Sunday, 22 May 2022

How to miss a city


 


The big landmarks? - those multilevel flyovers/bridges, the breadth of the corniche, the river itself, the Tower and the most historic manmade structures towering over everything? But those are not the things I miss the most. It’s the smaller stuff, the unremarkable, the everyday things that change irrevocably once one moves. That’s what I miss. Inexplicably. Sometimes intensely.  

 

Like the sounds of Arabic on the streets, the loops and dots and diacritics of the script on the signages. Cities are not id-ied by their random street corner conversations, their vendor calls or what the waiters/cabbies/parking attendants speak, but they should be. It determines what life there is pegged to, its all-important background score. Whether one understands or not doesn’t signify, the cadence of the language primes and changes one, slowly draws one in to its mystique. It has always felt to me that their words are pronounced from somewhere deeper inside the chest, somewhere much closer to the heart.

 

The tamr hind juice seller in the alleyways of the ancient market, with his shiny metal cymbals and fez. A guy on a bicycle balancing a large wooden pallet of bread on his head, early one winter morning, his breath misting in the cold. That’s another thing – properly cold winters, not these sham, jumped up seasons of 25s and 22s masquerading as cold.

 

The unevenness of the cobblestones in the Yellow Alley under my feet in the early February morning. The centuries old rivets on the massive wooden Gate of Conquest. The ‘marching soldiers’ crenellation of the boundary wall around an ancient monument. The stained glass in an 18th century merchant residence. The view through a mashrabiya, a minutely latticed window made of turned bits of teeny tiny wood fitted into each other like a complicated puzzle. The sunlight slanting in through the oblong openings of the roof cover of  the tentmakers’ street.

 

Young schoolchildren playing football at 2 a.m. in the morning at the meidan in Kafr Nassar as I return home from a late night dinner. The huge banyan in Zamalek and those jacarandas, laden with mauve blossoms in season so that not much green is visible. Ditto the rows of flamboyants in 6th Oct.

 

The melodious voice of the neighbourhood muezzin and his azaan slicing the day into five neat segments. Four actually, because I was asleep most times when he gave the first call. The shape of the arches in the oldest mosque, the wide sweep of the desert just beyond the range of the balcony, the curve of the wrought iron railings in Downtown, the arrow-straight grace of the minarets piercing the sunset from Ahzar Park. 


The triple height loaded pickup trucks on Ring Road reminding me of Rajasthani ladies with three tiered water pots. A car blithely reversing into the Juhayna roundabout at top speed. A silent old man with rheumy eyes offering household wares for sale by the roadside after the revolution dried up the tourist trade. A young boy in a torn singlet flying a green kite during Shem el Nessim.




 

The angle of the light as it hit an old glass lantern in the old city. The angle of the light as it hit the floor in Emerald, where some earlier resident had stubbed out a cigarette and left a burn mark on the wooden veneer. The bookshops displaying Naguib Mahfouz titles in two different languages, where suddenly finding a book by Amitabh Ghosh had made my heart race. The seafood chowder at Chef called Viagra soup for some reason I  never did find out during so many dinners there.

 

Just some of the things from a city that was home once but isn’t anymore, yet still feels as though it is and that it should be.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Because I was comparing Fiji with 70's Nigeria, and that led to a long thread on what we, the ex-Naijja expat children, miss about that life. That naturally had to bring to mind the other city in Africa I've lived in, for longer than I've lived in Bauchi and Maiduguri individually. 

i carry your heart with me (i carry it 

in my heart) i am never without it..... ~ e e cummings






Monday, 16 May 2022

Measures

 



Sometimes I forget the year but recall

the exact hour when I opened the mail,

the dark grain of wood under the laptop,

my stricken eyes in the mirror on the wall,

the azaan from the mosque a plaintive wail

and shards of light like a stained glass backdrop

 

to the news, remembered in clear detail

precise and accurate, not one thing wrong

except that count of years. Randomly fourteen,

but often correct - sometimes the fingers fail

to stack up the total, it’s been so long

that they forget what years and numbers mean.

