07 Jan

Namaste

It is pronounced Nam-astay, with the inflection you use when you say ‘Princess Ann.’ You can tell I had a ball bringing my hands together like this 🙏🏽 and bowing slightly. Namaste. There is no exclamation mark, like hello! or ekaro! They don’t shout.

The airport is impressive. The culture is different, a rich kind of different. People don’t seem to make eye contact, robbing you of the opportunity to smile. I suppose there is no forced politeness here. Maybe they don’t make eye contact with strangers. Maybe they are giving our eyes a chance to get used to the dimly lit room, a chance to fall in love before they start getting personal. It’s not like we blend in, even though there are skintones as dark as ours, our hair quite simply cannot disguise the fact that we are visitors from another continent.

I need the loo. They didn’t feel the need to hire an artist to generate world accepted symbols of the two genders. No. The gents loo is depicted by a large colourful picture of a turbaned male, and the ladies, of a bejeweled, bollywoodesque woman. There’s a queue. People seem to take awfully long which increases my reluctance to remain in the queue. It’s not that I can’t wait, it’s just that my fear of the collective number ones becoming number twos is directly proportional to the time it takes for each cubicle to be exited. I leave the queue as my imagination reaches new heights. We arrive at immigration and strut to the diplomatic counter. We hope the crowd can see us, that yes we are different, but not in a demeaning way. Our line has two people and not hundreds like the common majority. We spot our contact, I jump for joy. We reach the counter to receive our special treatment, for we know people in high places, you see. Then the record screeches to a halt. I hate that sound- along with metal cutlery scratching porcelain and pieces of polystyrene being rubbed together. Since we have e-visas we can’t use the diplomatic exit. We must go through the e-visa line. They are very sorry. Egos deflating, we walk to the line for commoners.

Nearly an hour later we emerge on the other side, hug our family member and go grab our 14 pieces of luggage sans the orange and black one. Once established that it did not contain our precious edible cargo, we fill in multiple lost-luggage forms and exit the impressive Delhi airport. That’s when it all starts to feel surreal. I am suspended between two worlds. Europe, which I know I left behind- the door closed softly behind me- and Asia, which though physically present in, my mind is yet to make its entrance. So it feels weird. We spot an old-fashioned car that reminds me of part daddy’s purple volga, (circa 1981) and part 1970s political movie. We are in India. The air is foggy and we meet the acquaintance of Johnny, assigned driver. ‘He speaks so well’ I think to myself as I tick for the second time in as many weeks the ‘White British’ box. The drive home invites us to draw comparisons with Africa. The shops on the sides of the road. Untarred roads. Beggars. Guys, culture is a powerful thing. There are what look like beggars looking regal as they sit turbaned in the central reservation in- please dig this- the lotus pose. We go past a large school with tons of school buses parked outside. I ask an obvious question, ‘is that a school?’- because I feel the need to speak but my brain is busy absorbing the beauty of this new culture. The billboards show a disproportionate number of military-related ads. Boeing, weapons, references to power.

The military is a major part of the country’s infrastructure, right?‘ I’m not even sure that my question makes sense but it’s 4am in the morning.

Yes, it is.

Interesting. How come?

Because of our enemies.

Cue ‘something scary is about to happen‘ music.

Who are your enemies?

China and Pakistan.

OK, people, I knew that. The whole world knows but I have never lived in a country where it’s citizens are acutely aware of their enemies. There was something about the way he said it that made Suzy and I nudge each other at the same time. The last time I heard a human make casual reference to enemy territory was when my boys played Call of Duty on the Xbox. The UK map does not have its perimeter dotted with threats of war. Yes, there is the threat of terrorism, but it does not sit on the border of Coventry and Birmingham or Skegness and Sutton on Sea. The French are rude, is the extent of our threat. They jump queues and eat too much bread.The rail network is the pits!’ Is another one, or ‘This weather! I can’t believe it’s 10 degrees in December’. Those are the threats we have as Brits. We. Do. Not. Have threats that involve boeings, guns or other weaponry. Suzy and I condense an entire service complete with praise and worship into two minutes; thankfulness that we live in a safe country, request for forgiveness for not daily acknowledging it.

After clarifying with Johnny that Kashmir is nowhere near Delhi and we are not minutes away from the Pakistani border, our conversation segues into the more palatable topic of fruit and vegetable exportation.

I will not, cannot, describe our home for 10 days. Let’s just say my mind remains blown as I write this. We are blessed to be reunited, the family under the same roof, all in excellent health for the first time in a long while. In two days we’ll be visiting some sights, Taj Mahal included. I’ll be sure to share some pictures.

05 Jan

The Flight to India: Seat 27A

Previously, on Pawpaw & Mango: India, we may have a problem.

As I strolled past 26 rows to get to my seat, my soul was gifted with a new experience. I have never been on a flight where its passengers were made up of 93.2% Asians. The other 6.8% consisted of our large family (8 in all) and the Italian cabin crew. Not once have I sat and wondered what it would be like to be in an aircraft full of a particular ethnic group. It’s not something one works towards. A flight full of Nigerians is a natural and justified fear. One full of caucasians is expected when you live in the west. So I added and then crossed out ‘Aircraft full of Indians’ to my bucket list. There, done.

Mealtime was where the real trouble began. We were aware that beef wasn’t eaten in India, scratch that. Beef did not exist in India. Cows did, but their flesh did not make the shortlist of foods available to non-vegetarians. So get this; it’s okay to be vegeterian or even better, vegan. I have friends that wear that title with grave honour. But what you shall not be, my friend, is an omnivore that eats beef.

“Rice or Pasta?”

The perfectly coiffed flight-attendant offered.

“What’s the accompaniment?” I started deciding between chicken and fish while she gathered her response in her perfect little mouth.

