Monthly Archives: May 2012

Chandigarh is…

I work six days a week. And one Just Jere has been asking me why I am not yapping away about India.  So here is another shallow analysis of India..

As you read this post, you will notice that there is scant mention of alcohol, ‘night life ‘, ‘being social at night’, clubbing or anything that involves loud music or large amounts of alcohol.

Remember the Sikhs I mentioned earlier? Well it turns out that they are not too crazy about this booze thing either. So, while we don’t live in a dry state, booze is relegated to a pitiful little corner where no-one wants to play with it or be its friend.

I don’t know if this will change as the number of trainees rises, but that thing say…when in Rome….yeah.

So, India for me (so far…) is:

  1. Eating chapatis with potato curry and lapsing into a food comma
  2. sitting at the back of a motor bike without a helmet, roaring up the mountains at 2.00am just because we can
  3. Talking about food for at least half an hour a day (what I have eaten, what I will eat, what I will eat later on in the day. Repeat before and after most meals)
  4. Realizing one bite into a meal that, in a couple of minutes, the entire contents of my digestive system will be violently expelled. For my own good
  5. Staring dumbly as our irate house help yells at everyone in Hindi. (If she does not want me to clean her room, then why are you paying me? was the subject of one  such rant, I have been informed.)
  6. Not receiving any advance warning about any major changes that will affect me. (oh, our new house mate will be here in ten minutes.)
  7. Being asked to press ‘control jeero’ and ‘joom in the image’ and not bursting into giggles
  8. Doing that automatic, closed lip smile at people who stare for too many seconds long
  9. Smiling politely because after an entire sentence, the other person (or I) have no idea what has just been said…even though it was in English
  10. Standing awkwardly in a temple as our companions honour their deities…and going to sleep each night under the intense stare of one heavily bearded guru’s picture, not to mention Lord Ganesh over there in the corner (Angie has a great post about religion these sides)
  11. Impressing my colleagues with my knowledge of Indian food, culture and religion (thanks to Wikipedia)
  12. Learning not to ask the locals what’chute’, ‘panthre’ and other potentially offensive nicknames mean
  13. Waking up every morning and wondering what (mostly) entertaining insanity will be brought my way

Coming soon: meeting people I can make fun of, new friends and something interesting to say.


Even my picture is boring. Sigh…

India: First Impressions

”You are just going so that you can avoid responsibility. If you want to go to a third world country, why not move back to Kenya?”

I had plenty of time to reflect on these sentiments during my long, long journey  to Chandigarh. And ask myself, why, as my friends were applying for jobs, I was hustling another traineeship. In India.

My well had been poisoned.

Once I got to New Delhi, India hit me so hard I had no more time for self doubt and emo angst. I was soon relieved of a good part of my stupid tourist money, and instantly began to pay more attention to my surroundings and less to  my existential questions.

It’s been four days or so and I think I can make my first list of wildly judgemental and probably inaccurate observations about this  my new home:

1. Traffic rules are for tools: Everyone knows that driving in this country is sheer madness. What they don’t tell you is that road anarchy is a way of life. A philosophy, even. Motorists frequently drive into oncoming traffic to avoid making detours, pedestrians casually saunter across the road wherever they feel like, and everyone hoots ALL the time. Throw in the occasional horse drawn carriage, chilled out water buffalo/cow, bikes and scooters with nonchalant women perched on the side all sharing the same space, and well, it can be a little overwhelming. Fortunately for me, my city is quite well planned, so I’ve never actually been caught in a traffic jam.

my city on a good day (

2. Cigarettes are Satan’s breath: I have never been to place where it is so socially unacceptable to light up. At most, I have seen ten people smoking. I think this is specific to my city, but there are threatening signs in both open air space and closed ones, curtly informing you that ”it is an offence to smoke here”. Come on, what happened to the neutral ”no smoking” sign? Even our little dusty neighbourhood market is thoroughly offended by these uncouth beings poisoning everyone else around them with their demonic sulphur and tar (or whatever).

