Posts Tagged ‘Ninx’

Delhi Surprises, or Why people should visit Delhi (part 2)

– Delhi Surprises –

another post by Ninx, guest writer and fellow blogger.

{This post was originally written as a birthday present for L.., which means that it appears in a longer version on my blog}

I moved to Delhi with the (rather naïve) impression that, having lived in various countries in Africa, I would be somehow better prepared for life here, since it wouldn’t be all that different. This turned out to be entirely inaccurate… While superficially there are resemblances (shacks and mansions happily co-existing, the abundance and cheapness of labour and the scarcity and dearness of certain ‘luxury’ items, the incredible extended family networks, the likelihood of picking up some strange gastronomic disorder), once you scratch this surface, things are incredibly different.

For one, more than anything else, Delhi is a city – a big city. In many ways it has more in common with New York or London than Kampala, Cape Town or Mbabane, all of which, in spite of being capital cities, still have a small-town feel. In Delhi, you can spend your entire life in the city and not know more than 2 or 3 neighbourhoods really well. Just like most big cities, hardly anyone is really from Delhi – everyone is from somewhere else, and are quick to remind you of that in case you make the deadly error of imagining them to be born and bred Delhi-ites

The innate sense of comfort I experience when I travel in African countries – the sensation that I know what to do, how to get around, what the basic unwritten social rules are – is entirely absent here. In the African countries I have visited, I know that if you want to travel, you just find the main bus station and ask around there, and as long as you’re willing to wait around for hours, you will be totally fine. Traveling here is fraught with unexpected difficulties – taking the train involves booking your tickets days in advance so they have time to deliver them to your house on an internet booking site that does not accept non-Indian cards, or else standing in line at the train station where the lines follow a bizarre and to the outsider incomprehensible pattern, where sometimes women are allowed to jump the queue and other times not.

Another misconception I came here with is they myth that everyone in India (or at least in Delhi) speaks English, or at least enough English to get by on. This is patently not true. I would say that at least 40% of people here speak pretty much no English at all (oddly enough, many of these people can read and write English just fine, a fluke of an educational system which places absolutely no stress on verbal communication, with, I imagine, teachers and students talking in Hindi/whichever home language is prevalent about their English written assignments and texts they have read.) I realize that there is, of course, absolutely no reason to expect people to learn English just to make life easier for the foreigners who come here – it was just a surprise to me to learn that explaining anything to a plumber, electrician, autowallah, etc was going to be next to impossible.

Likewise, trying to buy anything is a whole new learning curve. I find that this is true pretty much any time you move to a new country – shops are organized in different ways, and what is ‘common sense’ in one place is absolute nonsense somewhere else. For example, in Germany, they sell aspirin and other painkillers only in pharmacies/chemists. Pharmacies are closed on Sundays, even in big cities like Berlin. Thus, if you wake up on a Sunday morning with a splitting headache and no painkillers, you pretty much either have to suffer in silence, go to the hospital OR, the million dollar winning option, go to a train station where all shops are open even on Sundays (and Germans take their Sundays pretty seriously). Having lived there for 6 months this is now pretty bloody obvious to me as well, and I can’t understand why I didn’t think of it when I woke up with said splitting headache one cold Sunday morning just after I arrived there.

Here, you just have to know which market sells the item you are looking for – when I first arrived, in the middle of monsoon season, I (reasonably, I thought) assumed you could buy umbrellas in any fair-sized market. No, no. An hour spent wandering from shop to shop in the market near my house (fairly large, if rather posh – too posh to sell lowly umbrellas, I gathered) produced only puzzled stares and instructions to go to “Lajpat Nagar market” – a market about 30 minutes autoride from my house, which apparently specializes in umbrellas and, as I later learnt, light bulbs. I now know where to find most basic necessities, including such elusive items as wine, light bulbs, sheets and dental glue (don’t ask), but an underwear malfunction which left a visiting friend of mine with a strapless bra that wasn’t supposed to be strapless had myself, her and her mom wondering around one of the largest markets in Delhi (South Ex) for hours before we gave up and had a beer instead.

