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November 25, 2017

Our Garden in Bahirdar "without Hard work nothing grows but weeds" - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post No - 33

Padma next attacked the garden. The garden can’t be called a garden at all. It was a front yard full of pebbles, stones and rocks. Padma was heartbroken looking at its state. It had construction rubble too! The soil was very powdery and she doubted if anything would ever grow in it. Padma tried taking the stones away but it was a back breaking job.

Seeing her toil without much success, I hit on what I thought was a great idea. I asked Padma to ask if Mulugeta’s (The Kable’s watchman) son could help. When beckoned the young man appeared. Padma asked him “Clear the stones?” The boy looked on impassively. “Clear, Clear” Padma was getting desperate. The boy could not comprehend what Padma was asking.

Padma showed him what has to be done by actions. The teenager slowly nodded his head. Padma heaved a sigh of relief. “How much?” she asked. The boy simply smiled. This was testing Padma’s patience. She said “100 Birr!” The boy looked on. “100 birr, 100 birr,” She remembered my bargaining in the market “Aend Meto, Aend Meto (one hundred in Amharic)” Padma was blabbering by now! The boy nodded and went off.

Padma waited for three days and later told me about her experience. “I don’t think the work is worth more, I don’t know what to do!” I went to my go for person when I have any issue – Addis Gedafaw.

Addis said “Anil, I am sure that the boy must have thought your wife was joking! I am sure that the watch man gets 25 birr (Rs 100) a month as salary. So when your wife said 100 birr he must have thought she must be joking. Being a kid and that too not being very good at English, he must have simply avoided the entire issue”.

Addis told me that typically most house owners would have offered 5-10 birr. Later I came to know that the Birr has tremendous intrinsic value and that most Ethiopians earned very little.

Ethiopian Maid 
Ethiopian maids were very famous. Most local Ethiopians would give their maids 30-50 birr a month (Rs 150 – Rs 250).The Ethiopian maids would come early in the morning and would stay back till late in the evening. Some of them are so poor that they would be happy to stay permanently in the Injera house if food and accommodation was provided.

They would do any type of work. Sweeping the house, cleaning the utensils, washing, drying folding and even ironing the clothes, taking care of the children, roasting, pounding and making coffee, preparing the dough and making Injira and the different varieties of wats.

In short they are super workers! And they would do it 365 days a year. Their washing of the clothes was a sight. They would wash the clothes in a small tub and they would bend and wash very slowly and very methodically. Padma remarked “no wonder they are so slim and agile. They simply can’t put on weight when they do so much hard work”.

The Ethiopian girls who worked in expatriate homes were super special. They could speak English and some of them could even cook Indian and European dishes. Most maids who worked in Indian houses would get between 70-100 birr (Rs 350 – Rs 500) per month.

These maids would be well dressed and were very stylish in behaviour. Most of them would address the Indians by name which the Indians found very disconcerting. Most would stylishly sit at the dining table and have tea and coffee along with the family. They considered themselves as working professionals! Some of them even pursued extension courses (distance education) at PEDA.

Pranav and Sahithi on the rocky mound that Padma created 
Seeing that help was not forthcoming Padma set to do the work all by herself. She worked like a lady possessed! I saw with astonishment as the stones and pebbles slowly disappear over a period of ten days. A small rocky hillock was formed at one end of the compound.  The garden had only two small saplings, one was a mango and the other was a guava. The rocky hillock would later take shape of a rock garden!

I went out and got some Cannas from the PEDA campus. We planted them on the either side of the pathway that Padma created. It was very difficult but slowly the garden started taking shape. Later we planted some marigolds, dahlias and Zinnias. We got some rose cuttings and planted them too.

Pranav and Mrs. Anasuya Devi, Padma's mother at the rock garden (earlier the rocky mount) 
What was surprising was the strength of the soil. It was the richest soil that I had ever seen. The soil although appearing dusty and lifeless was full of fertility. The plants would shoot up and in front of our unbelieving eyes would grow fast and start flowering in no time at all.

Zinnia plants and the garden 
In one instance I plucked out fully grown marigolds and replanted them in the path way. Padma was howling her protest “they are mature plants, they would die”. To our ever-lasting astonishment they not only survived but thrived and flowered profusely.
Sahithi in the front yard of our garden
The thrown away dried marigolds seeds resulted in literally millions of small plants. It was heart breaking plucking and throwing them away as weeds! Contrast that with what happens in India. Even a humble plant like the marigold has to be bought and it would cost at least 50-60 rupees a plant.

