Thursday, May 26, 2011

Postcards from Africa

I cannot travel without a plan. I’m not anal about it. It’s just that I need to know what I can and what I cannot do when I go to a new place.

Like you absolutely cannot carry a camera in public in Japan – hypocritical considering how a camera seems to be the natural appendage of any Japanese tourist – but well, you cannot. It’s frowned upon. (Also, if your toilet seat has a number of buttons and you’re too drunk to read any of them, DO NOT PUSH ALL OF THEM AT ONCE. It will only result in involuntary self soiling. True fact!)

Or you cannot call Mao a faggot in China. ‘Where can I find water?’ or ‘Can I pee on THAT side of the great wall?’ carefully enunciated with finger-goes-into-mouth or point-to-crotch-and-trace-pee-trajectory gestures get you no response. But ‘Mao’s a fucking faggot’ apparently means the same in Mandarin as it does in English and has them Chinks seeing red.

Point being, I cannot travel without a plan and I’m not being anal about it.

So while reading up on Malawi it was of mild discomfort when I read that in I could go to jail for farting in public. This is hands down the most ridiculous thing I have ever come across – criminal public flatulence.

The law - “Any person who vitiates the atmosphere in any place so as to make it noxious shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

If this was ever contested in a court, the trial would boil down to bloody kindergarten squabble.

It wasn’t me.

Denial Your Honour! Denial! And we all know that he who denied it, supplied it.

Or circumstantial evidence perhaps?

Beer, fries and baked beans for lunch me lord! We have a sinner!

This did not sound right. Also, when all your travel companions are Caucasians, reports of albinos being mutilated in Zanzibar by witch-doctors did not help either.

Nonetheless, pseudo-undeterred we took off from our respective homes.

From the moment we landed it was clear that Africa is not black. It’s red. Retards at Airtel had taken the bit about ‘painting the town red’ quite literally. So having spent its entire budget on red paint, there clearly wasn’t any left to put up signal towers. (My way of saying - all those calls missed, messages not responded to – not me fault, mostly.)

On the main highway, almost medieval sights (a welding shop with the welder in front over an open fire) mix with signs of our time. A nightclub owner had heard of current events but had maybe not quite understood – his establishment was called the Afghanistan Bar. A barber doubled as a place to charge your phone, which lead to the not entirely trust-inspiring sign ‘Barber – Foni Charges’. A classifieds advert had a young woman named Yammie inviting people to her bridal shower with the warm note ‘Let’s shower’.

If you have ever visited the far east, you will notice that nearly every one has an anglicized or a catholic name so that most of us who are not Asian-Asian don’t choke while saying QingXao. The rationale used when choosing the name is simple – ‘Hi I’m Fat. Because I am Fat’ or ‘Hi I’m Fish. Do you like seafood?’

Fair enough I think. Not very inventive but fair enough.

However, the folks in Africa have decided that it’s most convenient to instead use a literal translation of their names. So Simpiwe Mazibuko calls himself Gift Mazibuko. Consequently, we have Bless Me Nkhata, Been Well Gawa, Wisdom Tasosa and the sisters Wonderful and Graceful Mkina.

Clearly, there was a lot of sense being lost in translation. But the Africans weren’t the only ones at fault.

We ran into quite some trouble with the locals because an enthusiastic Frenchwoman Sev (retro-shades woman in the 4th pic) tried to speak only in the local language, Chichewa, despite clear signs that English would do just fine. Just to make it clear – I’m all for learning the local language before new travels (BB for instance – learning Spanish just so she can be pounded to pulp by tomatoes – what resolve and all etcetra!).

But what a Frenchwoman does not realize is that no matter what she says, how she says, in whichever language she says – it all sounds French. So Chombo (fish) sounded like Chomba (hashish) and Chombe (tea) sounded like Chomba as well. And none of us wanted the waiter to dish out narcotics – especially not in a nation where breaking wind could land you in prison beside Sodomizing Siwombo.

It did not help that her refrain whenever she botched up Chichewa was - ‘This is the best Chihuahua I can do you know’.

Apart from a fortnight of linguistic hurdles, traveling with a bus-driver preoccupied with singing haunting Malawian gospels ensured that we were oftentimes lost in transit as well. And if not for better judgement and border patrol – we might have been lost in Transvaal.

Not that I’m complaining.

Just saying.



vira said...

whoa whoa whoa

Spectacular photos dude. loved the first one with the smiling faces.. as u'd say "bahut jyaada too much ho gaya yeh"

p.s. need tohave a beer soon

Shruthi said...

Africa. It's another continent that has tourists getting Nat Geo fever. Doesn't seem like you did. :D

I do think there's more stories to be told. I want to hear everything! :D

Share more!

kamna said...

oye kaminey... ye toh actually bahut zyaada too much ho gaya hai.....
i'm sooooooooo jealous... lets talk in 2-3 years OKAY!!!!

notgogol said...

@vira: Anytime. So when you coming here? ;)

@shruthi: Nat Geo fever is a very good thing. Sometimes being a stereotype isn't all that bad you know.

@kamu: Someone who lives abroad and has traveled to two digit African nations does not qualify for jealousy at all. Kuch bhi kya?

S said...

I loved the collages. I wish you more travels so you can entertain us with more pictures and stories.

youbloodywellknowwhothisis said...

I think I need SOME clarity on a LOT of things.

1. Do you play 'spin the globe' to choose a vacation spot. Cos your taste fits the bill perfectly.

2. Not a single infant in the first collage is smiling. What the heck did you do with them?

3. Your third collage is so wannabe. I'm sorry but IT IS. Are you wannabe?

4. Why does that guy in the last pic look like Jim Carrey?

5. Sources say that SMS were being received till 17th May. Obviously selectivity was involved. So STOP IT with the "there was no signal" rant child.

notgogol said...

@S: Thanks, but I did not compose the collages. Just the photos. :)

@ibloodywellknowwhoyouare: Sending an SMS saying that you have commented is not the best form of anonymity.

1. This is just a very silly question. I expect better from you.

2. I think the goras confused them. Or maybe I did. (I would have said, brilliant observation, but...)

3. Hmmm

4. He does na :)

5. You're sounding awfully maternal. Please stop.

smartassbride said...

ozzum dude. didja sing waka waka in pencil skirts while you were there?

ps : love the b & w collage!

notgogol said...

@SAB: No re. Only Latinos do that na :) I could have tried though :)

P.S. Thankingness :)

Anonymous said...

Nice :-|

- N

notgogol said...

@N: Sorry :-|
Next trip?
Pukka :)

Basically Blah said...

So, out of curiosity, who keeps tabs on this fouling of Malawi air business? The Gastapo?

That first collage is all happy happy. Really nice.

However, my interest is really drawn to the Malawi dry gin. This needs to be discussed in more detail.

notgogol said...


Won't talk about the gin. It causes impotency. Drinking it, that is.

Anonymous said...

Heya there! Thanks for the comment. I've been reading your blog since Bone of contention. You, my friend, are a genius at this! How do you manage to churn out genius post after post? Huh?

notgogol said...

I did not know that someone lurked around for so long. Thanks for coming out of the closet :)
And genius it seems. Lol! :)