 

Years and numbers. Anyway quite useless

as a measure of grief. Or of happiness.




The last week had one 13th death anniversary, the 21st birthday of my son and also the 21st wedding anniversary of a couple, one of whom died one year ago. And of course, Mother's Day was the Sunday before. Which celebration is never the same once your own mother has passed and/or your child has left home and is resident of a different country made further inaccessible by the pandemic. But we managed to celebrate the milestone birthday with videocalls and cake delivery. Thank heavens for technology! And thank heavens that US doesn't have a system of OTPs like India!






Monday, 9 May 2022

Street vendor

 



The city skyline is a step function,

the song’s just static on the radio,

splattered pigeon droppings on the windshield,

and drizzly leaf reflections come and go,

 

there are leopards in the clouds and the lake

is rippling with their roaring open mouths.

Knots of students and their drooping backpacks

slowly move from the north towards the south.

 

The road’s a patchy old moulted snakeskin,

the signal at the crossing a beggar’s claw

telling you to slow down, stop, throw a coin,

make eye contact, perhaps unclench your jaw

 

but the crossing’s a dead end and a slim

young boy stands there selling a smile that's dim.




I've no idea where this has come from :) It's not Kolkata and it's certainly not any city in Fiji I've been to so far. The ones I've visited don't have skylines, all low rise buildings dwarfed/masked by the coconut palm trees...Even after so many years the whole process is utterly incomprehensible, what the brain dredges up from years ago and twists like one of those balloon shaped animals in an instant to look like this and presents as poetry. 


Happy Mother's Day! - to you if you are mothering/have mothered, irrespective of gender. And have an equally happy week ahead.


Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Not a Reflection or anything...




Port Denarau. Some great waterfront dining options here.


This is not an A-Z Reflection or anything it’s just to let folks know - we moved into a house in Denarau yesterday the 3rd. Port Denarau is walking distance though I haven’t had the time to check that out by walking there myself yet. Been there a couple times in the car from Lautoka. The yachts look beautiful against the mountains in the background. And the food's awesome. Many of the outer island cruises and day trips start from here. A regular tourist hub.

 

We consumed a homecooked, plain meal after three weeks and I felt sanity creep back in, whew! Never thought I’d say this in a million years but I’ve actually reached an age where I prefer self-cooked to starred hotel cuisine for days on end. Great for a change but not as a lifestyle, thank you!

 

My aunt back home, when informed of the plans, had said Tuesday’s Akshay Tritiya, which coincidence has made me feel absurdly pleased. Akshay Tritiya is an Indian festival, akshay means undiminishable, tritiya refers to the third day of the moon’s phase – a festival and an auspicious day in the Hindu tradition. To start off with any new venture on this day is believed to be an automatic invitation to abundance. May there be an abundance of peace and may everything that’s broken in my world and in the wider world be made strong and whole again. 


From the front facing room. It's a gorgeous day today.



It was good to sleep on my own sheets too. And here’s the view of the sunrise from the room. Later I went round the garden inventorying the current day’s blooms. Some of them I know the Indian names for but not the botanical/English ones. I so regret not paying attention in my botany classes now – have done so ever since Cairo which also had an abundance of flowering plants all round me in the grounds. If any of you know the names please educate me.



As large as a hibiscus, but leaves are not serrated. 





This is called Rongon in Bengal, prolific and
dense flowers. Comes in several colours.




Togor in Bengali and Pinwheel in English - this
too I know. Also called crepe jasmine, I think.







Orchid. Don't know what it's called. There are three -
one more the same, and another that's fully purple. 





Periwinkle. The ones back home are lighter in colour.
There's another deep red one too - its blooms were
on the ground today.


I haven't got any poetry done in the last few days, so I am going to see what I can do to return to it. And if I manage to churn something out then I'll be back with it next week as usual. Meanwhile, I hope your week is going well. 

