Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Good afternoon Randall Street

Looks like we're having a really dry rainy season...

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Great hotels make great cities

One of our good friends was back in Monrovia for a brief consultancy and, we spent the Sunday afternoon going to some favourite spots such as Saaj for lunch and, coffee at the Royal. Afterwards we went exploring the ruins of the magnificent old Ducor. 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Soggy Lunch

We got soggy parathas for lunch yesterday and, I posted on FB: "Nothing is worse than a soggy lunch." My friends respond:

"Flat beer?"
"Lukewarm wine?"
"Bad sex"?

I was bemused by the imaginations! I do not know in which universe "soggy lunch" can be interpreted as bad sex! 

So, I googled images of "Soggy Lunch" and here's what I find:

Honestly, I'm fed up of eating simple vegetarian fare almost every day. In the beginning, it was great to have daal, rotis, sabzi and sada chawal. There are some tasty South Indian treats, too, once in a while which we Pakistanis are not very familiar with. 

We only get chicken once in a while. Fish once in a blue moon. There's never been any red meat. I crave meat now to feel satisfied. 

Moreover, the tiffin is delivered quite late these days: lunch at 3 PM and dinner at 9 PM! You're hungry and, when you finally get to eat, it is soggy!

A letter to Chicago

16 July 2013
Above Master Trading
Randall Street

Dear friends in Chicago,

Greetings from Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa!

Some of you are not Facebook therefore I am sending this letter. In fact my best friend, Chipo, herself is not on Facebook. As you know, Facebook easily lets you share one-liner updates and, truck loads of pictures.

I myself fully embrace Facebook as a new medium to interact with friends, practice online politics, and generally have lots of fun.

But I did vow never to become one of those smug parents sharing every moment of their new babies but whaddya know?! I have an album named "Komal Kavita Karamchandani" that has a blurb that starts reads "Kavita is the love child of an Pakistani and Indian couple that met in West Africa..." If that isn't trying to be hippy and smug, I do not know what is. What's more, it has 800 pictures already and, every caption reads "Cutest baby in the world!"

I pretend that I am not being smug to everyone I know by sharing this album only with 100 or so friends of mine (as opposed to all my 600+ "friends" list). You can do that with that the custom button. But that doesn't defeat the fact that I AM smug. Maybe when you have a child, you just think it's the cutest thing anyone has ever produced.

So, it has been almost 6 months since Komal Kavita Karamchandani was born. She is doing extremely well and, I am besotted with her. I love squeezing her cheeks and kissing her about 200 times everyday. I mostly in love with her little hands and feet and, how they kick and grab and explore. All the cliches about motherhood are true: you fall in love with your baby, you constantly worry, after you're tired of constantly worrying you start to take it easy, you don't have time for the father of the baby anymore, you try to do everything yourself and find yourself quite exhausted, every little new thing the baby does is thrilling, and every day life significantly changes.

Kavita is crawling, eating solid foods, smiling as soon as she wakes up, and licking anything she can get her hands on. It seems taste is the sense to explore the world with. Give her anything, it goes straight into her mouth.

The girl is mostly sleeping through the night and, has her routine aligned with ours. Either Haresh or I give her a bath, dress her, and take her to work with us. She takes a couple of naps during the day and, we have baby-fied the office so she has a place to sleep, has a corner with all her toys which she is not really interested in, she'd rather play with my laptop or calculator.

It took us a while to figure it out - at first the poor thing was either sleeping on my lap or in the car seat or in a small bed on my desk and finally on the floor. We got an office crib and made a baby corner. When she is awake, she is being entertained by the entire office.

We met some same-age babies recently that were quite different from Kavita. One was so shy of strangers since she stays at home all day. The other one "keeps her parents" up all night until 3 AM but I knew that it was the parents' routine which had created a nocturnal baby. Everyone else seems to project onto their children. So, Haresh loves to say, "Change the channel, Kavita wants to watch the cricket match."

Our conversations these days go like this:

Farzana: Haresh, please give the baby a bath!
Haresh: 9-11-2009 was the blackest day of my life! [the date we met at Accra Airport]

Farzana: Haresh, you have to get up at night to feed the baby in case she gets up because I'm getting up at 5:30 for my workout.
Haresh: Farzana, I'm tired, I've been up since 5:00 AM.

Farzana: Haresh, please mind the baby while I write this e-mail?
Haresh: I've been up since 5:00 AM.

Farzana: .... [While changing baby's diaper.]