Our pathway and Panther the black cat that was incredibly tame!
We had bought sun flower seeds in the market and Padma planted them. We were eagerly waiting to see if the sunflower plants would come out! Seeing sun flowers in our own garden would be a treat in itself. 

November 22, 2017

Bale Rejim Rejim Tse’gurua Setyo - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post - no 32

The problem with the pink house was that it was not the way we expected. The kitchen was not yet given to us and Padma was forced to cook in the drawing room. And it was quite tough as we did not have the adequate utensils. We decided to go to the main market.

We came out and took the blue and white mini bus. The fare was 55 santims (Rs 2.75). But there was a problem with the mini buses. They would be full of students of PEDA and inevitably there would be at least two or three of my own students. The students would be overcome by awe and shyness but would giggle and stare at Padma. Immediately they would whisper “bale rejim rejim tse’gurua setyo” (thanks are due to Elefachew Mossisa for making me get the term and the spelling correct).

We thought it was quite offensive. But any how there was nothing that we could say or do, we could only grin and bear with it. We got off at the market and went on a shopping spree.

We bought a kerosene stove, kitchen utensils, plastic buckets, mugs and then kerosene. It was refreshing to buy kerosene without a ration card. Then the trouble started. All the earlier shops where we bought were big and the shopkeepers  were polite and would speak a smattering of English. 

The interior shops were manned by Ethiopians who would not speak English. Padma and me started showing them what we wanted and then started buying them in quantities that we wanted. We were getting zipped (over charged) but we had no other way.

And the crowd, they would rally around and imitate our voices and actions. It was a riot. The situation was so desperate that we wanted to give up. Then a voice spoke out “Sir, can I help?” and that too in English! I spun around violently. It was a sight just like seeing an oasis for a person who did not have a drop of water for many days! I gaped at the English speaking Angel!

The person who spoke was Tigist (unfortunately I don’t remember her full name). She was a Marketing Diploma student from PEDA and I was teaching her Sales and Marketing course. She quickly grasped the situation and swung into action. From then on the shopping was smooth as silk.

We would tell her what we wanted and show her the items and Tigist would ask, haggle and buy. I could see the difference. I started spending less and less. What we thought would take us hours got finished in a jiffy. I learnt the magical word “sintenum” (how much) and say ORRO nasally which meant ‘oh no” in a slightly annoyed way. Later I learnt to haggle and say “Habesha, Faranji yellam which meant I am a local and not a foreigner”.

We were feeling thirsty and wanted to have a tea or coffee. I had tea, Padma and Tigist had Avocado juice and it was a herculean task trying to stop Tigist from paying the bill. My extreme big built and the Ethiopian traditional respect to teachers finally made her accept my view point that I should be allowed to pay the bill.

Then the real drama started. Tigist started picking up all our bags! She effortlessly picked up bags weighing well over 20 – 25 kgs. At the same time, she looked expectantly at Padma. We did not understand what was happening.

I tried taking the bags but Tigist would not budge. I got rattled and asked “what is the issue, Tigist? Why are you not allowing me to carry the luggage?”. Tigist wailed “oh teacher, how can I let my teacher and that too a man to carry the bags. That is the work for the women folk”.

I was getting a flicker of an idea! I knew what was happening! In traditional Ethiopia, it is the women who carry the load and the man would saunter ahead and take-in the scenery. She thought it was her duty and was getting puzzled why I was so insistent.

I explained to Tigist that in India it is the man who carries the loads and that woman would walk happily behind and may be help with a small bag or two. But Tigist would not budge. She was adamant. It was a stalemate.

There was no getting around Tigist. The omnipresent crowd materialized. It was a scene from a bollywood movie. It was so dramatic and that too it was between a Faranji and a local Ethiopian girl. 

They must have thought that the Faranji was fighting or harassing the local girl, that too a university student! Some of the young men in the crowd I am sure would have started flexing their mental biceps. They were spoiling for a fight.  The situation was getting out of hand!

We started walking to the bus stand and someone suddenly blurted out “bale rejim rejim tse’gurua setyo”. That was absolutely the final straw. I looked at the crowd and yelled “why are you being so rude, why can’t you leave us alone?”

The crowd fell silent but Tigist was puzzled “why are you shouting at them sir?” I was upset but controlled myself and said “This has been happening all the time since we arrived. We know that foreigners are fair game but this is really too much”.  

