowd and that is what we had come to watch!
The elephant calves trotted out behind their handlers and came and stood in the roped off area,at the stroke of the hour!The gigantic milk bottles were already in place!The mothers of most of these calves had been shot by poachers for ivory(yes,the tragedy of the African elephant is that even the female has tusks,unlike the Asian female elephants) and they had been too young to survive on their own in the wild.Luckily for them they had been rescued and brought to Sheldrick's orphanage before it was too late for them.It was a treat to watch these calves guzzling down the feed and nuzzling their handlers with their trunks.Sadly these calves would never know their mothers and were showing affection towards each handler in the same manner as they would have shown to their own mothers.Some of them were so young when found that they have no memories of their elephant mother.And that,knowing the phenomenal memory that an elephant has,is saying something!I wish people would realize that only elephants should wear ivory!
Once their hunger was appeased,the calves became frisky!They began overturning the buckets of water,they enjoyed squirting muddy water on themselves and began rolling in the little ponds built for this purpose!The tiniest ones had blankets to protect them from the cold and all of them came to the edge of the ring to be petted by adults and children alike!They were too sweet for words!
The Trust gives people all over the world a chance to adopt elephants,which means that you can choose to pay an amount towards the upkeep of a calf for a year and you will be regularly updated about it's progress.It is no easy task to feed an elephant whether calf or adult!

On the way out my son,who is as frisky as an elephant calf,almost had a head on collision with a wart hog!Yes,wart hogs run freely around the orphanage!It was really hilarious to see both him and the wart hog take off in opposite directions!I don't know who was more scared but I suspect it was the wart hog!A fitting end to a fulfilling day!It happens only in Africa!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Kontagious Kricket

They gave us the system of telegraphs.They gave us our first railway line.They gave us the postal system too.They gave the Penal Code and the Indian Military Academy.They gave us missionary schools.They gave us our first cricket bat and cork ball.Then they divided us and gave us independence but enslaved us to cricket for generations to come!
Cricket in India was an unknown entity before the advent of British rule in India.The closest we came to it was our game of Gilli Danda.The Gilli is a small oval shaped wooden structure.The Danda is a stick which is used to  flip the Gilli into the air and then hit it as far as possible,with the player running a certain distance while the Gilli is retrieved.This game has been played in India since ancient times.In fact,some scholars believe that the early Europeans who came to trade in India took back the idea of this game with them,which subsequently evolved into Cricket in England and Baseball in America!The Gilli was transformed into the ball and the Danda became the bat!Whatever the origins of cricket,the fact remains that while Gilli Danda is almost obscure in the India of today,it is indeed,cricket which rules the roost!The new twenty twenty format and the million dollar babies of the Indian Premier League(IPL) only appear to have fueled cricketing passions further!
It is also interesting to note that the top cricket playing nations of today are England herself and all the former British colonies-India,Pakistan,Bangladesh,Sri Lanka,Kenya,South Africa,Zimbabwe,West Indies,Australia and Canada.So for those of us who are not Kricket Krazy it is easy to know whom to blame!The game has spread as rapidly as a contagion and the best time to go for a drive in any city in India is when the final of any major cricket tournament is being played.The streets,the malls,the multiplexes are all empty with every Tom,Dick,Harry and their wives being glued to the television screen!The only downside of shopping during this time is that all the sales people in your favourite store will be clustered around the tiny television set at the reception!If you dare to ask for help you will be given the most disgusted look possible for daring to disturb them as they worship the new Gods -the cricket players!
When we moved to Nairobi and into our beautiful apartment,it was obvious after a glance at the landscaped grounds that the builder had to be a person of Indian origin and a cricket lover to boot!He had ensured that the wide strip of lush green lawn on one side of the parking area was big enough to double up as a cricket pitch!And sure enough a fellow resident of the complex was quick to inform me that all the children played cricket on week ends and from morn till night during vacations!
The nationality dominating our complex is Kenyan-with a twist!They are all of Indian or Pakistani origin with most of them being third or fourth generation Kenyans which means their grandfathers or great grandfathers had moved to Kenya from India or what is today Pakistan,during British rule here.Many of the children have never visited their country of origin,have no ties whatsoever there and naturally consider themselves Kenyan.
So I was astonished,to say the least,when my new acquaintance informed me that when people have guests from overseas and there are lots of kids and adults playing cricket,the teams are divided on the lines of India and Pakistan!
When Sir.Cyril Radcliffe who was the Chairman of the Border Commission,drew up the Radcliffe line in 1947,dividing India into two countries,(often dividing a house into two,with some rooms in one country and a few rooms in another!I am surprised they did not demand  that people standing on the border be sawn into two as well!),I do not for a moment think he realized that it's repercussions would,one day, be felt across the Indian Ocean in another former colony.That too by little children playing cricket,a game they had introduced in their colonies for their own amusement,children who had seen neither India nor Pakistan and probably never would!The binding link,cricket,is of British origin,the divisive link too has the same roots!It is a delicious irony.Or is it a pathetic one?

