Thursday, 15 March 2012

The tota ran away with the totee....

I bought two totas from Mali the other day. I guess they had come out to check whether life would be any better in Liberia but little did I know that they had come to dupe unwitting human beings. Or perhaps their clever owner Ibrahim has trained these birds to expertly escape from flimsy cages which he sells along with the birds and return to him so he can make the same sale over and over again. Whatever the case, after hardly a couple days of having the pleasure of owning some beautiful parrots, planning on making a bigger cage for them, allowing them to use the guest room at night and trying to develop a friendly rapport with them, I stupidly stared at the empty and intact cage and wondered how the heck those birds escaped. 

Why did I even get those birds? I was walking back from the bank on Randall Street in post chocolate-cigar-happiness which had given way to bitter-leaf-bitter-kola-nut-frustration and saw a fellow walking with a bobbing cage from which I glimpsed bright green feathers a few paces ahead of me. I stopped him and asked him how much was the tota-totee pair, and he told me they were for $ 30.00. He told me they were from Mali and as obsessed as I am about that beautiful country with the most soulful music I have ever heard, I don't know what came over me and I decided to make an impulse purchase. So I asked the parrot vendor, Ibrahim, to follow me to my office. While we walked back to the loft, I casually asked him what other exotic animals he could offer me and Ibrahim rattled off a list which included baboon, monkey, chimpanzee and many other endangered and harassed-by humans species. I just shook my head and we reached our office where I parted with $ 30.00 and mentally celebrated happy years of parrot ownership ahead. 

How was I supposed to know my joy was to be so short-lived?

It was so delightful to have the tota and totee sitting in our newly-painted orange balcony, chirping now and then, and seemingly-relaxed in their new environs. I mean, I thought I had rescued them from a doomed future in that tiny cage and some terrible owner who wouldn't appreciate them the way I would. I was going to be get them a bigger cage after all, it was just a matter of asking our carpenter who was in the process of making our new office conference table. I would put them in guest bedroom at night, close the curtains, shut off the light and close the door. Where else would they get their own room? In the mornings, I could hear Haresh excitedly greet them and give them the names of our annoying clients. "Good morning, Mr. X" how are you doing? Did you sleep well?" Oh did I fuss over those birds, plan a good life for them and tried to give them some peace and quiet. 

So lo and behold, one evening, I asked our housekeeper to clean out the cage before she escorted them to the guest bedroom for the night. I had come down from the terrace where I was about to host drinks for friends. I went back up to arrange the chairs and when I came back down for some glasses, I noticed that the totee was missing! And our housekeeper seemingly was unaware as she had already bid them good night. I got so angry at her but she swore that she had no idea what happened. And truly, there was no way the bird could have escaped. There was no sign of breakage. I felt terrible for mian tota and wondered how he would live without his totee begum.

I soon got busy with my guests and planned on getting another friend for my lone tota and a bigger and secure cage on Monday as it was Sunday the next day.

On Sunday, I lonesomely watched the bird alone in his cage and hoped to get him another partner. I went to take a shower and asked Haresh to watch over the bird. I heard a loud holler about twenty minutes later, "Ms. Farzana Rasheed, the bird has escaped." He almost said it proudly as if he had helped the tota escape or whether he had been hoping the bird escape or whether he enjoyed this tragic news, I'm really not sure. 

I ignored Haresh's proud face rushed out on the balcony and gawked at the empty cage. I suddenly remembered the scratching noise the tota had been making all afternoon but did not see any tota-sized escape hole. Did he rub the floor of the cage and summon up a tota-friendly-genie who helped him magically escape? What happened? Haresh of course annoyingly rubbed it in by saying that he told me not to get the birds because he did not know anything about birds and pets have always mysteriously died in his ownership. Who knows, perhaps these birds got a whiff of it and decided to escape with their lives. Either way, I feel stupid!

At the same time, I hope the birds have made it back safely to Mali and are leading a happy life. 

When we were children, my father used to tell us a story that my brother and I were actually parrots who had flown to him one day and over time changed into a little boy and girl. That is why he nicknamed us tota and totee. My mother even today calls my brother tota in affection, especially when she is begging him to come out of the bathroom.  This is how it usually goes: "Beta Tariq, Tariq, Totay!" And the reply is: "Aa raha hooooon!"

Monday, 5 March 2012

I am trying to boycott apartheid

I have recently had a few conversations with friends and acquaintances regarding my objection to the GSM provider, Cellcom, which has the second biggest share of the GSM Market after Lonestar. Well, my objection to them is they being an Israeli company and Israel happens to be an apartheid state which has committed gross acts of crimes against humanity with utter impunity. 