Haresh: Get me the diaper! Get me the wipes! Please hold her while I'm changing the diaper. [While changing the baby's diaper]

Kavita being very cranky while with Farzana. Haresh comes over, takes baby and says to baby: "Your mother doesn't know how to take care of you, I'm here, your holy saviour."

Farzana: Don't do that! Whaat are you doing??! Be careful!
Haresh: I have raised 2 girls before. You don't know anything about babies.

Farzana: She looks exactly like me.
Haresh: No, she looks exactly like me. Thank Gawd!

Ladies, train the husbands/partners early on. Divide the work right from the outset. Let him do the morning bath and, you do the evening one. Let him get up one night in case baby wakes up and, you the next. Let him change most of the diapers. Involve him in everything. Ignore all moaning and whining. If he throws a tantrum, let him throw one, and take over the baby. Do not engage with a tantrum-thrower and, let him feel bad about it later on. Do take lots of pictures of the baby and the father.

I feel very very lucky to be working for myself and, being able to bring my baby to my office. I can continue to boss and lord over everyone! Just kidding, I'm trying to be less of a drag queen so Kavita doesn't become one. The upside is that Kavita loves to socialise and, meet people. Unlike that baby! And, after a hard day of work and repairing networking printers, she sleeps throughout the night.

What I really I really like about having a baby is the structure it gives you, which is great for a procrastinator like me. I now have to learn how to squeeze in my work and hobbies in between the baby's baths, feeding her, entertaining her, getting her stuff ready and, putting her down for her naps. I also seem to be doing a lot more! I've started the monumental task of trying to get back into shape and, shed the baby weight. So, I'm getting up at 6 AM three times a week to go exercise with my trainer. I'm also blogging a lot more! We also seem to be doing new stuff to entertain the baby on weekends.

I miss Chicago too much! I loved meeting you all and, cherish all the support and moments of friendship we shared. I feel like a wonderland opened up for me so I could have the baby in the safest and most loving of places. I can't wait to visit again!

The company is coming along and, we are working hard.

The days are tiring and, I'm often spent at the end of the day. Kavita and her father have nodded off by 11 or if I'm lucky, 10 PM. My secret thing is to catch a movie on DSTV and, eat chocolates.

On that note, Kavita is nodding off, Haresh retired long ago, and, I am going to doze off in front of the TV, my face stuffed full of Nutella. Straight out of the jar.



Thursday, 11 July 2013

Tree house

These are some pictures of what I would like to call a "tree house" I spotted last Saturday. We were driving towards Cedar Restaurant and, I got down to take this picture. It is on the corner of Camp Johnson and Clay Streets. 

As everyone knows, Monrovia has many dilapidated buildings and strutures. Most often, they are situated right next to functional, maintained and new ones. This creates some amazing photographing opportunities. 

This building seems to have several trees growing right inside it - giving it a "tree house effect." Soon, the trees will totally take over the building. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Rainy Afternoons

We're enjoying the rainy afternoons at the office, sipping tea.

Everyone's back from site. Haresh has calmed down a bit after being hyperactive all morning and yelling, "Dhanda karna hai ya nahin!" (Translation: do you want to hustle or not?) And, I've also mellowed out a bit after yelling "Why did you just do that?" all morning. Kavita is also taking a nap - usually - at that time in her crib in the baby-fied corner of my spacious office. 

I subject the whole office to my favourite music like Ali & Toumani or the Best of Nayyara Noor or Tina Sani or my "Oh so romantic" playlist from my iTunes. 

Obama is in my best friend's shit house

It is safe to say (or is it?) he is in everyone's shit house these days. FB is teeming with some brilliant satire about the first African American Presidential disappointment who could not

The story of yak na shud do shud

We keep moaning about Monrovia and, that there's not enough places to go out. Yak na shud, we went out to 2 new restaurants in 2 successive days: Steak House in Sinkor and Cedar in Buzzy Quarters. 

The delectable Steak House, where we went out on a Friday night to celebrate Kavita's 6 months, gets 5 out of 5 stars. We had the bread sticks, fillet mignon, grilled salmon, margaritas and creme boule. The service is flawless and the ambience is classy. I also loved the stylish owner, attired in an elegant white linen suit, personally attending to all the patrons. 

The restaurant is housed in a new plaza that is not yet fully rented out. And, it looks like there's going to be another coffee shop at this address! 

I loved that all the smokers were politely shown out of not only the restaurant but also the building

And, Cedar gets 3 out of 5. We had the mixed grill. Loved the funky green and red colours. If Cedar gets its act together, it could be great competition for the trusty Diana, a fast food staple for Monrovians. 

Ramadan, Guantanamo Bay, and Obama

I love how Barack Obama's tweet being slammed down yesterday by a certain Frankie Boyle collided at the same time as Mos Def's stand up against the torture going on at Guantanamo Bay yesterday. See the video here

I also love the responses to this tweet. 

Also, see this excellent article about Mos Def's, now known as Yasiin Bey, in the New Yorker. 

Subha ki sair....

These are some pictures from yesterday's morning walk. I was up on top of Benson Street hill at 6:30 AM. It was cloudy and grey and, it felt refreshing. The view of the rest of the city was spectacular. To be able to gaze at the whole city from a certain height gives you a sense of wonder. It is the same sense of wonder when you are looking down on a city from a plane. 

The magnificent Masonic Lodge
Every single time I'm out there for my morning exercise, I'm struck by the significance of the address that the Masonic Lodge and American Embassy share. Since reading Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code and watching National Treasure, Freemasons have permeated our popular consciousness. The founding fathers of the US were freemasons and, hoped to build a country based on Enlightenment ideas. 

So, here in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, a country founded by ex-slaves, deposited by the very Englightened US Government on the coast of West Africa, we have the American Embassy and Masonic Lodge opposite each other on top of a magnificent hill over looking the rest of the city. 

I see Liberians lined up waiting to go to the Consulate and, apply for visas: young and old. Many of them are probably going to go meet relatives. Some have won the visa in the lottery. Many of them want to seek better opportunities. 

There is a photograph of a signboard "Voices of the Voiceless Intl." I could not resist taking this picture. My dream is to be involved a coffee table book that will have some amazing photographs of the unique signboards and shop signs in Monrovia. 

I took a photograph of Ditco's building since I'm always admiring the beautiful flowers on the balcony. They are some of the few flowers on Randall Street. 

I always wonder what Randall Street would be like if it had trees. I wonder what Randall Street would be like if it had art galleries that show cased some political art instead of auto spare parts shops. I always wonder what Randall Street would be like if it had some eclectic cafes where poets and artists mingled instead of the myriad of building materials shops where businesses were making profitable deals with local procurement officers from NGOs, UN Agencies and Government Ministries. I wonder what Randall Street would like if it were the centre of a cultural renaissance.

A poem about a city in West Africa.

"Are there lilac trees 
In the heart of town? 
Can you hear a lark in any other part of town? 
Does enchantment pour 
Out of every door? 
No, it's just on the street where you live. "

Thursday, 4 July 2013

A rainy afternoon at JFK Hospital

I was thinking of Naomi for a few days, wondering how she was getting on. The treatment she received in India improved the quality of her life for a few months but when she recently came over to visit us, she had lost weight again and was complaining of severe pains again. We connected her to one of our friends in the medical community, hoping she could find another benefactor who could fund another trip abroad for further treatment.  Nothing came of it. 

So, Haresh found out from Facebook that Naomi was at JFK. We went for a visit. 

Haresh went in first to find out where she was and meet her first. I waited outside with Kavita. I found some old ladies sitting under a tree and, chatted with them a bit. They were besotted with Kavita and, cuddled her. 

JFK's reputation is not very good. Liberians have nicknamed it "Just for Killing." Most people who are taken to the hospital under emergency conditions do not survive. There is at least one horror story of a missing person whose body was found in the grounds of the hospital. Notwithstanding bad management, the main issue here is that the medical infrastructure in the country is in shambles. 

It makes my blood boil to think that the aid and development industry has not established at least one fully-functional hospital staffed with qualified doctors and nurses and equipped with the best tools and equipments. Billions of dollars later, what do the UN and other NGOs have to show for anything? 

I sat under the tree with a heavy heart wondering about Naomi and, wondering about her prospects in fighting cancer in a place like Liberia. I thought of other friends who succumbed to illnesses, sudden or prolonged, while it drizzled. 

After Haresh came out, I went up to meet Naomi. Luckily, Hareshad bumped into Naomi's mother and easily found her. Before I went up, he quickly told me that she is in a bad way again and, that the tumour has grown again. Surgery without the possibility of chemotherapy will only be a disaster. The doctor had given Haresh a dismal picture. 

Apparently, Naomi had begged the hospital to take her in. She did not have the $ 50/night and other fees. 

