Kolkata, , India
English Language
0 टिप्पणी करें | 31 लोगो ने देखा है | 22 मार्च 13  | Smarajit Sen
First impressions - Africa The name conjures up images of wide open savannah and teeming animals ndash a la NatGeo. The reality is quite different, at least for me. The first real contact I had with Africa was its people, when I saw the crew of Kenya Airways file past me at the Sahar Airport at Mumbai. All ebony, lithe and tall. Nairobi just flashed past me because the change over was very hurried Upon landing in Lagos, Nigeria, I realized what others used to say about Africa was true. Anything is possible in Africa As all my co-passengers waited in queue for the immigration and the customs check, there was a slight tap on my shoulder, and I turned around to see a local black guy standing next to me. He asked me to hand over my passport and landing card and miraculously, I was whisked past all the checks, much to the envious glances from the Europeans and the Orientals standing in their business suits and leather baggage. My savior turned out to be an agent who handed me over to the local representative of the company. Some money changed hands and we were on our way to the domestic airport for catching a flight to Port Harcourt, my final destination. My considerable luggage was effortlessly deposited into a waiting a huge Toyota Esquire SUV, by an equally huge guy Not fat, but huge muscle volume At the domestic airport, I waited in the car while the company guy went in to secure a ticket for Port Harcourt. He came and told me that there was a flight in 2 hours and he insisted on waiting with me. I thought it was pointless for him to retain the car for that long and just sit beside me, so I sent him on his way. I checked in and then sat quietly in the lounge and watched the populace go about their business. The airport is not the tightly secured and restricted area which I am so used to in India. There was a seething mass of people rushing to and fro, booking tickets, checking in, selling mobile recharge cards, books, travel guides, food, Cokes, u name it and they were selling it There were a lot of people who were meeting and greeting quite a few people. This led me to believe that the affluent Nigerian is a minority and they all know each other. There was a flurry of greetings wherever one looked. The African way of greeting is seriously funny. It is somehow hilarious to see a 6rsquo3rdquo tall, massively built guy bending over in a semi-bow and then shaking hands in a very submissive way The entire gesture belies the sheer physical built of the guys. We have been brought up on a diet of Hollywood films where all blacks are all shown as menacing looking, pathologically violent people. Believe me, itrsquos far from reality as we are from the moon. There is nothing remotely threatening about an average black guy. Because, in spite of their physical built, their faces are so soft and benign, that is cancels out any feeling of intimidation that their physique gives out. And add to that a very sexy way of walking these guys have. Itrsquos a very casual, hip-swinging way of walking --- as if they are swinging to some calypso music playing in their heads The other thing which catches your eye is the myriad dresses and vivid and bright colors The ladies and the gents, all wear anything, ranging from pants, shirts, business suits, to traditional long gowns, colorful turbans and headgear, and a peculiar style of kurta-pyjama --- the kurtas are very loose and ankle-length. And the pockets are stitched on the outside. I mean, in India, the slit of the pocket shows from the side of the kurta, but here the entire pocket is outside. And the colors Right from bright orange to vivid purple to golden mustard And all this on a skin which is dark ebony at worst or just black at best Makes you want to put your shades on Another thing is the attitude of women. Irrespective of religion Muslim/Christian, they seemed to be very free and physical in their greetings with their male acquaintances. The normal greeting is a hug or a hand around the shoulders Any greeting like that in India would be construed as sexual harassment in India Brings out the close-minded attitude we have and the cagey body language we have around ladies Any small physical touch is supposed to have sexual connotations because we are supposed to have ldquoonly one thingrdquo on our depraved minds Damn the British for giving the land of the Kamasutra this weird Victorian morality. Anyway, took my flight to Port Harcourt and the driver was waiting with a car at the airport. As we started our drive to the city, I started seeing the actual Africa. The general population is poor. The living conditions are shanty-like and they stretch on mile after mile. And in the middle of all that, you see cars like Honda, Toyota, Mercedes, Hyundai etc. It strikes a very absurd balance till you realize that Nigeria does not make any cars. Everything is imported. In spite of all the glamorous brands, I am yet to see a car which is free of dents and scratches. Also, you see old rust buckets on wheels. They are taxis and are normally Mazda. All of them are pockmarked and dented all over the place. The average Nigerian driver doesnrsquot care too much about the traffic around him, and as a result, its bloody mayhem out there. I had 2-3 minor heart attacks on my way to the town from the airport. Because of the haphazard way of driving, I also experienced my first series of ldquogo-slowrdquo traffic snarl-ups. And in the middle of all this, you suddenly see gleaming black Toyota pick-ups, full of soldiers, armed to the teeth, acting as escorts to the VIPs and white oil men, zipping through traffic, sirens blaring and lights flashing. Reached the housing estate and was greeted with a lot of ldquowelcum sah ldquos and was shown my bungalow by one of my neighbors, whom I pegged as the local busybody immediately. I was introduced as the ldquonew masterrdquo to my housegirl, night watchman and the driver. It sounds too much like the colonial Africa of the 18th and 19th century of which I have read in Wilbur Smith novels. But nevertheless, it is a way of life for the expats who stay here. I am generalizing expats, because in Africa, if you are not black, you are white. All non-blacks are deemed whites. These guys donrsquot have the concept of browns. The white-brown-black idea is exclusively a Brit concept. The bungalow has a huge sprawling sitting room and three bedrooms. The renovations are still going on, and one bedroom has been readied for my use. In the beginning I was using a lot of ldquothank yourdquo with the help, but found out very soon that a polite ldquomasterrdquo is considered to be a weak master. I caught on pretty fast and landed some well aimed kicks on the proverbial butts and immediately, everything and everybody fell into place The things which we take so much for granted in India, you need to come to a place like this to appreciate how far India has come since independence. Power supply here is conspicuous by its absence. Everybody has a generator and our compound has a complete generating unit which takes care of all 12 bungalows. There is no basic sanitation, even in Port Harcourt, which is the oil capital of the country. In any other continent, you do not think twice before getting off the car to buy a pack of smokes. Here you canrsquot do that if it is after sunset. You just canrsquot walk in the town to take in the sights. You have to use the car and keep the doors locked and windows wound up all the time. The water you drink, has to be boiled first and then filtered. Every cloth you wash ahs to be ironed. By every cloth, I mean every piece of cloth you use. That is because there is a pest called ldquomango wormrdquo which gets into your skin through the clothes and then they have to be cut out of your skin. The heat of ironing kills them. This is the only continent which has yellow fever. If you havenrsquot taken a vaccine for it, you will not be allowed into any other continent or country, and that includes India. 80 of the Nigerians live in abject poverty. I have found during my travels that every place has a peculiar smell of its own. Mumbai smells of rotting seaweeds and human excreta accumulated at the sea shore, Siliguri smells of musk and unwashed bodies people rarely bathe in the hills and when they come to the city, the heat brings out the smell, Delhi smells of dust and ldquoachaarrdquo, Kolkata smells of a musty curtain and sweat, but I am yet to get the smell of Port Harcourt. That is because wherever I go, I am in conditioned atmosphere. When I am at home, the AC is on, when I travel to the office, the car AC is on and in office it is the same. Maybe, when I go to the market tomorrow, I will discover the smell of PHC. I have been traveling to all the sales offices where they are waiting to see the new ldquoOghardquo boss. More on my adventures later

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