Who you gonna call? GHOST BUSTERS!

We decided to camp out because as warm nights usually go, this one was beautiful. The stars stretched infinitely above us like we were actually just in a planetarium – yes, I’m trying to compare the Tanzanian night sky to HD quality video. Sad, I know but you’d have to see it to believe it.

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We had a bonfire going where we were roasting strips of meat as was customary and while enjoying our bottles of Serengeti, the topic of local legends came up. And then stories of fairy-tales and magic turn to horror stories.

MK – This isn’t anything like your Mohini/Noorie story from the other week. Our ghost is not a ghost. It’s more like an evil spirit-creature called Popo Bawa that goes around sexually assaulting its victims

Me – Of course, nothing says horror like “Bat Wing“. You sure you aren’t basing your hero on the DC Comic?

MK – Shush, stop interrupting. Legend has it an angry sheikh once summoned a djinni to take vengeance on one of his neighbors. And as you know, djinns are not to be messed with cause they are so clever. This one, like all others, obviously learnt how to dupe his master and escaped.

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Me – Obviously. And then it proceeded to make home in a lamp?

MK – Ha. Ha. It wouldn’t be as funny when it comes looking for you.

Me – Not really a problem. All I have to do is keep a look out for bats. Right?

MK – Hilarious, because the Popo Bawa is a very proficient shapeshifter that attacks at night. It enters a house, sodomizes all the family members and then threatens the family that if they don’t tell everyone about it, it would come back whenever the fancy struck it.

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Me – Yikes, how do you keep it away?

MK – Apparently, a fresh trail would smell like sulphur. When that happens, the entire family huddles outside by the fire and stays awake all night. Some have said that reading a few lines of the Koran will banquish it the same way holy water does.

Me – You’re then going to tell me about staying inside salt circles and using silver bullets aren’t you?

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MK – Popo Bawa has been sighted only near the coast – don’t think salt will have any effect. It’s curious though because the creature only seems to strike during great political unrest. There were reports of it during all the major elections that threatned to get ugly. There are even doctors that are willing to testify that they have treated numerous alleged Popo Bawa victims. They all say they haven’t seen the creature but have seen giant bat wing type shadows fall on them before the attack.

Me – No one’s tried exorcisms? I’ve been threatned a number of times with it cause I’m so “weird”

MK – There are some tribes that place charms at the base of fig trees or sacrifice goats and use its blood to guard their doors. In one village, apparently it possessed a young girl called Fatuma and had a deep man’s voice as it spoke through her and they heard the sound of a car revving on a nearby roof.

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Batman, is that you?

Me – WHAT? This is obviously a very new legend. You sure you didn’t just make it up after watching The Dark Knight?

MK – Hmmm, I might have to take you to the mganga (socerer). Evil spawn of the Popo Bawa.

Me – (looking terrified) What was that?

MK – (Anxiety Attack) What, what, what?

Me – FOOL! 😀

The South China Sea Fish Delegation – Travel Tuesdays

Those of you that followed my journey in Tanzania will probably remember the time when our guide for the day threw us to the sharks for “ snorkeling” purposes.  The thrill of that moment soon changed to crippling phobia like it usually does when you’ve had a near-death-experience. So when I went to Tioman Islands in Malaysia, I felt an anxiety attack coming on.

There is a local legend that a Dragon Princess was once on her way to Singapore from China for her wedding. Exhausted by the long journey, she settled down over the South China Sea to rest a while. The sea was so calm and magical. The sun was warm on her back and filled her with so much peace that she decided to stay and turned herself into Tioman Islands.

(Click photos for larger image)

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The Islands are beyond stunning – with pristine beaches, the place is literally a paradise island with reefs bordering it on all sides and a rainforest to trek through whenever one was tired of the sea. It wasn’t long before I said meh and rented out Mr. Naruto Uzumaki Coconut’s life jacket. I was there for an adventure and even if I were to be drowned AND eaten by the great whites, I’d die knowing that I didn’t back out from a challenge. I mean, how bad could it be? (By some unfathomable miracle, Murphy’s Law didn’t go into effect even though I was filled with dread the minute the thought came into my head)

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The water was so clear that you could see the corals and the fish right from the boat and once you got into the water, the riot of colours that assaulted you was just mesmerizing. Of course I went to pieces the minute I touched the water – even with my life jacket on. My brother let me latch on to his life jacket and then told me stories to distract me from having a full blown panic attack and then slowly eased me into the actual snorkeling. I’m so glad I gave this a try. Snorkeling would make my top 5 list of the most awe-inspiring activities one should undertake as soon as possible and as many times as possible.

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Travel Tuesdays is my attempt to get myself to blog regularly. Every Tuesday I will write about an experience I had while on the road, stories I heard while chugging down local beer, local legends that were shared by bonfire and photos of things that took my breath away. If you have stories you want to share as well, feel free to leave me a message so I can feature you. 

Don’t over-think it bro!

