Saturday, January 19, 2013

First One Out is a Rotten Egg

The email read:

“Dear Ms Blah,
We sincerely apologise for the incident. Could you please date the rotten egg? We can then take measures to see that such incidents do not happen in future.”

Umm…. I’ve only ever dated rotten eggs. If there’s a rotten egg out there, he’s got my number.

Oh, hang on. They meant a rotten egg quite literally. My mind drifted back to my recently concluded African safari. (I will tell you more about the actual safari in a separate post. This post is dedicated to the aforementioned rotten egg.)

It was the penultimate day of the safari. Our safari party settled down to lunch at the designated picnic area at Tarangire National Park. I opened my lunch box and was immediately besieged by an adorable squirrel and several bold Superb Starlings.

SK opened his lunch box, and everyone and everything in the vicinity dived for cover. While filling our lunch boxes at the camp in the morning, I had most wisely opted not to pick up a hard-boiled egg. SK was quite clearly not so prudent.

As it turned out, the egg was in an advanced stage of putrefaction.

Code Red, everybody, we have a decomposing egg. I repeat. We have a stinky decomposing egg.

The trouble with decomposing eggs is that-- Well, actually, there are plenty of troubles that come with rotten eggs as we soon found out.

For one, there’s the sheer bile-evoking stench. And now, we were faced with a dilemma none of us had faced before in our lives.

We had to dispose of this decomposing egg during a safari in an African national park where disposing of trash of any sort is strictly forbidden.

They don’t provide trash bins in the designated picnic areas as that would pose a problem for the animals that forage around in the vicinity. You take your trash back with you.

So, we had this egg on our hands now. Lovingly wrapped in a paper serviette that did nothing to mask the horrible smell.

Have you seen a squirrel gag? No? Just try offering it a putrid egg. The giraffes we’d been watching, idling by the river, had galloped away. The elephants were no doubt packing their trunks for an emergency evacuation back to Kenya.

To put it in an egg shell: Houston, we have a problem. How do we get rid of this egg?

“Giggling is not the answer!” I was admonished. “I’m sorry,” I sputtered, “but it’s the vapours from that egg.”

A giggling woman and a fetid egg do not make for good company and I soon found myself alone, warily regarding the pestilent egg.

* Thunk, thunk, thunk *

I wheeled around. SK was right in the centre of the picnic area, digging a hole with the heel of his boot, quite oblivious to the curious stares of other safari goers. SK was part of my safari party. I did not want to be considered mad by association.

“What are you doing?” I called out in horror, “The toilet is the other way”.

“Digging a hole. I’m going to bury that egg,” he shot back.

“In the middle of the picnic ground?” I hissed.

“Then what do you suggest we do with it?”

“I don’t know. It’s your egg. Of all the eggs, who asked you to pick that one?”

Clearly, this egg was sowing some seeds of serious discord. We gingerly tossed the egg back into an empty lunch carton and placed it on the front seat of our safari Land Cruiser. Rotten eggs always ride shotgun.

Emmanuel, our driver/guide, was normally very cheerful and chatty. But within five minutes of having sat in the vehicle, he was strangely mum and perturbed.

He stopped the vehicle abruptly. “Spotted something?” we asked looking out at nothing. Emmanuel grunted. Then he deftly opened the lunch box, picked up the offensive egg and flung it into the depths of tall green elephant grass. “The smell was terrible,” he announced, his good mood now restored. “Ay, Pumba!” he chuckled, pointing at an unfortunate warthog that was fleeing the now egg-infested area.

“Another Ngorongoro Crater is going to form there. Only we will know what really caused it,” said SK, his good humour returning as well.

As we drove away, I spotted a group of vultures swooping into the area. No doubt a decomposing chicken egg would be a rare treat.

“The rotten egg date, as is the case with a lot of rotten egg dates, is easy to remember. December 28th was the only day that we did not spot a single lion.

Basically Blah.”

Monday, January 14, 2013

Yawning Tortoise Shelldom Bites

Anyone who knows me well would know that nothing rarely excites me more than the prospect of spending time with some little four-legged creatures.

So on a day-trip to Prison Island, which is about an hour by boat (if you can call that pile of wood a boat) from Stone Town, I looked forward to visiting the tortoise sanctuary. A boat named “Desire” deposited us on Prison Island.

The beach was lovely – cool cobalt-blue water that gently lapped up to fine creamy sand. However, it was close to noon and the blazing sun was soon burning me to a crisp.

Prison Island is home to the endangered Aldabra Giant Tortoise. I entered the tortoise sanctuary and was immediately glad for the cool shade the numerous trees afforded me. I soon forgot about the heat. I was so taken in with the sheer number of these gentle and sociable creatures.