More recently, I made the decision to boycott a very popular event in Monrovia, "Lazy Raft Day," because one of the main sponsors was Cellcom. 

And, for sarcastic fun I started calling it the Israeli Raft Day. God, can you even imagine the terrible tragic comic parallels to the Gaza Flotilla Raid?

I know how random and unfocused my sense of self-righteous anger is. I am so aware of my amateur politics. So, what was the point? Isn't every second or third event in Liberia going to be sponsored by a huge company and chances are it's going to be Cellcom? In fact, the fashion show Haresh and I attended a few weeks ago had Cellcom as one of its sponsors! So much for my disorganised righteous anger. 

One of the ways apartheid in South Africa was defeated was to stop trade with the regime. This would entail boycott of its companies being able to do business internationally. The same needs to be done with Israel. 

I did put my politics into action last year when I was working on a project on a client site which entailed importing routers and antennas from the US. I realised after the fact that the antennas were from an Israeli company and cancelled the order. I went back to the manufacturers of the routers to say that the antennas recommended by them were of Israeli origin and for ethical reasons I could not purchase them. I ended up creating a lot more work for myself because the router company would only officially recommend the Israeli antennas. The ensuing research and efforts paid off though and we ended up importing hardware that worked for our project and we did not have to use those Israeli antennas. 

I realise my meager actions and heated outbursts may not make a huge difference at all but I certainly feel good about exercising my politics. I believe in educating oneself about history, causes and issues around the world and taking a point of view rather than being ignorant and not taking a stand. 

I also understand that one should not impose or force-feed others one's views. Do it discreetly and blog about it at night, in bed, because no one is listening to you!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Business Loan Approved: Giant Leap for the Company

Celebrate your happiness with a chocolate cigar. 

My company (New Africa Technology Company) has made a great leap forward today. We had our loan approved and I signed the offer this morning at the branch close to our office. It is a small loan: $ 20,000.00. I say small because we have taken a lot of credit from the local and overseas market and, have spent a lot of money on building our new office. Most of the loan will be used to pay the market but we have agreed among ourselves to use a portion of the funds to invest back into the business. We will probably import some hardware and software and we have some great ideas already. 

The payment terms cover a period of six months. The interest is 13.5% per annum and 4% flat (processing and documentation fees). The interest is quite high to say the least. 

The whole process from the initial discussions to application; from site visits from the bank to following up every single day and so on, has taken around a month which is not so bad at all. 

Haresh and I have been kicking ourselves for not asking for more but it is a start.  

It felt so good to sign the documentation this morning. I came back to my desk and immediately lit one of my vanilla mini cigars! Haresh also got inspired to have a celebratory smoke even though he has weak lungs. 

I feel like using phrases such as "Liberia is booming;" "There's a good borrowing climate in Liberia;" "Prospects for technology goods and services are quite high." They always sound so impressive and financial.

We are really very excited about the future growth of our company and the kind of heights we are envisioning for ourselves: IT tycoons of West Africa; getting into software development (developing our own OS and making billions out of it); building an R&D Centre; and much more, as far as the imagination stretches. 

I feel rich already!

I don't have a picture for this post but it does remind me of Charlie Brown distributing chocolate cigars when he gets a new baby sister, Sally. I've tried to google that moment and get a picture but simply can't find it. I guess my googling skills are badly wanting.

Meanwhile, I remembered that lo and behold, I actually have a chocolate cigar myself! It's a beautifully presented black praline cigar and I have one left. Here's a picture of my chocolate cigar and mini vanilla cigar taken with my Photo Booth on my Macbook, upside down.

Haresh and I will pose for a photo with our cigars some other day. I am sure there will many more moments of celebration which will call for chocolate cigars.

Evening Tea on the Terrace

Haresh and I are sitting on our rooftop garden sipping our evening tea and eating cheese and tomato sandwiches, listening to Coke Studio songs. It is a great way to end our grueling work days. 

Haresh made a wooden floor and walk way using the left over planks and wood chips from materials for the floor for our fabulous new office. The floor under the chairs is in the same diamond design as the one at our office. 

He also installed a couple of lights (a red light bulb for a romantic mood and a plain energy saving light bulb for normal moods) and an electrical outlet to plug in appliances. It turns out I can also browse on the terrace! 

The garden is coming along even though I really do not seem to have any green fingers at all. My poor plants have started to revive since I have been back from Pakistan. I am planning on adding more fauna and flora. 

We also made friends with someone who has started to grow a herb garden in her balcony and plan to exchange seeds for wine in the near future. It would be nice to have my own mint, coriander, parsley and basil! 

Here's a few pictures taken with my Macbook's Photo Booth but rest assured you will see more cheesy photos in more blog posts as I am so boring and have nothing else to do: