Dearest Lisa

We’ve never met but I feel like I know you. I’ve known you for a while but it’s only when I put down the Deathly Hallows that I thought of you and I couldn’t get you of my head. You didn’t get to read this one. You didn’t see that Severus, dear, dear Severus, he was good. He didn’t betray Dumbledore. His patronus was a doe and there is this one dialogue that I know you and R would have cried over, you’d have sketched it on every page of your book and on the hem of your skirts.


I first saw you in her eyes. I was in the middle of my coffee and she was waiting for her red dosa chutney. The canteen guy was yelling “dosa, dosa”. He was used to it, he used to think she was a deaf-mute. Except this time we weren’t signing like we used to, we were discussing Harry Potter. She was telling me how Harry and Hermione were meant to be together and I was telling her that I have always loved and trusted Snape. We were in the middle of a heated discussion and she sighed and said, ‘I wish my friend Lisa were here’. It was always like that, she’d bring you up when I least expected it. When she did, I would catalogue your name and put it aside for things I would ask her later. “Who is Lisa?”

I don’t know what came first, us almost drowning in our loaded schedules or you bursting into stardust. Something had changed and my only clue was when she bumped in to me, harrassed and out of breath, ‘I’m trying to reach my friend. I can’t get through’. When she found out, she first couldn’t stop talking about you. It was as if talking about you meant keeping you alive. And then she stopped. I never once saw her cry.

She was good at keeping her pains to herself if she once thought she was being a burden to someone. You know that better than all of us. But you are so much a part of her that I think of you when I watch Grosse Point Blank. I hear your voice when I listen to Drops of Jupiter. And when I watch a 11 year old Daniel Radcliffe swallowing hard when he sees Hagrid for the first time, I miss you – the you that peeked out from the twinkle in her eyes. Does that sound strange?


Please, let me sleep?

I shouldn’t let myself sleep.

I don’t really know you and yet,

In my dreams we are in love.

Different places –

A turqouise ocean,

An old heritage building,

A volcano

Always the same story –

We are great friends,

We backpack together,

We realize we have always loved each other.

We kiss.

Oh that sweet kiss!

And when I wake it’s like I’ve lost you.

And I lose you again and again


It rips me to pieces and then,

I fall in love with you instantly.

All over again.

I should be laying awake and praying

That I do not see the light of day.

You have left me such a mess.

Will I see you soon?

I know that when the story ends,

The one that’s in my head,

I’ll be alone again

Why am I so terrified of waking?

You’re gone and I feel I’ve been forsaken

In sleep is the only place I get to see you

Get to love you

Be with you

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.


This is my way of being Zen and restoring the imbalance caused my endless lists of “Things to do”. Here is the list (in no particular order) of the top 50 things that I have ticked off in the past year.

