Sunday, 22 May 2016

It's Over In A Heart Beat...And Then A Mother's Heart Bleeds...

Yesterday was a Saturday slightly different from our usual Saturdays. We had attended two functions in the school on Friday, one being the High School Award Ceremony where my daughter won four awards and the other was the School Band Concert where my son played the saxophone. So I was mulling over these two fantastic events, even as I was acutely aware that my daughter had less than a week of school left. It had been her last school award ceremony. Henceforth it would be college... My husband left for office and I was gearing up to face the day.
The phone rang. It was a dear friend of ours from Dar days, who recently relocated to India from Tanzania, along with her husband, who had spent a decade working there. Her daughter got married a fortnight ago and I congratulated her as soon as I picked up the phone, expressing sorrow for having missed the wedding due to my own daughter's Advanced Placement (board) exams. She knew for sure, then, that I had not heard the tragic news and she broke it gently to me.
Another very dear friend from our Dar Es Salaam days had lost her twenty seven year old son in a car crash in Chennai, India and her younger son had been injured too. After two days in a coma, he had passed away on Friday morning. It was early morning in Nairobi but I felt like I was in the middle of a horrible nightmare. Even as I expressed horror, shock and disbelief, even as the tears came coursing down my face, my mind went back to the good old Dar days, to the memories I have of her then-in-High School son, to the great times we all had together during our Dar tenure.
Her husband and mine headed different organizations that belonged to the same parent company in Tanzania. They were also walking partners so my daughter and I met him every morning even as she waited for the school bus, when he came to get my husband for their walk. His wife and I met only on social occasions or office events as I was immersed in my then new born son. But we bonded well and became great friends over the years. Her older son used to attend coaching classes in my building so I used to see him and his classmates every evening, while I pushed my son's pram in our compound. These kids would chat for a good many minutes, giggle, laugh, and I would often envy them their carefree life! School, studies, home to eat and sleep, no other responsibilities I would think..while I chased my own rambunctious son around the compound and kept an eye on my daughter playing near by.
But then he went into 12th Grade and thus began the college search. His was the first batch moving to India after 12th from the Indian School, as earlier, the school was only up to the 10th grade. In those days the inter net wasn't as well developed as it is today (think India and Tanzania exactly ten years ago) and my friend began sharing her anxieties about searching for colleges with me. Today, a large number of people informally consult me about schools, colleges, subjects, requirements for application and the like, because of the vast research I have done in the last four years for my own daughter. But it was this particular friend who had laid the seeds for that knowledge more than a decade ago. It was she who told me about the DASA ( Direct Admission Of Students From Abroad Scheme), about the NRI (Non Resident Indian) quota for students, about air conditioned hostels for international students, with private rooms and attached baths, with the mess serving multiple cuisines, about the need to set aside money ear marked for college fees only, as we NRIs pay through our noses for college, as compared to resident Indians. And then we watched as she faced her first year away from her son. It was not easy at all and this is one of the worst aspects of being expatriates in a continent where we have to send our kids so far away for college...
And that was why my friend has been on my mind very often for the last few months because a decade has flown by and now my daughter is also going back to college to India. Last month when my daughter got accepted into India's top private medical college I messaged the news to my friend. She has seen my daughter since you could count her age on the fingers of one hand! I also confided in her that we were hoping for a particular college closer to our home town Pune and we would know soon if she had got into that one as well. She said she had just come back from her chanting group and was full of positivity and she assured me my daughter would get into the college nearer home. She would pray for her, she said. (That is exactly what has happened). She then told me that she well remembered the anxiety that parents face during this period and she mentioned that her son was now well settled and working with her brother. The younger one she said, was preparing to take exams for admission to colleges in the United States. She said 'Have a look at my profile picture to see how my boys look now!' I admired the two young men and told her that she, of course, looked nothing like their Mom! And happy, bubbly, cheerful soul that she is, she truly doesn't ...She told me just three weeks ago that the anxiety for parents is different in each stage of their children's lives, even as she sent tons of blessings and best wishes for my daughter for the new stage coming up in her life. It never ends, she said...
Our last farewell lunch in Dar Es Salaam took place in my friend's house just before we left, over eight years ago. Her husband was very sad to see us go and so I promised him that we would attend the wedding of each first born child, no matter where in the world we were. (And we did attend the first wedding from our group in 2010). I said it would be just like old times when we would meet. No, he said, things are never the same again...How heartbreakingly right he was...and I, in my youth and naivity, could not have been more wrong.
For my dear friend and her husband and younger son, I have no words. Just prayers and prayers that they get the courage to face each difficult day. I will come and see you soon though, whenever you tell me I can...Please know that you are in my thoughts and my prayers.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Private Enemy Number 1

