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!


  1. Life is precious and when we reach home safely its then that we worry about other things that can be bought or we can do without! Thank you God for coming in different forms and helping!

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