3. East meets west…on our terms: In my hood, there is a Subway sandwich shop. Squeezed in between Happy Singh’s general supermarket and a burnt out parking lot. And all over the city, you can see McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Dominoes, KFC, United Colours of Benneton, Ralph Lauren, Polo and other over priced, pretentious clothing brands. You just have to find them, partially hidden by signs advertising ‘Spoken English lessons here ‘ , ‘Royal Real Estate Services’ and giant posters advertising skin lightening creams that will take all your problems away and help you find that perfect man.

4. The heat: I arrived in India during Summer. And my colleagues delight in telling me that I ain’t seen nothing yet, and that it will get hotter soon. Before it starts raining. And then they ask me, ”but it’s also hot in Kenya, right’?’

Well now, the glue in my wallet does not melt after four hours in a train in Kenya. My face does no glow in the dark from all the accumulated heat every evening in Kenya. I don’t feel the heat from the tarmac burning me while I’m on a bike in Kenya. I don’t sleep without sheets or a blanket at night in Kenya.

So no, it’s not the same weather in Kenya.

5. What are these chest appendages that you display?: I made the mistake of wearing a vest to the supermarket. There was a man standing behind me, looking all holy and guru-ish in his turban. We queued for about ten minutes, and in that time he must have caught up with ten years worth of ogling, as well as probably committing everything to memory to serve him for his remaining days, I don’t know. I was uncomfortable, but at the same time, did not want to make it worse by self consciously fiddling around with my clothes. So, yeah, kind of awkward.

So far so good, right? Well, I have to register myself at the government office in the next couple of days. And officially meet my boss  who is currently away on a very busy and important trip.

Do you speak English? The politics of Language

This post has been incredibly difficult to write. So I will just drop all the gimmicks and get straight to the point.

You see, when I first arrived in France, many people were surprised that I spoke flawless (albeit heavily accented)  English. I remember one Spanish guy in my French class tried to break the ice by asking if we speak French in Kenya. After a long pause, I asked him ‘if we speak French in Kenya, then why am I studying beginners French with you?’

I guess the sarcasm was too complicated for his Catalan brain, because he asked me the same question three times. I ignored him and our relationship never really took off.

Quel Surprise

Much later on, when I got used to dealing all kinds of stupid questions and situations, I bumped into two adorable Japanese boys, who were amazed that I learnt  English so fast and were quite chuffed by my ‘ American ‘ accent.

I let them have their day because at this point I cannot be bothered to explain to people that most Africans and other formerly colonized people (I’m looking at you, South Asian people) speak several languages simultaneously.

The Guardian published a mildly interesting piece on the benefits of being bilingual. But come to think of it, did you ever think of yourself as bilingual? I never did, mostly because I imagine that being bilingual means that you speak a language that is recognized internationally.  But according to that article then, we, the urban citizens of our great continent shall never have to worry about Alhzeimer’s, as we continue to navigate between our native ‘dialects’ and the languages of the developed world.

So what exactly is my point? Language is strongly linked to identity. But unlike your average Estonian or Japanese, who’s first language is clearly named after their country (or the other way round) we don’t have that luxury. (Unless you are  as bullheaded as Ngugi, who insists on writing all his books in Kikuyu and then having them translated…)

Of course, it all goes back to our extreme touchiness at any perceived slight or racist attitude or remark. Because, once our basic needs were met, (unlike waaaay too many people who’s lives hang on a balance everyday) we are now obsessed with convincing people that we too are civilized like them. And I really wish we could stop. Because we end up looking like stupid imitations of the real thing.

Africa is huge. And we have lots of animals and untamed jungles. We are piss poor. And all the other poor and miserable people in the world can point at us and feel better about their own shitty lives. Deal with it.

And that is why I don’t immediately start defending my country by pointing out that we also have cities with tall buildings and roads.

I just say that English is the language of business in my country. And then I hang out with people who don’t imagine that I am the sole representative of my continent. And with people who Google phrases in Swahili to impress me. (insert giant wink wink here)

Feels good to get that off my chest.

Coming soon…hilarious adventures in India.

Meanwhile, enjoy this totally unrelated video on how to fake speaking French (and yes, I have used some of those tricks!)