Friday, August 10, 2012

Of Unexpected Travels...

I am part of a very exclusive group of people here in Bangalore.

It comprises of Pappu, Guddu and me.

We're the only three people in Bangalore who have NOT travelled to the US. Now, with the IT hub it is, everyone seems to casually slip away to the US on a project/client meeting/random HR incentive-junket. But Pappu, Guddu and I have not been there.

(Of course with Pappu and Guddu being being 2 and 3 years old respectively, the exclusivity of the group becomes a-cuter)

So it came as a pleasant surprise that I found I had to travel for work to that-continent-that-has-been-in-the-protection-of-Phantom-for-centuries. Yes, I went to Africa for a few days! I mean, who goes to Africa for work. The long and short of it is that now I can put a check mark against Africa too :)

Specifically I travelled to Kenya and Morocco.
First up, travelling alone and for work is not the best way to explore a place. Especially when you're given travel advisories that staying out after dark can be injurious to health. I mean, the real fun starts after dark, right? (I mean in general, pervs)

So some impressions I had from the trip:

Kenya (Nairobi)
I reached Nairobi late in the evening but it felt exactly like India as I was driving towards the hotel. Driving past a Mahindra showroom may also have nudged that feeling along a bit :)

Overall I really got a good vibe from Nairobi. People were smiling and courteous. You could see a lot of camaraderie on the streets with groups of people moving around joking and laughing and back-slapping each other. The weather was very nice and I walked around quite a bit.

Don't you like walking in a new city? I really do. It really feels nice to take in the new air as you trundle along looking for curiosities. But sometimes its scary, especially if its a new country as well. I remember when I had gone to Toronto all those years ago, I was so scared of the term 'Jay Walking'. Now, I had no idea what constitutes jay walking, and what horrible horrible punishments were meted out if you were caught jay walking. I mean I'm used to crossing roads when and where I feel like, right?
So there I was, furtively looking around for the jay-walking cops while I gingerly slithered around the back roads of Toronto, looking for zebra crossings across narrow pathways (almost footpaths)!!
I hid this fact from everyone but now I realize that I'm not the only one. Most people go through this pain when travelling a new country. The bigger things are fine but the smaller ones - crossing roads, tipping, buying tickets for the metro, buying tickets in buses, hailing a taxi - that create the most confusion in the travellers mind

However, the event that I'll always associate with Kenya actually reinforces the corruption cliche that almost all African countries  are afflicted with.

I was in a meeting when our driver started calling my African counterpart frantically. He was so insistent that that person had to jump out of the meeting to attend the call. He came back looking a bit frazzled, but we continued the meeting. As we walked out I asked him about it and he told me a story that is true on a daily basis in the central business district of Nairobi.

The police had hauled away the driver to the police station and impounded our car for a supposed parking offence. Now the driver had taken an all day parking pass but he was hauled away nonetheless. It was just about getting a bribe to release the car. Pretty humdrum stuff, right?

Well, the interesting thing is that the bribe was paid by technology.  Money was transferred to the policeman's acquaintance's bank account using a mobile-phone based money transfer service called M-Pesa!

Now I'm tired of writing so I'll write about the Morocco leg of the trip later.

There is one thing on my mind that I want to put here though:

Of friends moving away -

This year has been particularly harsh as three close friends moved very decisively. What I mean is that till now whenever friends have moved its always been within the country. With that you always have a feeling that you'll run into them somewhere or the other. But these three friends - AK, PS and SN have moved beyond visa limits and thus that feeling of eventually meeting up is not there. Time zones etc. also come into the picture. For example PS and I have been planning to catch up over Skype for a long time now but have not been able to because we're on different time zones with very little common active time.

Well, anyway, these things will happen as people move through their careers in this globally connected world.

So, the point is, I am accepting applications for friendship in Bangalore right now. If you're super rich - excellent. Please apply in hordes...but make sure you're not looking to move out of the city in a rush.



Unknown said...

Assness, how about responding to the friends you do have in the city? You whiney puddle of lies!

Abhinav said...

Get some friends in Africa!