There were tortoises everywhere – grey lumps that moved lethargically sometimes but remained stationary for the most part. The smaller babies were quickly grabbed for pictures.

“Do not sit on the tortoise,” a sign announced at the entrance. I could see how people could sit on these great big mounds – either accidentally, mistaking them for a rock, or intentionally because of the novelty.

I sauntered around, curiously watching the tortoises. Some were eating, some were sleeping, some were contemplating moving and a few were copulating (it is breeding season). Their ages were painted on their shells. The old lady of the house is a 189 years old – which is only middle age for these fascinating shelled beings.

I sat down on a stone bench to rest. I suddenly noticed a 28-year-old tortoise taking a keen interest in me from about six or seven feet away. Did I look like spinach? Did he fancy Chanel's Chance? With a curiously intent expression in his eyes, he moved at an astonishingly rapid pace and made a beeline for me. He plodded up and sniffed my foot before looking up at me.

We had a moment. A long moment. I was entranced. I patted his head, stroked his neck and tickled his chin. He gazed up at me adoringly and I was mesmerized.

And then he yawned, his enjoyment evident on his amused crinkled face.

After a good five minutes or so,as more people gathered around, he slowly moved away, possibly to compare notes with another comrade. The two of them soon seemed engrossed in deep contemplation with their heads banded together.

As I left, I silently thanked that tortoise for according me such a remarkable moment. True, it was a simple moment. Nondescript even. With a grey and wrinkled tortoise.

Life gives you many special moments. But how many of those come ensconced in a tortoise shell?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Turbulent Tailwinds

There were plenty of surprises in store for me at Zanzibar.

To begin with, I’d never flown in a Cessna before. As I boarded the plane at the Arusha airstrip (it would be pure hyperbole to call it an airport), I found there weren't any seats left.

Refueling and maintenance work in progress
 “Co-pilot’s seat!” said the usher cheerfully and led me out and up to the front where he strapped me into the co-pilot’s seat.  The pilot clambered in shortly, sneezing and sniffling into a handkerchief. “I’m sorry, I have a terrible cold,” he said. “If you have any bad feelings, just hold onto this,” he added, gesturing toward the top of the dashboard. I wasn't having any “bad feelings” until I spotted a “how to fly” manual perched between our seats.

As we took off, I battled the near-sickening thrill in my tummy – like the feeling you get sitting in the front seat of a roller coaster just before it rolls off the peak. “Expect some turbulence,” said the Captain. “Don’t worry,” he assured me, noticing I was gripping my armrest quite tightly, “The plane won’t fall down. It will only float in the wind.”

Gee, that’s reassuring. Thanks much, you Xanax in human form!

What he did not warn his anxious passengers and amateur “co-pilot” about was flatulence.

We reached cruising altitude. I was more comfortable now - gazing around me, examining the dials and controls with interest. That’s when I smelt something. “There’s a rank odour around,” I thought, wondering if I were imagining it. Oh, no. It was real. Very real. Phew-whee! Somebody had had a lot of beans for lunch!

There was some serious chemical warfare on at 1257 metres above sea level. My mind raced.

Will oxygen masks drop down in front of us gagging people? Did they stash sick bags under the co-pilot’s seat? How do I alert air-traffic control about this serious assault on the olfactory senses? Dear God, I am going to pass out.

The Captain seemed unperturbed.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. We seem to have identified our gaseous perpetrator. It is your very own pilot. Fasten your seatbelts and brace for flatulence.

I struggled to keep my face impassive.

I hope to God it really is the pilot. What if it isn't? What if it’s the big German built like a war tank behind me? Or could it be his dodgy-looking Indian neighbour sleeping with his mouth slightly open? Yeah, quite likely. Luke Skyfarter.

Oh, sweet mother of God! What if everyone thinks it is me?

I cursed. The Captain looked up from scribbling in his flight logs. He casually leaned forward and pulled a lever labelled “Vent”. Fresh air rushed in. My lungs sang hallelujah even as the clouds in front of us parted in alarm.

The Captain showed me how to identify other airplanes in and around our flight path by looking at a screen. I watched it with keen interest while he went back to compiling his flight logs or doing his grocery lists or whatever.

He then leaned back in his seat, put his arms behind his head and closed his eyes. I glanced behind at the other passengers. Their looks of alarm mirrored mine.

I then noticed a little dot on the umm… flight radar thingy. It was headed straight for us.

Should I alert him? Is that why he showed me how it worked? So that he could nap while I kept watch? Urrrgh! I hope there’s a parachute under my seat. If only I hadn't mocked cuckoo KO's flight simulation Google doc.