I went up to see Naomi and, she was in that bad state again, very thin and gaunt. I made some pleasantries and told her I'd send her some fruits and snacks later that day. 

Naomi's mother walked me out and, we spoke a little bit. I told her we were so frustrated wither family for never having expressed any interest or genuine appreciation for our efforts to get her better treatment in India. Moreover, we had hardly met anyone from Naomi's family. It explained to her that many times I had even dumped my frustration on Naomi herself. Her mother quietly listened to me and, said that things were quite difficult for her and, although she had been with Naomi all along, it wasn't easy. Plus she was too embarrased to come over. As we shared our feelings, I felt utterly depressed thinking about Naomi's suffering and enormous struggle to fight for her life. I also felt angry at myself for being impatient, unsympathetic and overly judgemental. 

As I explained to Naomi's mother, the history of our relationship, I realised that my desire to help Naomi is mixed up and not even very clear. Until perhaps now. 

I know Naomi through Wesley. She was one of his favourite staff since she is an exceptionally bright and intelligent girl. I knew only of her - mainly for her violent disposition and, frequent quarrels with the rest of her colleagues. She had also appeared quite stand offish to me a couple of times I had visited his office. Suffice to say, I hardly knew her and, had a bad idea of her. It was only when Wesley died and, I decided to take over his office that I got to know her as a real person. She was suffering from an illness, had a leg amputated and was a bag of bones. She used to visit me but often go home, unable to even sit on a chair, screaming in agony. I even offered her a part time job with us but she was often sick. I got to learn of her miserable marriage and, it helped to understand her a bit more.  After Haresh and I got together, he inspired me to try to help her. That's how her trip to India materialised. 

Still in my arrogant ways, I judged for not appearing "grateful enough." I did not appreciate family members coming to meet us. What did I want? Sure, we stretched our finances by funding the trip. Sure, we made great efforts to find other friends and generous people to help us to help her. But what I did want out of it? Why was I so judgemental?  

If I think about it, that is my personality - rather formal, full of give and take, subjected to good conduct and expectations of hospitality and kindness. It should only apply to socialising with people of the same means. Not those who have less than us and, suffering from life-threatening disease. What do I know of family dyanmics in poverty conditions? What do I know what happens when people are in need and, no one is around to help? 

I suppose I also come from a certain background where I was not always taught to really reach out to people in suffering. I have even witnessed in my own extended family the lack of sympathy and kindess amongst very close family members. 

It has been a long learning curve for me - to not only have a sense of compassion and desire to help but, also to learn to help without expectation. 

I thought about all of this and, felt ashamed and tired of my feelings. I felt grief thinking about Naomi's suffering, the injustice of life, reminded of my first experience of suffering of my university friend in London who passed away from disease, and how I took it so personally. My first youthful reactions to death were anger, a sense of injustice and a complete rejection of the existence of a God. But how have I dealt with these philosophical questions hence? By continuing to be an angry aetheist or, try to do some good?

Helping out Naomi was a first step. And, I'm so glad I had a partner like Haresh to teach me what a selfless act really means. The second, third and all subsequent steps entail one to deal with life and death in a realistic, sympathetic and graceful manner. Be aware of suffering but, if you can help, even better. Be aware that  you might not be able to solve all the world's problems but, trying to relieve some pain around you, is the right thing to do. Being genuinely kind to people makes life and the world literally a better place. 

So, where am I now? I am overwhelmed by a sense of grief thinking of this girl Naomi, being eaten by this disease. I think of her courage to continue to fight for her life. Haresh tells me that it is unlikely she will survive and, perhaps these are her last few moments. 

As much as I would love to send her abroad for further treatment again to save her life, our finances are seriously stretched at the moment and, we simply cannot afford it. I feel helpless.

I can only resolve to show Naomi as much affection and care as I can now. 

I normally hate hospitals but they actually can inspire both despair and hope.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Another great quote from Stephen Ellis

"Tens of thousands of Westerners, ranging from sandal-wearing volunteers through to the highly paid consultants found in five-star hotels, would have to look for a new line of work if Africa stopped needing aid. They collectively constitute a key lobby in Western relations with Africa and are the lineal descendants of the merchants and missionaries who influenced  British policy in the nineteenth century. Whether bright with sincerity or dulled by cynicism, workers in the aid and development business have become part of Africa's perverse integration into globalisation."

Stephen Ellis, Season of Rains - Africa in the World, p.33

I couldn't agree more. It is the pimple-faced consultants I can't stand.