Yesterday my sister had tagged my daughter and me on Facebook in the poster you can partially see above. It says:'Tired of Being Harassed By Your Stupid Parents? Act Now! Move Out...Get A Job, Pay Your Own Bills!
It struck a cord immediately, as it will with anyone who has teenage kids. And if that teenager is about to turn eighteen, only heaven can help you! So I replied to my sister that in my daughter's book I was probably Public Enemy Number 1.(That was what America had named a certain individual after he master minded the 9/11 attacks). On further reflection I realized she probably considers me her Private Enemy Number 1 and so that's how the post below came about!

Private Enemy Number 1

We're blessed with a daughter
Who has a super G.P.A,
'She's so clever, so stunning, so kind.'
They all repeatedly say.

My daughter and I rarely clash,
But if I find her on snap chat,
I see my temper rise in a flash!
Publicly she says,'Mom doesn't want me to have some fun'
And she thinks,'She's my Private Enemy Number 1'.

'Why are you on Facebook I say?'
'When tomorrow is your exam day?'
'Instead of studying you are on Face time?'
'Mark my words, at this rate, you won't be able to earn a dime.'
Publicly she feels, 'Mom doesn't want me to have any fun'
And she thinks, 'She's my Private Enemy Number 1'.

Two minutes for the school bus to come
And she slathers foundation on her face,
Then pell-mell down the stairs she will race.
I screech,' Is it necessary to smear this muck?'
And she rues,' I'm with a NO-Make-Up-Mom stuck!'
Publicly she says, 'Mom doesn't want me to have fun,
In her mind? 'She's my Private Enemy Number 1!'

During Senior Trip, on the beach bikinis were the trend,
And she wanted to imitate many a friend.
I said,' Clothes of this kind?'
'Are you out of your mind?'
'We call them inners for a reason,'
'For Indian culture, this is nothing short of treason!'
So she was covered from top to mid thigh,
And with huge relief I did sigh...
Publicly she hissed,'Mom doesn't want me to have any fun'
In her mind she stewed, 'She's my Private Enemy Number 1.'

With her board exams over, she wants to shop for clothes on line,
I ask,' You think this is the right time?'
'You have enough clothes to fill a store,'
'Why ever would you want some more?'
And she growls,' Mom doesn't want me to have some fun,'
'Here's proof she's my Private Enemy Number 1!'

And then she shouts,'I'm almost eighteen, I'm now free,'
'Excusez-moi, I hope you know we are paying your college fee?'
'You're still accountable, we still expect a great report,'
'And we'll move heaven and earth to your dreams support.'
But in her mind the thought brews,'Mom NEVER wants me to have fun,'
'No one could have a worse Private Enemy Number 1.'

Then as we were booking our tickets to home and back,
Suddenly she changes her tack.
'If college doesn't start can I come back with you?'
And I think, 'Wow, this is something totally new!'
Till a few months ago she'd say,'I'll visit you in a year or may be two'.
And every time I'd end up feeling rather blue...
Finally in her mind she knows,'Mom wants for me only the very best'.
And I am content to let my case rest.
Finally she feels, 'Mom's NOT my Private Enemy Number 1',
'Her Dos and Don'ts today will ensure a future life of work and fun!'

