Saturday, October 29, 2011

First impressions

I’ve been traveling around Ethiopia for three days now. My work has taken me only 150 km away from Addis to a hospital in Debre Zeit where I spent three days finding out about treatment of HIV patients. While 1 week may not be enough to observe people, culture and community; here are some fun highlights:
1.       Ethiopians spend an inordinate amount of time greeting each other. Everytime they meet you, even if they ran into you 30 minutes ago, they will do the elaborate handshake + shoulder touch greeting, and ask “selaum, denna nesh?” (Peace, how are you?). Not replying is considered to be offensive and English words like “Fine, thanks” or “How are you” are met with scorn. So just like Indians spend the first ten minutes talking about chai or today’s news, Ethiopians spend 10 minutes greeting every single person in the room!
2.       Ethiopians love comparing people. So wherever I went I was asked why my Amharic wasn’t as good as my other expat friends. That I had been in Ethiopia for exactly 5 days didn’t matter to them!
3.       There are a surprising number of languages, ethnicities and regional identities in this country. This is to the extent that two people from different regions , both talking the same Amharic language, often fail to understand each other.
4.       Ethiopia is the first country where I’ve found coffee that *tasty*. Called the macchiato locally, it isn’t too bitter, it’s not too creamy, it doesn’t smell of preservatives and it has this lovely aroma which (for the first time ever in my experience) translates beautifully into the actual taste of the coffee.  
5.       While some Ethiopians genuinely want to talk to you because you’re a novelty to them and they believe that their community is big on hospitality – some of them only want to learn English or want lots of money out of you. I think being in Ethiopia for a long time makes expats skeptical at worse or very good judges of character at best.
In the last week I’ve met a lot of people from across the world, who have been working in Ethiopia for more than 2 years now and I’ve been curious about their reasons for staying on in Ethiopia. One such Peace Corp volunteer said that his experiences in Ethiopia were often very intense, sometimes disorienting and often crushingly lonely. But what made it worthwhile was that he was finally living the dream he’d had since he was in 5th grade. I think that’s the key to making a life thousands of miles away from home. It can’t be only the satisfaction of doing impactful work or the love of traveling. It’s a bug that’s in you – that pushes you to seek new ways to live, in completely unknown countries and trying to fit in. Another Peace Corp friend also said that those who stayed out for too long often didn’t fit into their communities when they went back home and found it very difficult to readjust themselves. Perhaps this was also the reason they left – because they wanted to find a place where they’d fit better. Personally I think it’s a idiosyncratic to move to a country of a different race, 7000 miles away to “fit in”. But then, each one dances to his own tune.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New beginnings...

It has been almost 8 years since I’ve experienced the rush of being new to the city where I live. I had forgotten what that rush was like: the urge to explore, to memorize big roads and directions, the slight fear of stepping out alone, the need to know the best places to eat, drink and entertain yourself.  Effectively, the first few weeks in any city are an experiment to see if you can belong.
Admittedly, my choice of city has been a bit unconventional, but there are still some idiosyncrasies of the city that are very similar to some of the other cities I’ve been to. Here’s what I saw in my first couple of days in the “New Flower” city J
1.       No matter where you go, if you tell someone that you’re from Mumbai they will say one of two things: “Ohh! Is it safe now? Still many terrorist attacks?” OR even better “ Mumbaaii!! You know Shahrukh Khan?” – it’s amazing how in a country of 1 billion people,  only Shahrukh Khan has managed to imprint himself on the collective memory of the whole world, literally. We underestimate the power of this man.

2.       Like any big city, locals think that foreigners are incapable of handling their public transport system. I must admit that in the case of New Flower, it was borderline. Big taxis called minibuses operate throughout the city and work by stuffing as many people as they can in the 10 seater tempos. The taxis are cramped, smelly and as a foreigner, you have to be very careful with your bags. In my maiden trip, I had to change 3 minibuses to get to my hotel and was very fortunate to be helped by this oh-so-cute-Ethiopian. Guess what we talked about? Yes. Shahrukh Khan! However, the risk of these minibuses is worth it for everyone wanting to save some money. On my way to the city centre I had to shell out 80 birr for a private taxi. Compare that with 6 birr that I paid for 3 minibus rides, and I’d take the discomfort any day!

3.       Every big city has some annoying, fucked up men who think they can con us tourists, because we’re actually 5 year olds. May it be Mumbai, Delhi, Paris or now Little Flower, these guys come up to you with some old tried and tested con act and expect you to fall right into their trap. Of course when you don’t they use their remaining English skills to say “Faaacckk, whai u nawt lissening to mee? Whaii u suchaa beeetch?” :P

4.       I think this city is right up there on the list of cities-with-best-food. The variety of cuisines available is mind boggling and so are some of the prices. Not spending astronomical sums on food just makes the whole experience of exploring a city that much more fun! Having said that, the restaurants and cafes that exclusively serve the firang crowd have consistently mediocre food. The best places are those frequented by locals and firangs and they are always the hardest to find!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Movies I don't get #1

3 people go up a mountain, none come back.

6 people go up to save them, 3 come back.

At base camp, the 3 out of 9 sing song and kiss.

Vertical Limit. Stupid but thrilling.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Once burnt, twice shy doesn't apply to me, apparently.

This is the diary of a fool who goes back again and again and again to the same person, only to be beaten black and blue, every single time. She goes back, only to be accused of being the "crazed ex-lover", of stalking him and forcing herself upon him. I thought this one time, this last time it would be different. It would last and organically evolve into something stable. Because he claimed that everything had changed. Because he had promised that he was more interested in me, and would be my friend, be supportive. That we could have a normal friendship while both of us made some big decisions in life. I didn't want to believe him, but he said that he would continue to be this way, until I decided that I could believe in him again. Foolish foolish me for giving in, only to slapped, again.

Trust me to pick the one person who runs scared at every sign of intimacy he sees. Who doesn't understand the meaning of friendship and twists and turns the truth to suit his violent mood swings. Foolish to ever take him seriously.

Was I drawn in, again? Yes. Had I begun to trust him again? Yes. Did I call him today, without reason? Yes.

The next time I want to punish myself, I will burn myself with a hot iron. It'll probably be less painful. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Love and (some hate) list!

1. I love running. 10 minutes spent reading go by very quickly. Time passes even faster for 10 minutes spent watching TV. But 10 minutes running seems like an eternity. My trainer says  it's all in the mind. That if you can convince your mind to run for 10 minutes straight, the body will follow. Deep.

2. I love Bandra restaurants. The best ones are those you discover in the small by-lanes of Bandra: small, cosy and relaxed but with enough fancy food to make it hip.

3. I hate Bandra women. They never smile, they're always so well put together in their designer clothes and high heels. And they try to run me over ever so often! I wish all the Bandra women lived somewhere else. They could take their men with them, if it helps...

4. I hate that Landmark is getting renovated. They didn't have a single book I was looking for. Not even Fitzgerald!

5. I love afternoon naps in October. The heat lulls you into sleeping for a bit. But what really makes it luxurious is the AC and the blanket in the middle of the day. I don't know how I live without afternoon naps when I work.

6. I love the festival buzz in the air. Navratri, Diwali, Christmas going right till the new year. I can't wait for the city to light up!
7. I love Bath and Body passion fruit cream. And I'm dying for winter to come fasssttt so I can use it :)