 





Sunday, 1 May 2022

Zillion


 

Z is for…Zero

 

Zero is the number of posts left for the A-Z and I am posting a day late as per Fiji time, but since 99.9% of the world is still in non-Fiji time and therefore in 30th, I am still in time. Another zencool thing about moving to the Eastern end of the world. April has been eventful, a zillion things could have gone wrong, but so far so good, that number is zero too, thankfully.

 

The property lease was signed yesterday morning. It’s quite far from Lautoka and hubby will have to commute an hour either way, but that is what it has been for all the previous managers and he’ll get used to it, hopefully, so will I. The property itself is lovely, the usual Fijian feature of double height ceiling, palmwood beams, a smiling garden lacy with palms and ferns and orchids. Lots of spaces around to walk and explore, the marina is close by, the beach is not too far I understand, though I haven’t been to that specific one yet. And the security aspect is better which is the most important thing. As one challenge ends, a larger one begins - to settle into a new place, to  tread light and keep my footprints erasable behind me, so that when I eventually leave the house it is as welcoming as it was when I stepped in. Wish me luck!






A-Z Challenge 2022 

Friday, 29 April 2022

Yep



Yep, still here. Still posting. Only one more to go...

 

Y is for...Yusuf


Yesterday I met some Indian expats who immediately filled me up with more economy-size horror stories about rob-n-run crimes and the cockroach to medical staff ratio of the local hospitals. Okay, I get it, the healthcare's basic and it’s not safe to go around wandering in the dark, but enough already!

 

The day before, I met a lovely family, fourth generation Indo-Fijian, strongly connected to both India and Fiji and super warm, hospitable, humble and down-to-earth. The lady offered me her number without my even asking. The guy is a presidential medal awardee and everything, apart from being chairman and president of this, that and the other. But you’d never guess hearing any of  them speak.

 

Anyway, all this socialising has meant less time to explore and write up my posts, there’s another event this evening (insert eyeroll here)…I was really tired out yesterday, the horror stories sap me, truly they do. (However, apart from the dire-y tales, I've also managed to prise out info on a local library - yay!)  I’ve come, I’ve listened, I’ve given the warnings their due weightage, and now I am through. Be sensible, keep eyes and mind open and carry on - is going to be my mantra, as always. I'll focus on what can be done and leave the rest to work itself out. 

 

Anyway, I don’t know if it was all the extra going out or the extra-large helpings of doom and gloom,  but my old friend insomnia struck last night, I woke up way before daybreak and couldn’t get back to sleep. Didn’t want to disturb my husband, so sat out on the balcony and watched the sky lighten by degrees. And from there, Yusuf was a natural progression…




From a personal standpoint, the last few years have been challenging. I feel a little bruised from their manhandling of me and my close family.  The very structure and form of my family has been metamorphosed into something that’ll still take me some time to get used to.  I had hoped this year would be different – a new place, a new start. But it’s the same old same old. A close family member back home has been diagnosed with cancer – it’s turned my heart and head inside out. Health issues are going to dog our collective life for the foreseeable future. Just super thankful that we are here and hubby’s able to do what he needs to do. So I'm praising with elation, praising every morning/God’s recreation of the new day. Not that I am evolved enough to understand the concept of an Almighty, definitely one of the ye-of-little-faith ones, but you know what I mean. May we each find the strength to overcome our individual crises, whatever they may be and do what we need to with an unrelenting focus.


While on the topic of thankfulness, I'd like to take the chance of also thanking the friends who've encouraged and supported me on this blog and otherwise, through this A-Z and through the other, much bigger challenges,  Alana,  Alex,  Denise,  Elephant’s Child,  Hilary,  KristinJoanneYamini - thank you! I cannot begin to sum up in words what it means to me. 

  



A-Z Challenge 2022 

Thursday, 28 April 2022

Xan...whut??

 


X is for...Xanthophylls 

 

Xanthophylls are a class of organic compounds that are responsible for the yellow, orange, red and brown colours of fruits, vegetables and other plant parts. Specifically, the colours of autumn foliage and dropped leaves can be attributed to them. 