Not Padma's Picture 
Tigist’s face broke into one of the most beautiful smile “bale rejim rejim tse’gurua setyo is not making fun sir. They are complimenting your wife. The phrase means lady with long hair. They simply love your wife’s dark black hair”.

Padma at that time had very long and luscious hair that would at least be 4 - 4.5 feet long. For Ethiopians who are used to seeing short and curly hair, long black hair would have appeared lovely and exotic. Not understanding the language can lead to so many problems. So after that whenever someone yelled “bale rejim rejim tse’gurua setyo”, I would grin and laugh but Padma somehow could never get used to all that extra attention. 

November 21, 2017

Milk maids and Tom cats - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post no - 31

The next day dawned bright and we got up to loud banging that jolted us from our sleepy slumber. The banging was coming from the front yard gate. I opened the main door and was bowled over by what I saw! Two impish eyes and one very cute nose and a grinning smile peeping from under the space of the gate itself. I flung open the front gate and was stunned by the charade.

Bottle Gourd container  
There was a crowd of nearly four or five kids all trying their best to get inside the house of the firanj! The head girl, the leader may be all of 5 -6 years, held out her right hand. In her hand was one of the cutest article I have ever seen. It was a container made of bottle gourd. She mimicked the action of milking a cow.

Then it struck me, the enterprising local milk man had send me home delivery of fresh cow milk! I took the delivery of the cow milk taking care to ensure that the herd (of children)  does not over run our new house.

Ethiopia is a totally cow country and there were no buffaloes. It was quite tough initially to drink tea or coffee with cow milk. Cow milk has a different colour and texture and a slight smell. The curd too had a sticky feel and did not set into nice chunks like the curd made from Buffalo milk. And yes like in many countries, Ethiopians do not consume either curd or buttermilk. The cold climate made the setting of curd, a culinary challenge in itself.  

Even after shutting the front main door, we could hear the children giggling and whispering for a long time. It was daily chore for almost 15 to 20 days before they gave up. They thought it was very unsporting of the firanj not to allow them a free run of the front yard.

It was a Saturday and a holiday. I took a leisurely walk along with Sahithi in our new colony, Kable 7. Three houses away, I ran into my PEDA colleague, an Ethiopian English faculty. He gave me a wide grin and said “Good morning Dr. Aneel”. I wished him too.

“So, How was your first night in Kable 7?” he enquired. “fine, fine” I assured him “but the noises in the night were disturbing” “Noises!” His eyebrows shot up and almost touched his fore head “what noises?”

I explained the noises to him. He was silent for few seconds. Then he gave out a loud shout “DR.ANEEL. You are totally mistaken. Let me assure you, that Kable 7 is very safe and there are no ghosts or spirits that dislike foreigners or people writing in the night. I am sure that the noises were caused by tom cats settling their arguments over queens (female cats) the only way they know, with their claws and curses.

I am sure that the local monkeys would also have participated in the argument and added to the racket. As the roof was made of tin the sound would have been muffled”. “Spirits” he roared with laughter “The only spirits that most Ethiopians love is Tella (a locally brewed drink like our kallu) and Dashen Beer” he added with an all-knowing grin on his face. 

Dashen Beer 

November 20, 2017

Man Proposes and God disposes – Ethiopian Journey – Blog Post – No 30.

Many a times we plan and plan and then the event is snatched from our hand. That is what happened on 22nd November 2002. I really don’t know what transpired, but I was called to the administration department and told that I have to take the pink house and I was given the TINA! Before readers jump into fancy visions of who or what is TINA, let me pour water on any fancy romantic theories. TINA stands for There Is No Alternative. I had to take the pink house.

I rushed back to Ethiostar and told the breaking news to the bewildered and incredulous Padma. It almost broke her down!  She received the news with a wide opened mouth. “When do we have to leave?” she enquired anxiously.

“Anytime” I answered flippantly “the university bus has already started from PEDA”. Giving me looks that could have burnt a person to ashes, she rushed inside muttering something ominously.

The university bus landed at Ethiostar and we somehow rushed all our suitcases into the bus and off we went to the PINK house. PEDA staff had already put an eight seater sofa in the house. They also had given some very skeletal kitchen utensils, a huge centre table and two single cots in each of the bedrooms. There were light bulbs. But they were incandescent bulbs of very low wattage. Like the cane partition they seemed very tired and apologetic.