“They are both vegetarian”

“Ehn?!”

Not me, hubby. He jerked his head forward and asked her to repeat herself in the tone reserved for our teenage boys when they casually admitted to some foolishness.

“There are only vegetarian options on our Indian flights”

America, Africa, Britain… it was clear that the whole damn world had crossed this bridge with her over the years because she did not explain apologetically the way you do when you deliver important news that you don’t agree with,. No. it was robotised, devoid of emotion.

“Oh, wow”, I countered. That was my polite way of showing disapproval. ‘Oh, wow’ meant you should be ashamed of yourself. ‘Oh, wow’ whispered; the whole world has moved on, why are you still in the stone ages? ‘Oh, wow’ said how freaking dare you decide for me when I should or shouldn’t eat meat?’

“The pasta is lasagne and the rice is a vegetarian fried rice,” she rubbed it in.

With pictures of rice made yellow with turmeric, I told the whole country off by choosing pasta. There, in your face. I choose the Italian, not you. I reminded hubby that we’d had a juicy burger only hours earlier, so we can sort of travel back in time and re-live it while we ate our meatless lasagne. I didn’t say the travel back in time bit, his emotions were still raw. Meanwhile, I chuckled to myself because what they didn’t know, people, was that underneath my seat, in the cargo compartment where our 14 pieces of luggage lay, were vacuum packed frozen meat (including beef) that we, as any self- respecting African would, were sneaking into Delhi. India, we are ready for you. Bring it on.

05 Jan

India, we may have a problem.

India TripThe journey to the journey was an exciting, yet arduous one. It wasn’t without its frustrations- and I don’t mean the drama encountered from attempting to renew my passport. No. That drama belongs in another post and heaven forbid I drag it into this one, which deserves its own title, it’s own space and it’s own audience. Suffice to say, the Nigeria High Commission messed up my names which unbeknownst to me for the last 14 months had been poised patiently to have a knock on effect on my British Passport renewal. So we found ourselves in December 2017- toppled pieces and all- scrambling to rearrange my life.

Frustrations

Yes, we were/are/always will be happy to visit India. We have never been to Asia, but more importantly the entire family will be together under one roof! Three generations with our spouses and friends that long ago became family. What’s not to love about that? The frustrations began when I realised that impressing acquaintances with this news was not going to be an easy feat. First was Mohammed, my ex-delivery driver. Oh he was impressed alright but He is Pakistani, not Indian. Prior to reading ‘White Teeth‘ by Zadie Smith, this distinction would not have earned even blurred lines. There wouldn’t have been a distinction. It would have been a mono-truth, (like monolith, only instead of an unbroken stone structure we had structured truth) Like a glass of filtered water. No colour, no sediments, no taste. But Zadie schooled me on the importance of drawing a very thick line, a gully, if you will, between both countries. And I did so respectfully. Mohammed was happy that I was heading to India. He put on a broad smile and I think in that moment, we liked each other more. The schism between the black (wo)man and the Pakistani (or Indian) was levelled slightly with some soil. Not so much that it had become a line, but enough to stop you falling in if you crossed over to shake hands. Unfortunately, the threadbare cloak of Mohammed’s awe and respect wore off the day he told me he didn’t want to do a delivery because he disliked Chinese people intensely. Yes, all he had to do was assemble their furniture but no, he didn’t like them because “they didn’t like brown skinned people. “They”, he insisted “thought they were better than us”. That was the last time he worked for me.

More Stress

The next few weeks involved weaving a tapestry from the stress over my passport, pre-Christmas customer deliveries, (including a white nursing chair I feared would have turned brown by the time it arrived in Denmark. I mean, I don’t know how to wear a white shirt for more than 6 hours) that, and looking for people to impress with my upcoming trip. I suffered and still carry this notion that ethnic people living in England see it as a sign of respect and solidarity when another person of colour chooses to visit their home. In that moment, the visitor is seen as helping to hold up the person’s arm leaving them free to give the finger to the media who showed images of Indian children in reference to ‘world poverty’. You can just hear it. ‘Children all over the world are suffering..‘. Or, ‘Hamid has no clean water…‘ Come to think of it it was either Hamid in the rice fields of India, or Ngoya in the African plains.

Not Impressed

Are you Indian or Pakistani?” became my greeting of choice when I met suspected Indians. “Where are you from?” was the tactic I used when less confident. The previous method of informing targets that I was traveling to India did not work. I’d deliver the news and step back, waiting for them to be impressed. It never happened. Like what went down with my either Indian or Pakistani uber driver:

Me: “Where are you from?”

Him: (Heavy Indian or Pakistani accent) “London”

“Oh cool! Where are you from originally?” ‘Originally’ is slightly emphasised and my ethnic origin is starting to shift towards ‘White British.’

“Docklands. You know docklands?”

“Yes.” My stubborn streak stretches into a rather wide band, I want to impress him with my upcoming trip to India. If he is Indian. I hope he is Indian. “Where are your ancestors from?” I continue.

“I live here 17 years. Long time” long uncomfortable pause…and then; “Do you like Indian food?”

Feeling pleased. ‘India’ has finally featured in our conversation. “Yeah”, I lie. “I like Indian food. Are you from India?”

“No. How about you, you from London?”

I don’t answer.

He continues; “I have an Indian restaurant on Burnt Ash Road, do you know it?” He tells me the name.

“Ah! I know it, so you are Indian!”

“No.”

“Well, I’m going to India” I try to sound casual like a child trying to hide her feelings after being bitten by the long snake on ‘Snakes & Ladders’ This one has bluntly refused to be impressed.

“I have some menus, I give you one.”

“I’ll tell all my friends about your restaurant”

So, friends. Please visit spice Garden on Burnt Ash Lane. Done.

Next: What went down on the Flight to India