X is a tough letter, probably the toughest. But not to panic! - nature has an answer for everything, the toughest problems, the deepest cuts, the unkindest of knocks. Go to her and she will soothe all trauma, heal all injuries, calm everything down so one's in a fit state to present oneself again with the appropriate response to every crisis. 


Here are some examples of xanthophylls from my peregrinations various, some in Fiji, others elsewhere.  


Garden of the Sleeping Giant. Fiji. 2022.



Guadalquivir corniche, Seville, Spain. 2015. 



Lautoka waterfront. Fiji. 2022.





On the way to St Paul's School, Jalapahar, Darjeeling. 2013.





Lautoka waterfront, Fiji. 2022.




Madaba, Jordan. 2013.




As the tide recedes. Marine Dr, Lautoka, Fiji. 2022.




Ravindra Sarovar, Kolkata. 2020.






Lautoka waterfront, Fiji. 2022.


Incidentally, the yellow colour of turmeric, the ubiquitous spice used in nearly all Indian recipes, is also imparted by a xanthophyll. So are the colours in pawpaw, corn and peaches. But there's a certain romantic vibe about  fallen, yellow leaves which is entirely lacking in those mundane everyday foods. I mean, pawpaw? Heck, no! So that's my X - xanthophylls.  








A-Z Challenge 2022

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Where

 



W is for…Waterbirds

 

Where are the waterbirds? No seriously, wherever are they? I have seen mynahs and pigeons galore. But no gulls, no gulls! and very few waterbirds generally. Admitted, I haven’t been close to the sea except in the last three-four days. But even so.

 

The Indian or Common Mynah. Present everywhere.

Day before yesterday I spotted what I thought was a glossy ibis feeding close to the seawall at low tide, but it flew away before I could get close enough for a firm i.d. This morning there were two herons fishing in the shallows, one each on either side, not that they were a pair or anything. The tide has been out both mornings when I was walking which is actually great for bird spotting. I walked from one end of the road, which is called Marine Drive, to the other, up and down, before I came back into the hotel – in all I spent nearly an hour out walking beside the water. But no birds, apart from those two. The photos are all on the phone, not clear enough for any conclusive identification, but my guess is as good as anyone’s. I don’t think the bird I saw yesterday is either of these. The shape of the ibis beak is distinctive, though I realise now that it was against the light so any plumage would appear dark.

 

To my left. A White-faced Heron is my hypothesis.

On the grass verge there were the usual flocks of mynahs and pigeons pecking around, dozens of them whirr about in the mornings and evenings. You can hear them chirping from inside the room too. There’s no traffic noises to drown out the birdsong here.  There was a black, crested bird the other day sitting on the chain link fence, again not a close enough shot but that has to be a bulbul, which I understand was introduced to Fiji by the girmitiyas.


To my right. A heron definitely, but could be either a Reef or
a White-faced. I think it's a Reef because the colour was
uniformly dark, whichever way it turned or moved.

 

Fiji is rich in birdlife, it has to be, such a diverse and lush environment, the tropical forests, the hilly terrain and the vast ocean. There are mangroves here as well, which is another ecosystem with its own peculiar lifeforms. There are more than 160 bird species found in Fiji, around half of which are water/sea birds. Most of them are species I have never come across before – but they are all acting super elusive. Patience, as you’ll know if you’ve been reading this blog, is not among my virtues, but I guess it’s never too late to learn some.


Bulbul sitting on the fence. Introduced by the
Indian indentured labourers.

And I’ll have to get the regular camera out, bird shots are impossible on this piddly phone. I don’t know why I am putting off unpacking, there’s no way I can live out of one suitcase for three weeks. Or maybe even more – there’s no trace of the property I am to, ahem, inhabit. Waiting is an expat wife’s middle name. Patience should be too, but it isn’t, at least not this one’s. But then I’m putting my limbotime as I call it, to good use. 