The Electric oven and the refrigerator were not delivered. The house had a wooden almirah but without any racks. The entire house was full of our suitcases. After dumping the luggage I rushed back to the university.

In the evening Annie Clara came along with me. She wanted to see our new house. She gave a start when she saw the house. “Sir” she exclaimed “this is the house that I wanted to move in. I am sure that I was not granted these houses as independent houses are not given to single employees”. Checking herself, she added “any how I am happy that it has been allotted to you”. Seeing that we did not have any appliance to cook food she generously offered us her electric stove.

Seeing the commotion our neighbour Chidambaram and his diminutive wife Usha came over. They invited us for dinner. Dinner that day was a gala affair. It was almost ten days since we had some genuine Indian food and the children enjoyed themselves immensely.

Once we got back home, it hit us hard. This is going to be our house for the next two years. We need to adapt and make it our own.    

That night Padma packed us off to the bedroom and started to write a letter.   She was sitting on the sofa in the drawing room. Bahirdar shuts down quite early. It was definitely spooky and it was hardly 8 p.m. but the night was loud with squeaky sounds made by crickets. The effect was accentuated by the huge glass panes and the cold wind that was blowing through.

Later she told me that it was very eerie sitting in the dim light and staring out into the darkness. Her imagination was playing wild tricks on her. She could almost see figures floating about in darkness. She could not shut out the view as curtains were not provided.

She wrote paused and wrote again. Next time she paused, she realized that it was not her imagination, there was something moving scurrilously about, very slowly and with very little noise. Shocked to the core, she tried to identify the source. To her horror she discovered that the noise was coming from the roof right over her head!

The more she wrote, the more was the noise. And after some time it became unbearable, the sounds were increasing in intensity and it was perplexing. What was causing the noise? Where there spirits that did not like people writing letters in the night?

Gathering all her wits, she mustered enough courage to switch off the light and rushed to the bedroom. She got into the bed and covered herself with a bed sheet. But the noises were relentless and some-how she lulled herself to sleep.

November 17, 2017

The Pink house in Kable - 7, Bahirdar, Ethiopia - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post No - 29

Wooden Gate, Pink House, Kable 7, Bahirdar 
The first to get a house were Bala and Vasavi. They got a nice house in Kable 13, a good four kilometers from Poly. We were getting desperate as we were not used to living out of a suitcase. And with two kids who had all the time in the world, it was a nerve wracking experience.

Accommodation was not available in the university and even if it was available, it was not being offered to the Indians. We Indians have a very good way of trying to cut each other’s throats. Like the saying goes “we are not worried when we have power cut in our house, we only get worried if there is no power cut in our neighbor’s house!”.

Then it happened! the university officials called me. There was a house available in Kable 7 (Sabat). And it was just a kilometre away from PEDA, my place of work. Excitedly we rushed to the house. At the first look, the house was pretty disappointing. It was a pink coloured house with a tin roof. It had false ceiling made of thermocol sheets. Approximately it would be around 300 square yards in size.

Front door
The house had a quite alarmingly sharp tin gate which had wooden supports and the boundary wall was made of rough stones mounted onto each other rather haphazardously. There one house on its left and it was occupied by an Indian teacher Chidambaram from my own management department and the boundary wall between his house and this house again was a very “you push, I fall” type of apologetic cane partition that was thoroughly soaked in rain and it had a woebegone expression on it.

It was as if it was sorry that it was a boundary wall. In its own view it was not a great boundary wall at all! But it had great pride. It draped itself with a creeper of unknown variety and it always reminded me of a shy maiden peeping behind her green veil.

And the cane wall boundary was tilted and had a huge gap and through it we could see almost the entire portico of the next house!

Padma the ever witty exclaimed “it just looks like our own tadika!’ (a thin a cane  sheet used to protect one from sun and rain in India). She waved an accusing finger at Pranav and said “Young fellow, you better not get rough and fall on it. One fall and it would get smashed. As it is university property, we are not even very sure as how much will be charged from Nanna’s salary as damages”. Even though said in jest, Pranav was suitably impressed. He whispered “amma, I would be careful”

On the right was another house and again the boundary wall made of rough stones and it had many holes and trouble was already brewing. There were at least 3 to 4 kids welcoming us the Ethiopian way – loud shouts and babuji’s were flowing freely. Internally I heaved a huge sigh –the unwanted attention can wear one down. It was so relentless and loud too!

The entire front yard had big rocks and small boulders and there was no garden at all. It was hot and dusty. It was not what we expected. It looked as if we were in rural India and not the idyllic African setting we wanted.

The house had a small L shaped portico and an Iron door. The drawing room had huge glass panes. The house had a decent drawing room and it opened into a small kitchen. The kitchen was occupied by Mulugeta the Kable 7’s watchman. He had his bedroll in the kitchen. The drawing room had a rest room to one of its side and two bedrooms on both sides. It was a small and passable house but we did not like it. The floor of the house was not smooth and it was covered by a synthetic sheet and it had a rough and ready look. And with no furniture it was not a house to look forward to.

We did not like the house and told the puzzled university official the same news. Like most Ethiopians he took the news stolidly and grinned. I understood that he would convey our feeling to the administrative head of the university. 

November 12, 2017

Memories, memories and memories - Ethiopian Journey - Post Blog no - 28

I am getting many queries as to how I am able to remember so many details and that too so graphically. I am letting ‘the cat out of the bag’. Right from my childhood, I was fascinated by things and had a gifted memory to remember and reproduce the same dramatically.
Muscat, Oman 
During all my trips I had maintained a diary of some sorts and even for my Oman trip (my first foreign assignment) I have copious notes. These are not notes parse but very elaborate letters that were written to my wife and parents.
Letters were a life line to sanity in those days. I was a forced bachelor and talking on phone was exorbitant, so sending and receiving letters were the only way to get connected with near and dear.
It was quite frustrating when our man Friday (the person who got us the letters from the Post box) pass my cabin and look at me and say “Anil Bhai, aaj aap ke liye letters nahi hai”.

I used to type out my letters and send them to India. During one of the phone conversations my sister Dr. M. Uma whose family was staying in Yemen wanted to know about Oman and its culture.  I took a copy of one of the letters and posted it to Sana'a, Yemen. She liked it very much.
Sanaa, Yemen 
I started posting all my earlier letters too, starting from the first letter to Sana'a, Yemen. To make it exciting for her family, I posted one letter per week. Later my sister told me that this gesture of mine made her family the cynosure of the entire medical fraternity in Sana'a, Yemen.
Non Resident Indians very rarely get letters and even if they receive they are mostly aerograms and that too very irregularly. Getting a letter in a month itself was very rare. Sana'a hospital had a huge display board where the letters would be displayed and all the Indians would eagerly go and check if they had got a letter.
So a thick cover that arrives every week and that too with the name of M. Sandeepthi (My niece and now a budding Cosmetologist) made my sister’s family and especially Sandeepthi a minor celebrity of sorts. The medical fraternity were quite envious about the entire thing.

But the real chronicler of our journey is my wife M. Padmavathi. Padma with all her busy schedule of being a full time home maker, managing the kitchen with only one Kerosene stove for nearly four months, no maid (she was scared that the local maids would be of an inconvenience), a small kid of two years, taking care of all the washing and the cleaning, trying to home school a very naughty seven-year boy, taking care of the garden and writing laboriously for hours together late into the night, OOF! I think it was a super human effort – Padma a one woman army, a virtual super woman.
Padma wrote so many letters and that too, with so much detailing that it makes for stunning reading. The letters remain fresh, even after fifteen years! So much of history and memories captured on paper. Reading these letters is an amazing experience.  We had completely forgotten some of the incidents. The detailing is helping me make the journey more accurate and getting my time lines more in sync with reality.
The letters that we have sent both to India and USA were lovingly preserved both by my father Sri. M.C. Anjaneyulu and by my mother-in-law Mrs. Anasuya Devi in USA. These letters which were preserved over 15 years-time are worth their weight in gold. They arrived from USA and we eagerly received and we read them with anticipation.
To our utter dismay the prima Donna, the first letter from Ethiopia was missing. The entire set of Padma’s travelogue came to a whopping 440 pages (A4 size paper, written very closely and compactly to squeeze in as much matter as possible). We consoled ourselves saying “it is all right if the first letter was missed, we have all the rest”!
The next day, there was an email from M. Sai Prasad, (Padma’s brother who stays in USA). He has send me a scanned PDF of the first letter and it was 28 pages long! Apparently Padma’s mother by mistake did not send the first letter and asked her son to scan and send us the same! Knowing us, she was pretty sure that we would be doubly anxious.
Nannagaru (my father Sri M.C. Anjaneyulu), Mrs. M. Anasuya Devi (my mother-in-law), M. S. Sai Prasad (Padma’s brother) and Padma, I owe you people. You were instrumental in clearing some of my mental cobwebs. 

November 06, 2017

Reading newspapers from street walls - Orthodox Ethiopian Christians - Ethiopian Journey - Blog post no - 27

It was quite common to see people crowding in city square and reading newspapers and notices pasted on the wall. They were indulging in ‘reading from the wall in actual sense’ unlike virtual reading from the wall popularized by social media giants like Facebook. It was interesting to see many people crowd and read news. Once in a while somebody would read something aloud and all of them would burst out laughing out loud. It was social interaction at its best.
My father had told me that Indians too would do the same in the 50s and the 60s when people were hungry for news but could not afford to buy a newspaper. The major attraction was the wall outside the Kasturi building, Mount Road, Madras (now Chennai).
The iconic English newspaper ‘The Hindu’ was published from the Kasturi building. The Hindu would paste the next day’s news by the afternoon or the evening. People would crowd and read the news for free. They could also search for any typos or spelling mistakes.  Some lucky ones would infact find some.
Such lucky finders would be treated to a plate of hot idlis and a hot piping Chennai filter coffee, for free in The Hindu’s cafeteria.  That was the level of seriousness of The Hindu. As I saw what had unfolded in front of me, I wondered – ‘many get a chance to see the latest and peep into the future, but how many of us are lucky to go into the past and experience the life and times of our parents’. It was most surreal, to say the least.
It was a Sunday morning and the kids were still sleeping. Padma and me went out for a walk. A strange sight beckoned us. There are people standing on the road and facing an imposing building, Others were very close to the boundary wall of the building but were not touching it. Many had pressed their faces to the wall and some even kissing it. All the time I could hear muted murmurings and all of them looked serious and solemn. Overcome by curiosity, we crossed over and peeped inside the building. 
The sight stunned us, the building housed a huge church and there were many people inside the church premises, some I saw very close to the church steps and I assumed some were present inside.

I was puzzled “why where they standing outside the church and why were some of them standing outside the church building”. I could understand the inside of the church not having enough space but the space in the compound of the church could easily have accommodated all including the ones standing outside the main building, the faithful kissing the wall and the people on the road.

Later an Ethiopian friend explained “Ethiopians, especially the orthodox Christians are very pious and god fearing. They worship the god from a distance that is comfortable to them. Only the ones who believe that they are pious and pure enter the main church. The proximity or the remoteness from the god is decided by the self-belief of how pure or sinned one feels internally.” I found this thinking to be very deep, puzzling and unreal. But it had happened in front of me!

For many religious people, sinning is some thing that you leave to the mercy of the god. Huge donations, or penance is enough to wash away the sins. In-fact the proximity to the god is possible if one is materially rich! But being away from the god and that too voluntarily, touched my heart very deeply. 

Mango Park- The pelican man - Ethiopian journey - Blog Post no - 26

Bahirdar by the Evening
Evenings in Bahirdar were pleasant. The promenade from Ethiostar to the mango park was full of huge palm trees and had very moderate traffic. The air was definitely cold and bracing but evening walks were not very strenuous and sweating was one unheard of. We could walk many kilometres without breaking out in sweat.
Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile and is the largest lake in Ethiopia. Lake Tana is approximately 84 kilometres long and 66 kilometres wide, with a maximum depth of 15 meters, and is at an elevation of 1,788 meters. Lake Tana is fed by the Lesser Abay, Reb and Gumara rivers. Its surface area ranges from 3,000 to 3,500 km². 
Mango Park, Lake Tana, Bahirdar 
Mango park was a park that was created on the Lake Tana’s front. It was a park of decent size with a nice gallery facing the lake. Visitors could sit, relax, read a book, talk with friends or just nod off to sleep.  There was also a paved path that meandered around the lake for visitors’ who wanted to walk and admire the lake. There was a small cafeteria that served cool drinks, tea, coffee and some snacks.
Pelican in Full Flow 