Only God Performs Miracles (Aided, At Times, By WhatsApp)

Four days ago I got a call from my neighbour's sister who also happens to be my friendly neighbourhood go-to-anytime beauty parlour lady.( My salon person, for the ultra chic and the non Indians among my readers). Her house is five minutes away from ours. She shared a really heart wrenching story.
Her friend and neighbour had delivered a baby girl prematurely and after twelve days of battling for life in an incubator, the little angel had finally succumbed to death. Her parents' appeal said that along with a few cherished memories, their baby had left behind a huge hospital bill which amounted to around seventeen thousand American dollars or eleven and a half lakh Indian rupees. They were appealing to all and sundry to donate money which would help them to pay off the bill as the little one had no insurance cover and the parents are not well off enough to have that kind of money handy.
Since my friend is well aware of my penchant for helping by leaping into any and every situation that demands it, even one in which angels may fear to tread, (I inherited this characteristic from my Mom), she called me up to apprise me of the situation and asked me if I would know of any organizations which would be willing to donate some amount of money towards the hospital bill. She told me that the hospital had refused to release the baby's body for last rites until the entire bill had been cleared.
I told her I would share the message with the KenIndian School Mothers WhatsApp group I belong to as their families have been here for generations and they belong to various religious organizations, unlike us who are expatriates and know only a handful of people after almost five years in Nairobi.
And so I composed a suitable message and posted it on the group. It took up just a couple of minutes of my time. The response was not long in coming.
A friend of mine, and the mother of two children herself, said that as the family happened to be a Sikh one,( I had mentioned this in my message), she knew the very people who might be in a position to offer some aid. She urgently asked for the details, including the name of the family and the hospital the baby was in. A quick call to my friend ensured that she sent me the original WhatsApp appeal, posted by the parents, which had all the relevant details.I sent this onto my friend, who, in turn, sent it to her husband, who sent it to his friend, who sent it to his relative, who is the head of the Sikh religious temple (Gurudwara)  and had expressed an interest in helping this family. Phew!! To the parents' credit, no where did the appeal say that the tiny body was not being released for non payment. They certainly did not want to coerce people to help by sending them on a guilt trip. Nor were they inclined to bad mouth the hospital, where medical personnel had battled for twelve long days to save their little girl. I truly admired the bereaved couple for this.
We had an update the very next day. The person in charge of the funds of the organization had got in touch with the father and promised him a cheque for almost the ENTIRE amount of the remaining bill.( The parents had managed to collect only around three thousand dollars by then). Last morning, the trustees met and the amount was unanimously cleared, the bill was paid off and today the baby was to come home for her last rites and cremation.
I have not met the family. I do not know them, nor do my friend and her husband. But quick action on their part on purely humanitarian grounds, aided by the super technology that is WhatsApp, ensured that the appeal reached the right ears at the right time. The friend who had originally roped me in, told me yesterday that the father had done the rounds of all religious organizations but his pleas had fallen on deaf ears and had never reached the people in charge, the movers of funds...
I am so glad that the baby will now be laid to rest. God takes away at times, but He gives too. Had it not been for His miracle through WhatsApp, a little body would still be languishing in a cold mortuary, breaking a mother's heart into pieces every time she thought of her baby, which knowing any mother, would be ALL the time...
May the little one's soul rest in peace and may her parents find solace in the fact that humanity still exists in this world.

Making Kids Multiligual

So much to write about but so many things going on that I've written nothing except what was 'due' for the parenting site! Since it's pouring here in Nairobi and I cannot go out and walk right now may be I'll just put up a new post that I've had in mind for the last three days. meanwhile, do read this.

In the last decade or even in the last couple of decades, we have seen many mixed marriages occurring in India. This simply means that men and women from different Indian states are tying the knot, a distinct departure from just a few decades earlier when it was anathema to even think beyond your own sub caste, forget about venturing out of your own linguistic state.
To read more go to:

How I got An Impromptu Valentine Lunch

During my self allotted, strictly ten minutes only, of FaceBook time earlier this evening, I came across scores of pictures of couples, lib...