A-Z Challenge 2022

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Valuable

 


V is for…Vax

 


We got our booster shots a week ago at a Lautoka health centre. We went in with our Indian passports and our Bahraini vaccine certificates and drove the staff out of their minds. Who takes the first two shots in one country, goes back to their home country, does not take the booster there and then blithely relocates unboostered to a third country during a pandemic?! Insane or what?

 

We explained that the Indian system has not yet developed an option for returning NRIs to register, (story of my life, btw! the step-motherly treatment of NRIs covers entire sectors, not just vaccines)  and anyway India isn’t giving boosters to everyone yet. Boosters are only available for 60+ so we don’t qualify. Incidentally the Bahraini app on my phone keeps flashing me reminders about how I am due for a booster since November last, they are boosting adults after six months. After some more explaining and patiently waiting while our details were entered in three separate systems, we got the shots and the cards which are now more valuable than rubies.

 

Fiji health infrastructure is basic, expats get health insurance to cover emergency medical travel into Australia/NZ as a matter of course. The Lautoka primary health centre reminded me of the health centres in Northern Nigeria 40 years ago. The same unplush wooden benches in the waiting rooms, whirring pedestal fans, no token systems, long waiting times. The road in front crumbling away to a dirt track, the parking lot overgrown with weeds. The nursing staff in contrast were excellent, both courteous and efficient. Suavely professional.

 

With my first shot of Astra-Zeneca I had a pretty severe backlash - fever, chills, headache, delirium, totally wiped out for a day. Second shot was a breeze. But this booster was Moderna, so I expected my system would react the same way as the first time, and took the pills before the reaction got fully underway. But even so I felt feverish, washed out and spent the next day in bed.

 

For all its lack of sophisticated healthcare facilities, Fiji has done a pretty good job of the vaccination. Around 76% of the total population has got at least one dose, 70% have got the full protocol.  Fiji went into lockdown, twice I think, with the one in April ‘21 being prolonged for two months. It affected the tourism sector, as also the availability of goods, business slumped.

 

The quarantine restrictions have now been lifted for fully vaccinated travellers. But there are testing requirements in place, both pre-boarding and post-landing. Masks are generally not being worn, and I have somehow happily transitioned to a maskless state without much unease.  I thought after nearly two years of constant mask wearing I’ll have trouble reverting back to normalcy. But thankfully, that hasn’t been an issue.

 

Victory over the virus is still some way away – have you seen the vaccination trackers for Nigeria (11%)  or Egypt (44%)? Africa as a whole (21%)? abysmal doesn’t begin to sum it! Till the world can vaccinate a large chunk of its entire population, the pandemic will not be over. 


View from the balcony





A-Z Challenge 2022

Monday, 25 April 2022

Up

 


U is for…Underwater

 

Yesterday we checked out of the Nadi hotel and came to a Lautoka one. This reduces hubby’s two-way commute by about 40 km every day. But we’re booked here till early May only, then we move to Denarau which is farther beyond Nadi again. So I am not sure how this will help, but mine is not to argue why…the wheels of company practices grind exceedingly slow and exceedingly baffling…

 

Because of the forgotten suitcase, I repacked everything and took an unconscionable time to recheck every inch of each cabinet and drawer where things I’d unpacked might lurk. I am haunted by the fear of leaving something – test results or vaccine cards or something even more important, behind next and being stranded in a foreign country without the regulation papers.



 

Yesterday when we fetched up at Lautoka, the tide was high and the weather was fine. Today though it was a drizzle-sunny combo, which produced a rainbow first thing I saw in the morning. Unfortunately, underneath it, instead of the mandatory pot of gold or any other type eye candy was a ugly-functional no-frills warehouse type building. But still, a rainbow is always beautiful whatever it arches over - it felt like a divine omen.

 


It cleared up briefly as we went down to breakfast so I took a quick walk after. The tide had ebbed. As the water had receded the seawalls that were underwater yesterday were exposed. This too felt more significant that just rocks emerging from water - a reality check. An old frayed tyre had surfaced along with other debris. It happens with every place, every relocation, this high tide/low tide change of perspective and the seawall coming into view. Not unexpected. 