Lake Tana Video 
A special attraction at the mango park was the pelican man. This Bahirdar resident popularly called the pelican man had been feeding the pelicans for many years and they had become incredibly tame and friendly. They would languidly swim close to the shore, their eyes always watchful to the arrival of their feeder – the pelican man. Woe betide a ignorant tourist who approach the pelicans at their feeding time to take their pictures. 
The pelicans would hungrily descent on the poor man and would rapidly put their very long and sharp beaks enquiringly in the pockets and then thrust their beaks wildly into the air.  They would all the time keep squeaking loudly and complaining about the indignity and injustice meted out to them. This would amuse the locals to a great extent. The pelican man was a very gentle soul and he would accept 5 or 10 birr as feeding donations with a disarming smile.
Lake Tana Islands 
Lake Tana has many mysterious islands that host old and unique monasteries. These lake monasteries have ancient churches and museums that have a treasure of ancient holy books, crosses and other religious artifacts. Interestingly entry to some islands is only for men and for some other entry is only for women. The lake Tana Island  monasteries could be visited by a boat and it would take a full day to cover all the islands.
Boating on Lake Tana 
We could see noisy speedboats, slow moving launches carrying many Ethiopians to Dek, the largest island on lake Tana. The one thing always caught the eye was the small and the precariously fragile looking papyrus boat. 
Papyrus Boat, lake Tana 
Papyrus boats are made of tankwa weed. They looked very fragile but it was common to see as many as five people on a single papyrus boat. A lone wiry boatman fishing in lake Tana in the background of soft lyrical traditional Ethiopian music in the receding sunlight makes for an unforgettable experience. 

November 05, 2017

Ethiopian Chapatis - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post - 25

Cheeky Chapatis
I am very much happy and humbled by the feedback that I have received. I receive calls, E-mails, SMSs, messages from my readers who are pretty annoyed that their daily dose or serial (as they refer to it) has not yet been published or got delayed. There are many who demand that I write my entire Ethiopian Experience all at once. My niece, Dr.M. Sandeepthi remarked “Mama who has time to read it once a day? Why don’t you write it as a novel” She was visibly annoyed.

Some of my readers have expressed  their doubts as to if the incidents have happened as recited or if they are figments of my imagination. For example ‘did Sahithi really say all that about seven year difference in age and also if the Telugu lady was really annoyed at her husband saying Chao, Chao to her’. This is my response to those specific queries.

Oh Yes, if I were to think logically, what the readers are feeling is logical and realistic.  I am chronicling things as they have happened. I write with creativity and panache but i am not very imaginative. If I had imagination like my mother (the quite well known Telugu writer M. Hemalatha), I would have become a professional writer. But alas it is not to be! I can be a biographer and a feature writer but not a novelist. Things really happened the way they are recited.

Days were slipping away and we were getting into a routine. But it was tough to live out of a suitcase, especially as we had four huge ones along with four equally bulky cabin luggage! It was really irksome to search and not get what you want!

The one issue that was really getting to us was the lack of proper Indian food. The Ethiopian food is quite bland with zero spice and very little salt and chilly. And compounding the problem was the quality of rice available and the way it was cooked. The rice was broken and had the same taste and texture of boiled rice .

The cooked rice was soggy and moreover was accompanied by a tomato curry that had no taste! We were too smart not to open our very precious pickles that we had so lovingly carried all the way from India. They had to last for a good two years!

The women in our group took the matters into their own hands (literally). They raided the Ethiostar's kitchen. Tagging along were the friendly yet curious hotel staff. The Indian ladies found the kitchen quite passe, and discovered that the cooks were not trained to prepare Indian dishes. The lady brigade was desperate. They were at their wits-end. But they found that the hotel had wheat flour.

So a sight unfolded that made everyone gape. The Indian ladies cooking army was marching on. They plonked themselves in front of a huge table and made dough. They wanted to roll the chapatis. 

Chapatis being rolled with bottles 
There were no rolling pins available. We had bought rolling pins from India but had misplaced them. In desperation Padma, Vasavi and Tasneem rolled Chapatis from glass water bottles. The local chefs were fascinated by the entire process. They could not believe their eyes. That night we had nice proper Indian chapatis .

Very quickly we realized  that for the Ethiopian chefs, who have not rolled chapattis in their life, found rolling chapatis a huge chore and the results were frustrating. The chapatis would not be of any uniform size or taste and would be thick and quite bulky. But they were eaten!

Pranav at that age was quite a solemn boy. He found the entire eating experience to be very painful, but was philosophical about it. One night he brightened visibly. Seeing his excitement, I asked him “Pranav, what is the matter, you seem to be happy?” all the time trying to push the not so edible and burnt Ethiopian chapati into my mouth. It had just occurred to me that a country that prides itself as a land of sun burnt people is serving us burnt chapatis!