The Captain awoke. He studied the flight radar a moment and then radioed the ATC. The dot was quickly closing the gap between us. My heart began to pound.

My travel insurance covers repatriation of remains. Nothing remains in a midair collision. 

The Captain shook his head, still staring at the radar. The dot was still approaching. Head-on. We looked out. And there, clearly visible in the sunny blue afternoon sky, was a plane. Still barreling straight at us. The same flight path. The same altitude.

“What is he doing? Crazy fellow!” the Captain mumbled, radioing ATC again. I just leaned back with thoughts bouncing around in my head like kids on a trampoline.

I’m too young to die. I haven’t seen Spain yet. Who will look after my dogs? I might get my chance to skydive now. At least that would be off my bucket list. I am going to kick the bucket. Because of a “crazy fellow”.

The plane ahead quickly veered to our right and there was a collective sigh of relief from our plane as it passed.

“If he hadn't moved, we would have…” said the Captain, ending his sentence by dramatically clapping both his hands together. "Crazy fellow."

Bad feelings. Clutch the dashboard. 

And with that, he resumed scribbling in his notebook.

I have never been so glad to feel the ground under my feet as I shakily clambered out of the plane when we landed safely in Zanzibar.

The only person I thanked before my Creator was the Captain. He simply waved me off and went back to writing in his notebook. Just another day, another dollar as far as he was concerned.

Crazy fellow.
That's me with the heroic albeit somewhat flatulent Captain in the background

"Departure lounge" at Arusha Airport, Tanzania

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Who Invited the Corybantes?

I am not a New Year’s Eve celebrating kind of person. It doesn't make sense nursing a massive hangover or just general fatigue on the first day of the new year. So most years, I've spent a quiet evening with my closer friends, watched TV at home or simply slept through it all.

This year was different. In the last hours of 2012, I found myself gawping at a bunch of dancers wearing grass skirts and engaging each other in frantic pelvic-thrusting and postures that would make the Kama Sutra blush and feel like a gymnastics handbook for toddlers.

I was at the picturesque Season’s Lodge on Pongwe beach in Zanzibar. A waiter, whom we fondly referred to as the Laughing Kenyatta, proudly informed us about the resort’s New Year’s Eve party at dinner the previous evening. He beamed from ear to ear as he read out the menu for the proposed party. “There will also be an acoustic band from Zambia,” he trilled, Cheshire-Cat grin spreading to reveal at least 53 pearly whites glinting in the moonlight.

The prospect of listening to some traditional African music appealed to everyone.

The “acoustic band” turned out to be two guys with bongo drums. The rest – about five men and three women – were dancers. A few men wore grass skirts. The leader had a whistle dangling around his neck, which he blew from time to time as the group pranced around in a circle, singing, clapping and hooting in an indecipherable tongue.

Then the group began pairing off in turn. Each couple would stand in the middle of the circle, gyrate suggestively and end with very frenzied coital poses. Once in a while, a few women would break off from the group and head over to a man in the audience. She’d then do what I have only seen some naughty male dogs do to unsuspecting human legs.

I pride myself on being very open-minded, a progressive thinker and by no measure a prude. But this proved too much even for me. I glanced over at the rest of the audience. Everyone – westerners and us from the subcontinent alike – had the same perplexed and somewhat stunned expression. My neighbour's eyes threatened to pop out of their sockets while his lower jaw fell into his champagne glass.

I clicked one picture of the group and then hastily stuffed the camera away. “Bad light,” I said, but the truth is I did not want to look like a skulking pervert. The resort clientele’s conversation at breakfast the next day was peppered with “shocking” and rolling eyes.

The performance seemed endless. The moves did not change. The only ones having fun were the dancers themselves. A couple of enthusiastic resort staff sang along and clapped with glee before their Punjabi manager told them to stop standing around together.

Soon, the complimentary bubbly, the wine and the incessant drumming and gyrating began to take a toll. Fatigue and headaches set in. With about an hour to go for midnight, we slunk off to our villas.

Lying on a sunbed, gazing up at the star-flecked African night sky and contemplating a lazy ocean gleaming silver in the moonlight as a cool breeze gently tousled my hair seemed a far better way of bidding adieu to 2012. I fell into an easy slumber.

As the clock struck 12, I mumbled sleepy “happy new year” wishes and nestled into bed, enjoying the sound of waves breaking at the villa front. It struck me only much later – the entire resort was quiet. The sound of the bongos had ceased. It would appear that the Whistler and his merry bunch of African Corybantes had successfully driven everyone into the refuge of their villas well before the witching hour.

It was an auspicious start to 2013.

Happy new year, y’all!