There was a whole flock of common mynahs hopping around on the low barrier and pecking at the grass verge. I saw a glossy ibis hunting off the rocks of the seawall but it flew away before I could get a shot, I am still with the phone and haven’t unpacked the big lens camera.  




It's been raining, sometimes in torrents, sometimes in drizzles, ever since I got back into the room. The weather too feels like a metaphor, the promise of the early rainbow swamped by incessant rains. Any place this green would have to have a substantial amount of rains, stands to reason. It's a good thing I'm not hung up about sunny weather, living in desert climates for decades has slow-seeded in me an uncommon appreciation for rain, but at times the most indefatigable optimism is not enough to stop the mood from ebbing out like the tide.  


The way everyone I’ve met so far has been telling me not to go walking after dark and/or alone, not to speak to strangers as they’ll make out from my Hindi I’m not local, not do this, nor do that, is rather upsetting. Being on my own doesn’t faze me, I can manage with my own company quite well. Expat wives and trailing spouses mostly have to, I’ve had long practice. But security is another matter altogether. Daunting.


Five books and very little solitary exploration – this is going to be an unprecedented challenge! But I’m up for it. Maybe the universe is telling me to complete my third manuscript of poems? We shall see...

 




A-Z Challenge 2022

Sunday, 24 April 2022

Tall

 


T is for....Today



Whatever's happened yesterday, whatever tough times it might
have brought...today is another chance to calm down..


To see things in perspective...and be grounded like these
ancient trees...and refocus...


..
...bend with the winds like tall grasses but then spring back too...




Tranquillity lies in flowing like water, in rising and falling
with the tides...


Today is another chance to be thankful...that what's going well
is going well...and what isn't can be improved with time and a
touch of patience. Have a wonderful Sunday!




A-Z Challenge 2022

Scary

 


S is for...Steel

 


Steel is what my nerves are not made of. The first thing that got me rattled happened yesterday - hubby had gone on a business trip to Suva and was supposed to fly back last night after work. Rang me up to say his flight was cancelled and there was no space anywhere to be had, so he took a taxi back and was on the road at dead of night for some four hours, came back at 1:30 a.m. by which time I was beginning to freak out. 

 

Then this morning we landed up, by the kind offices of Google maps - at a single track bridge, which was just a narrow slab of concrete without any guardrails on the side, laid over a canal. Now we have been used to cars driving on the right side for 25 years, and Fiji, like India, drives on the left. So we are anyways tending to veer over on the 'wrong' side and have to consciously keep hugging the left side kerb. By the time we realised what we were up against, there was no scene of reversing and taking a different route. Cars on the opposite bank were flashing their lights at us to get a move on, so there was nothing for it but to go on.  Thankfully nothing happened, we got to the other side without any problems. But it was nerve wracking for anyone with soft serve floppy noodle nerves like mine. They were thoroughly wracked.


In the evening around 7:30, we went out in search for some slippers, hubby's have got left behind in that last, forgotten bag, and found much to our dismay that all the shops and markets were firmly shut. Maybe because it's a Saturday, or maybe because shops close early anyway out here in small town Fiji. Incidentally, I spotted a bookstore but couldn't go in obviously because it was shuttered. Then we got lost in the back roads of Nadi and I was terrified that we would somehow land up at that bridge again in the dark and this time there would be no saving us, the car would topple into that canal for sure. There were no streetlights and not much traffic, the GPS was asking us to turn off into even narrower, unsurfaced tracks, no way! So we just went on and on for miles through pitch dark sugar cane fields before we got to a proper lighted road again. From there we  managed to get back into roads which we recognised and ended up at an eatery we've been to before. My nerves by then had turned into wobbly jelly. 


So I came back and made this video from archival snaps to soothe  them a bit. Here it is :


 


 


A-Z Challenge 2022