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Of Guns And ...Not Roses!

I am an avid reader.Let's say I am a compulsive reader.If I am alone at home having a meal and have run out of fresh things to read I study the label of the pickle bottle on the dining table.Else I read all the ingredients listed on the packet of chutney in the (vain) hope that I might make it some day!When the children are at home my role changes from that of a reader to a raconteur and I relive my childhood and then their babyhood for them in the form of various true stories as they tuck in into their food!
So when we learnt that we were expecting our first baby it was a chance for me to do what I love most-read!Though,as children,my sister and I had often dipped into my mother's huge collection on childcare (after we had read through everything else in the house for the tenth time),this was a chance for me to update my knowledge!Violence in the modern world had increased a hundred fold since we had been children and there was a lot of new material available on this topic.So I read  up on it and the general view seemed to be that while there should be no discrimination between a boy and a girl while buying toys (or even otherwise!),guns were to be strictly avoided!Guns,it was concluded,seemed to spawn a desire for violence in young children!So be it!
Hence my daughter had the usual teddy bears,dolls and their clothes,tea sets,tiny kitchen ware,a tent,a dolls house full of minute furniture,a cricket bat,a basket ball hoop and we also bought her a host of trucks-a digger,a dumper,a tractor,a road roller,cars,helicopters,airplanes,all of which she, being the sunny and cheerful child that she is,happily played with.
Then my son was born and he inherited huge collections of everything!Everything,that is,barring guns!Keeping in mind what I had read I followed the same philosophy(rather psychology!) for him.As he reached the kindergarten stage,on the very rare occasions that I served bread(yes I had read a lot on how harmful white bread can be,although that had been our staple breakfast for years and we are still alive and kicking!)I noticed that he often nibbled it into the shape of a gun and pretended to shoot!I ignored him as I felt that he would outgrow this soon.But when he began twisting and contorting my daughter's beautiful Barbie dolls' limbs into gun shapes I knew a little boy instinctively wants to play with a gun and I finally gave in on the condition that he should never,ever aim a toy gun at a person.He was smart enough to agree and still sticks faithfully to his promise!
Thus began our collection of  what I call 'weapons of mass destruction'!Plastic swords,daggers and bows and arrows soon followed,along with every kind of gun imaginable and all was right with our little boy's world.Then we moved to Kenya.
Kenya is a country which does not sell any kind of toy gun.Only water guns which look faker than fake are available here.I had not allowed him to carry any of his guns from India as I knew I would be questioned at the airport.So we hunted for toy guns in Kenya but to no avail.Not a single shop or mall stocked them.He was really sad and had to make do with brightly coloured plastic water guns which were an insult to his eight year old sensitivities!
When my husband went to South Africa last month he decided to buy a toy gun as that was our son's only demand!He found a very realistic metal toy gun which the Jo'burg authorities found so suspicious that they forced open the suitcase after it had been checked in to see!Once they were satisfied that it was not the real thing they allowed the suitcase to pass and later informed my husband that they had opened his luggage!
When he landed at Nairobi,the suitcase was not even loaded onto the conveyor belt!It was placed at one end.When he went and asked them what the issue was,they said it had a gun in it!Then the airport security came and asked him to open the bag.They said they were sorry but the gun had to be destroyed then and there as Kenya does not allow toy guns even in personal baggage!
In the meantime the kids and I were waiting in the arrivals lounge wondering about the delay,when my husband called and explained the situation.My son burst into tears and said that he did not care about the gun but just wanted his father back quickly!Wow!We have not failed as parents yet!Our son chose his Dad over something he had been waiting for for more than a fortnight!Considering how materialistic most kids are these days I was impressed,specially as he had been practically drooling over laying his hands on a gun after so many months!
The gun was destroyed at last and the pieces had to be chucked into a dustbin under the watchful eyes of the security!My husband walked out with just the metal nozzle which he handed to my son!I am hoping the child's ardor for guns has cooled a bit,as this is something none of us will forget in a hurry!Maybe we should try roses next time!Oops!Live flora cannot be checked in either!

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