  1. Lived on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro for 3 months and have explored the lower slopes a million times
  2. Got hopelessly lost in a cornfield and walked the entire length and breadth of a coffee plantation
  3. Explored a 1.5 million year old cave
  4. Shared millions of plates of Ugali, Machalari & Nyama Choma (traditional Tanzanian food – stiff porridge made out of maize, banana stew, grilled meat) with Tanzanians
  5. Lived and worked with the Masai
  6. Spent a couple of early mornings at small town/village markets
  7. Listened to church singing and dancing
  8. Celebrated Christmas in Summer and Easter in Winter
  9. Practically owned local transport with the amount of travelling I’ve done on them – which also means I conquered my claustrophobia and agoraphobia
  10. Watched the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti and watched Cheetah’s hunt
  11. Watched the sunset over the rooftops of Zanzibar’s stone town
  12. Lived on a volcano and explored the pre-historic looking Ol Doinyo Lengai
  13. Sat through the proceedings of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
  14. Pinched myself silly while watching the animals do their thing from the rim of the Ngorongoro crater
  15. Watched the Zanzibari mafia load unregistered cars to the background of locals play fighting on the beach
  16. Watched the moonrise – including the infamous super moon
  17. Lived through 8 back to back tremors in Arusha without passing out from the stress
  18. Saw Freddie Mercury’s house in Zanzibar
  19. Took the traditional Dhow and nearly drowned
  20. Went snorkelling in shark infested waters
  21. Discovered Zanzibar in the rainy season
  22. Folded a 1001 origami cranes for my sister
  23. Read 150 books in 8 months
  24. Watched a movie in 3D – no, not Avatar
  25. Slept under the stars many times, even camped out with hyenas *shudder*
  26. Helped someone give birth (4 births in a month)
  27. Learnt how to play poker
  28. Danced in the rain
  29. Climbed many mountains
  30. Started cycling again
  31. Met and befriended real Rastas
  32. Watched a Solar Eclipse
  33. Was in two countries at once (Kenya and Tanzania) – had quite a bit of stretching to do
  34. Jumped into the Indian Ocean fully clothed – jeans and the works 😛
  35. Was a teacher at Kindergarten, College and an Adult Learning Facility
  36. Started a fire with a magnifying glass
  37. Got my nails painted African Style
  38. Participated in local festivities (Traditional Marriages, Baptisms and funerals – and boy do I have stories to tell)
  39. Ran an art class for children
  40. Went backpacking without a plan
  41. Learnt Swahili (and a bit of KiChagga and KiMasai)
  42. Wrote a blog post every month for over a year
  43. Changed my name for a day and did things I wouldn’t normally do
  44. Wrote myself a letter to open in 10 years
  45. Had my palm read my a Masai witchdoctor
  46. Ate insects – a local delicacy called Kumbi Kumbi’s (Tastes like ash)
  47. Went on a picnic after ages
  48. Spent a rainy day watching movies in my PJs
  49. Spent a whole day at the beach (actually, read 5)
  50. Volunteered in Africa for 8 months


Racism in Kilombero?


Since this is my last few weeks in Africa, I decided to put in as many short trips in it as I possibly could. First stop was Kilombero which is the Southern Tanzanian version of the Great Rift Valley of the North. Which means there are untouched rivers, rain-forests and giraffes cross the street cause … well why not? They own this place.

Some decades ago, the South Africans found out how fertile this area was and shooed away the elephant herds and start building a sugar factor that would be eventually surrounded by sugarcane plantations. It’s a comfortable setup but really unnerving cause it was like walking right into the apartheid era.

The white South African side of the centre (Yes, they had their own side) has a massive and well maintained Golf Course, a bar and restaurant with pool tables and foosball and high-def TVs, a swimming pool, a tennis court and a spectacular view of the Udzungwa mountains and their legendary waterfalls.

Walk for five minutes and you reach a heavily guarded gate, complete with barbed wire running for miles on either side. Walk across and you reach the African side of the centre – not so well maintained, mud roads, open drains, makeshift houses with no ventilation … well, you get the picture.

The Bar in the South African side of the fence obviously cannot deny the entry of the locals – such an open display of racism would cause quite a scandal. So it has two huge rooms – the South African and the volunteer’s side and then the African side.

My friends were teaching at the schools in the African side of the fence – a hastily constructed school with no lights, no ventilation, and no furniture – obviously a quick response to the “Corporate Social Responsibility” bane. It was heartbreaking and appalling and scarred me in ways that I didn’t think possible. But mostly it left me angry.

There is a lot of racism in this country – Mzungu (Foreigner/European) is yelled at any supposedly “white” person from bus stands and from children across the road and Mwarabu (Arab) from the workers at the sugar factory (directed at me, of course). Both obviously have really negative connotations and are otherwise used as insults in bar fights. But being in Kilombero made me realise that it is because they don’t know any better.

It is normal to refer to a person by his tribe and his race. Children see their parents and teachers do it and in this place, the Mzungus across the border do it. So there can’t really be anything wrong with it. Can there?

I’m sorry

And I’m sorry if I haven’t written to you in a while.

It’s just that life gets in the way of living.

It’s just that my fingers were stuck together.

It’s just that all the paper in the world caught fire.

You’ll forgive me if I haven’t written in a while.

It’s just that all the envelopes made love to dragonflies

And now, we cannot bring them down.

It’s just that time stopped ticking.

It’s just that all the ink ran clear.

My apologies if I haven’t written in a while.

It’s just that words ran out of letters (these are the last in the bag).

It’s just that language isn’t perfect.

It’s just, me.