The beckoning of a continent: Africa

One of my earliest memories of Africa is of when I read Joseph Conrad’s mesmerizing, steeped in heavy symbolism novel Heart of Darkness. I read it once; then I read it a second and a third time. I came out of the experience having dedicated about 3 months writing an honors thesis on it. On how Marlow’s Caucasian friends are jet black, dark on their insides than the ones who are just superficially of that darker tone. That therein in Marlow’s society lays the true heart of darkness than on the skins of the Congolese slaves.

“And this also… has been one of the dark places of the earth.”
– Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Part 1

That the book left an impact on me is an understatement. It started my (till now) unrequited love affair with the African continent. Africa became that land of mystique – that place far, far away that only a few could ever enter. It never seemed a possibility. I chased after it in college, I ran after it in Boston, and I am finally achieving it – reaching touchdown in a few hours – in graduate school.

Now to think that such a distant land is only a few flights away seems so impossible to me. And that so many friends of mine have been there multiple times and/or are working there for the last few months – that parts of the continent have become so accessible in the last few decades – just shows  how fast the world has progressed. And how, there are very few places truly left in our tiny globe that are unreachable.  In fact, I have a friend from business school who took a cruise up to Antarctica! Antarctica – just think about that!

I set off – travel to Kenya for a week first to take in some game, some beautiful views, and catching up on summer stories with friends. Then, the real fun starts. My friend and I will be taking a 14 hour long bus ride through the sinewy roads of East Africa to get from Nairobi to Kampala. There, in Uganda, my dream is realized. The rest of my team joins me and we’ll be spending 2 weeks conducting a market assessment for a point of care drug delivery tool. Having spent the last 4 months working on this project – with a wonderful group of people – seeing it come alive will be tremendous.

And personally, achieving that sought after dream of Global Health in Africa finally comes to life. Many, hoards of people have done such work before me – but to me – it’s my personal feat. It is what I had my eyes on when I started researching business degrees, global health, and social entrepreneurship. And my hunger will finally be satiated.

I’m nervous, apprehensive and certainly getting some pre-travel jitters. It’s funny – I’ve racked up many an international mile but before every trip that I take to a place unknown, my stomach ties up in a tight knot and my heart pleads to stay back in the comfort of the known. And yet, I plunge – and the swimming, the beautiful strokes – just start up naturally. The knot loosens, and the heart and the mind both become free – to roam, to breathe, to absorb the unknown like a second skin.

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My Anthem

Baawara mann dekhne chala ek sapna
Crazy heart set out to see a dream

~

Reflect upon life and ensure that you capitalize on living every moment. It is only when you do this that you know that you have lived. Never have regrets and be free of fears. Pursue the dreams that your heart wishes. Pursue growth. Pursue happiness. Pursue freedom.

Have an optimism, have an equal sparkle for both the simple and complex things. An enthusiasm about life – your life – will inspire visions and thoughts even in the dullest of places.

Be an Individual. Be courageous enough to break from the Circle and explore outside your comfort zones. It is only then that you will experience a life that is so preciously colorful and amazingly vibrant. You will meet people from all walks – persons you would have never met. You would envision things from all layers of society, from multiple angles. Experiences would be drastic, dramatic even. Living will suddenly have a new meaning. You will have lived. You would have given rise to dormant aspects of yourself.

To achieve this – it is not so much  about Travel as it is about Interacting with the tactile, wonderful elements about you. One can see the world and still not have grown, lived if all one did was just see the world.

Do it early – do it practically. But Live.

Ever since I was introduced to the Latin phrase that added a meaning to my thoughts, it has become a heartbeat to my very being:

Carpe Diem

~*~

The Dimming of Starry Nights on the Agaasi (Terrace)

Woh bachpan ka saawn
Woh kaagaz ki kashti
Woh baarish ka pani

-Jagjit & Chitra Singh (Urdu Ghazal)

I was just about to head off to bed here in Gujarat, India, when I felt a sense of dampness on my pillow due to humidity brought on by the Monsoon. This felt pleasantly familiar – a memory box from my past started churning. I hadn’t thought about this in ages.

Closing my eyes to let the memory engulf me, I saw a dark sky illuminated by stars, heard laughter propagated by aunts and cousins, felt coolness of the soft breeze, and smelled the pungent smell of Odomos (a mosquito repellent). Beautiful summer nights – spent in the cradle of the agaasi (terrace).

Precious memories of a fun childhood.

Confident due to the cover provided by  darkness, my relatives sleeping on mattresses next to me would open up to tell hilarious stories and jokes; the others tittering with laughter. The aunts would gossip, while the kids talked about their lives outside of summer vacation. At sunrise, we would all wake up due to the dampness brought on by morning dewdrops (*click* memory trigger).

Sadly, these days of sleeping under the stars are now too few and far between due to a certain progression in India. Whereas before, our privacy on the bungalow terrace was ensured by the nearby edifices being of similar height – now many of them have been torn down to accommodate our bulging population in tall, voyeuristic apartment complexes. Furthermore, sleep is no longer broken due to the dew but rather due to the incessant honking on streets that are too narrow to accommodate the ever-increasing traffic (consumerism, check).

And beyond anything, this fading of Terrace Nights is brought on by the dying of a certain kind of summer vacation. One that was spent in reuniting with cousins on an annual basis, on watching summer Bollywood blockbusters in 1-screen movie houses, on traveling to the same ancestral home every summer to eat a truck-full of Kesar mangoes. Life is too fast now – people too distant (literally and figuratively) and summer days at Grandma’s house are replaced with summer camps and exotic vacations.

For me, I will always miss sleeping in the gentle arms of the indigo nights, surrounded by an atmosphere that knew but innocence.

~Bhale chin lo Mujhse ye meri Jawani~

Hello Lilliputians, It’s me Gulliver

I love bargains. I come alive when street shopping. Therefore, it is but natural that I thrive when in India – going down the cramped streets, stopping at stores selling wares in shallow little stalls, talking my very best in regional language to stop myself from being duped by a shopkeeper charging me 200% more for a shirt. I never lose the battle and always come out on top. Except when getting those damn chappals (flip-flops).

Chappals. Pretty Mojris (heels). Sigh. Always approach them with the hope that maybe this time, I’ll win. Nope, I always lose. And not because my bargaining skills are somehow compromised.

I am Bigfoot reincarnated. I ask for the maximum size possible at a variety of stores (small and big). Excitedly, I slip my foot in. Stuck. My foot is half in and can go no further.

Ciao Commoner, You’re no Cinderella

Say both the shoe and the shop-owner.

I have been losing the shoe battle for 10 years straight (that’s when I started tracking). It’s not just with shoe size — my average American height of 5’6 too stands out like a sore thumb amidst cute Gujarati women.  And I am left with a hunch because I always have to bend due to low ceilings. OK – in that I exaggerate, but you get the point!

Travelogue – Rediscovery – India + Emirates

Dear Readers,

I am setting off on a short 3 week trip to the Exotic East (Gujarat, Mumbai, Dubai). I plan to write a travelogue for this period of time. I am visiting areas where I grew up after five years and the pace with which they have changed are probably going to shock and surprise me. I wish to capture this rediscovery.

I will try to be as frequent as sporadic internet access allows me to be.

Here’s to a journey into my past and towards understanding the current progress and future development of India.

~I