I had never been to a holiday for the sake of a holiday till I was 24. This shouldn’t be surprising considering I’m born to self-realised Social Activists/AidWorkers who can never really draw the line between work and anything else and it would be hypocritical of me to complain because in this field, work is life. And I’m pretty much the same. Still, any holiday we took as children would be combined with a work detour. When we went to the beach, we also made a side visit to the fishing villages that were struck by tornados or a giant tsunami. If we went away elsewhere, there would be villages with a flood situation, with food scarcity and with sheep I could kidnap.

For every essay we had to submit on Shakespeare and the Skeletal System, we had a summer of adventure to look forward to, so much so that the idea of just getting away to do nothing seems preposterous even after all these years. I went backpacking across Europe to end up volunteering in a small village in France. I went to Africa to see the place but ended up working for 7 straight months – even in places where I went to take a break. You know where this is going right? Classic movie sequence of epiphany that hits because of something a stranger observes that you hadn’t even realized before? Yeah, that.

That was my first holiday, and like all firsts, you remember it fondly. I went to Zanzibar thinking I’d spend one day looking around and the evening at the beach and the next day, volunteering at a Madarasa. I ended up staying a week and doing nothing but sipping gin cocktails, making friends with a cat that was older than the island and taking in sunrises and sunsets on the Indian Ocean. I had quite a bit of unlearning and letting go to do.

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Earlier this year when I realised I could go away again, I picked a place because my grandmother, who I’ve come to know only through the stories I’ve been told, was born there and came away to India by a treacherous ship journey that took months and months. I learnt that she used to be royalty in Malaysia and when they came to India, they lost everything. And she had her adventures- she was the first of her family to study in a British School when they opened up the schools to Indians (It was the same school my sister and I studied in) She fell in love and married an orphan boy and lived a life she never thought she could/would.

When I booked my tickets and got my visa, people asked me why I was going – I had a massive SmĂ©agol fit.

2 weeks on a holiday doing nothing but exploring? Not going near a volunteer project or a social cause? Not on any freelance travel writing project? An empty itinerary/list of things to do? Just going with the flow? And then I was finally able to say it.

I’m going for me.

The Neon Diary

Its hard to pin down a memory when there is so much of nothing to do that you just don’t have time. You know what I mean? And sure, I did say I’d write a memory a day but sometimes I just stare at the moleskine diary and wish it would fill itself up. Or just … disappear. I even started getting panic attacks and the insomnia came on full force – what am I going to write? what am I going to say.

Performance anxiety. We meet again.

But then, because of that stress to make each day memorable, I’m starting to notice the little things. Like how my grandmother sometimes giggles in her sleep, how my dad listens to the carpenters at 5 in the morning and dances around the house in a bid to get to work (which is a room 5 feet from his bedroom by the way). And then there’s my mum with her “Close the curtains, the neighbours are watching” warning everytime dad tries to hug or kiss her and my dear brother making a brownie with cornflour and how out of breath my sister is when she calls at odd hours of the day (she lives in England) while walking to some place of importance.

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I’ve realized how my life is a series of check marks on a massive things to do list. Have you smiled at a stranger today? Have you done something totally eccentric and dangerous? Have you said something clever on facebook? Have you left everything just to start all over again somewhere else? It has been a series of challenges but things are not always as exciting or as fast paced. In between Europe and Africa, I have had my share of doing absolutely nothing but dragging myself around the house in my PJs.

And that’s when you know you’re avoiding the “What next” question – which I’m an expert at. It’s been 7 months. But then all these things catch up with you and suddenly I’m in the “lets review” section of my lesson plan.

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1) Africa changed me. I’m too afraid of losing my shit in the Social Sector to even put a whole-hearted effort into finding another job there. Its too emotionally draining and I’m still recovering or scarred or wounded badly. Either way, in India, the NGO work leaves you jaded.

2) Taking care of grammie sometimes has the same effect on me. I’m hoping that I can shift to the creative side – make something, write something, read something or teach something.  Just to get some balance, you know? Something that cuts me off emotionally but still thrills me like only creating something can.

3) I can’t imagine not working with children, even if only on a voluntary basis.

4) Early and special education has suddenly been grabbing my attention. That and mental health. Maybe it’s both take care of grammie and those infants at Africa that’s done this to me but the idea is blu tacked in my subconscious.

5) Sometimes I think I should give up everything and just be a kindergarten teacher who travels the world and writes in her free time- it’d be like those Disney movies – a very interesting turn of events but highly unlikely?

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Is it a sign that I’m growing up when I let go of my lists in that moment when my nephew comes up to me with a huge smile on his face and tells me how he’s the captain of his football team? We made noodle soup together and put on cartoon network and giggled ourselves silly when this came on and he said, “Anju, it’s a sign”

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Dear Neon,

I want a turtle. Now, please go away.

Love,
A.

It’s you I was missing

You with your matching blue skies – your insistence to haunt my dreams and infect me with the travel virus.

Again and again and again.

You with your promise of kind eyes and dimpled smiles and adventure.