“Look, Nanna, look!” Pranav exclaimed “This chapati looks like Ethiopia”. Pranav was quite a geography buff and could easily identify many countries. The not so experienced Ethiopian cooks managed to make chapatis, one of which uncannily resembled their own country! At that time we did not have mobile phones. If we had, we could have captured the infamous Ethiopian Chapati in its full glory before it was consumed!

This hugely interested my two year old daughter Sai Sahithi. She would hopefully examine her own chapati and whisper into Padma’s ears “Amma, what does my chapati look like?” The chapati looking like something meant so much to Sahithi!  Not to disappoint her, Padma would tell her name of a state or a country!

Any name was okay for Sahithi; she just wanted to be one up on her smart alerky brother, Pranav Pratheek!  If Pranav had Ethiopia for lunch she wanted to have United States for her dinner! Oh, those were the days, when innocence reigned! 

November 03, 2017

Marathon Running – Drama within Drama – Close finishes, Heroes and Villains – Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post – 24

Anderson - Schiess, the never say die swiss marathon Runner 
In the 1984 Olympics, the 39-year-old Anderson-Schiess, the Swiss marathon runner enters the stadium. Unfortunately for her, she missed the fifth and the last water serving station and had become dehydrated.  She is 400 metres from the finish line. She is totally done. She moves, hobbles, her torso horribly twisted, Her left arm limp, her right leg which had lost of its mobility. The volunteers are helpless. If they help, she would be disqualified. 
In front of thousands of spectators who are awed and shocked to their core, the spectacle unfolds. She takes many minutes and the race is forgotten. All the spectators are involved.  As she struggles, her struggle becomes their own. They cheer her on vociferously, the whole way. After many agonizing minutes she still gamely continues and holds her head in her hands. She is in agony but does not give up. She is still at it. It is mind over matter. Her entrance to the Olympic stadium and the struggle to cross the last 400 metres takes her five minutes and 45 seconds. 
Finally, she crosses the line accompanied with deafening roar. The winner too did not get that type of reception! She faints and is taken to a hospital and luckily recovers. There are many runners who have died running or trying to run the marathon. 
Time is such a big issue in sports that it can be a barrier in itself. The 100 (hundred) metres dash is over in ten seconds flat. That is as much time as we take in reading a string of 50 words!  Ask P. T. Usha. She came 4th in the 400 metres dash in 1984 Olympics. She clocked a heart breaking 55.55 seconds and the bronze medal was won in 55.54 seconds. P. T. Usha was slower by 1/100th of a second.
Motivating Video, Never give up 
That night it was very difficult for me to sleep. India never won a medal in Track and field. A medal in the track and field was ours for the taking and we missed it by a proverbial whisker! I am sure P.T. Usha does not spend a day without thinking “what if, what if, what if I had just lunged at the finish line” ‘what if, what if’ will linger on for a life time. Too much of a mile-stone to be carried on the slim shoulders of P.T. Usha. Hats off Usha, we are always indebted to you for the lovely memories.
Most inspiring Marathon runner ever 
India beat Pakistan in the inaugural T20 International Cricket World Cup in 2007. In a heart stopping last over, Joginder Singh bowls Misba-Ul-Haque a fairly decent delivery. Misba had a brain freeze and had a real swing at the ball. It is all in the mind. Misba was overcome by the situation. He wanted to be done with it. Sreesanth circles down the ball and takes a well-judged catch and that was that! India wins the world cup.
Spare a thought for all four players in this real life drama.  Misbah-Ul-Haq the batsman, becomes the villain number one in Pakistan. It is easily forgotten that he brought his country so close to winning. He brought them very close – just a stroke away from winning the world cup. Yet so near and yet so far.
On the other side the Indian captain, Ice cold Dhoni who had the guts to bowl Joginder Singh in the last over.  It could have gone horribly wrong and Dhoni would have been left holding both the baby and the bath water! He would have carried the blame for a life time. Just like Chetan Sharma, who even today is blamed for bowling that full toss to Javed Miandad, who swung it to six and win the Australasia cup for Pakistan in 1986.

And what went on in the minds of Sreesanth and Joginder is worth a million dollars! As Sreesanth waited with baited breath, did he get the thought of failing? I don’t know. I think the adrenaline rush takes over and the sports people live in the present! Very easily it could have been the other way round! Pakistan winners and India being the runners up.   So let us be sympathetic to sports persons and understand their problems and try to look at sports with the needed compassion. Let us remember that the players whom we are watching are playing as we can’t or can’t play better than them!