Of course, I have been pleasantly surprised as well – I expected Delhi to be, well, a big dirty city, with crowded streets, tall-ish building and a very ‘corporate’ look (the comparison a Delhi-ite friend and I had drawn before I came between Delhi vs. Bombay and Johannesburg vs. Cape Town inspired this misconception) – in reality, while Delhi is definitely dirty, it also has a very laid-back, open appearance. There are parks pretty much everywhere, the streets (in most of the city – I exclude Old Delhi pertinently here) are wide, the houses small (no more than 3 or 4 stories), and many of the roads are lined by tall and venerable trees.

Furthermore, in a continuation of the Jo’burg/Delhi theme, I had heard that Delhi was a dangerous city to live in, crime-wise. I was prepared to pull out all of my paranoid South African tricks, only to find that, really, Delhi is ridiculously safe. Or at least I have found it to be. I have not even heard of anyone who has been pick-pocketed, never mind robbed, attacked or in any way really threatened. Not that this is perfect, but it is a long long LONG way from South Africa, where there is no-one who does NOT know someone who has been the victim of violent crime.

I haven’t even covered a third of the things (small and petty, I know!) which makes Delhi such a weird and wonderful place to live in, but I’ll stop now before this post becomes completely unreadable…


Post-on-demand, or Unusual airmail.

I have just received an email from fellow-blogger-ex-classmate Ninx, in which she urged me to update the blog. She’s right…. so this post is on-demand.

Truth is I’ve been studying (trying to, at least), so I didn’t feel it was appropriate to procrastinate on the blog… Yeah, I know, who am I kidding? Anyway, since I’ve been a bit out of unusual happenings lately, I’ll dust out an old anecdote I had planned to write about and then always ended up forgetting.

It is at least once a year since I finished high-school in Swaziland, and returned home for university, that I review this decision and wonder whether I should have continued my studies abroad, whether I should have chosen a different career, whether I… well, I basically question everything. I spend close to 24hs (all in one go) hooked up to the internet, researching academic opportunities in other universities- universities that seem, at least through the screen, a lot more appealing that the institution where I am currently doing my studies in medicine. I go through all the so-famous stages of grief in one single day (and in random order). My mood swings drastically; I tell myself I should drop uni and apply somewhere else, I get frustrated, disappointed, angry, hopeless… I start looking into student loans, visa requirements, academic credit, housing, campus facilities, student associations, and in some opportunities I even signed up for a different career at the public uni… ehm… Eish, now that I write it all down, I realize I must have a couple of loose screws in my head. I keep doing this year after year, sometimes more than once a year.

And why haven’t I dropped out of uni yet? Why haven’t I taken a plane to Europe and applied to one of those beautiful “choose-your-own-adventure” courses if I am so frustrated? Out of an impulse, I would say it’s because I’ve always chickened out (which is partially true), but the main reason is because every time I set my mind to dropping everything and taking new roads that will direct me somewhere else in this pursuit of happiness, I realize that I actually love the job of a medic, and that I can’t picture myself doing something different. I don’t love medicine as a science, but I am eternally fascinated by the human and social aspect of the practice of medicine.

Sometimes the fascination gets clouded by what seem to me to be non-transcendental matters (which inevitably accompany the academic demands of our university curricula). Luckily, I always get a reminder that I, indeed, like what I’m doing.

There was this one time, at the beginning of last year, when I had another “crisis” and luckily I had the chance to share with Euri my vocational doubts (it wouldn’t be the last time, believe me). We discussed about how we could contribute to society from different fields and how I had maybe rushed my decision to study medicine. We reminisced our days in Africa and wondered if we were ever to go back, if we should go back…

He gave me some words of advice, and following a long-standing tradition, recommended a book for me to read. He told me I should read “The Poisonwood Bible”. The name instantly rang a bell. Someone had actually told me to get that book already, and only a couple of weeks before this. I couldn’t remember exactly who, but it seemed to me like it had been Jason, another ex-classmate from Waterford Kamhlaba. Euri gave me a short summary of the story, and I promised I would look for it.

If you know me well, you could guess what happened. Indeed, I completely forgot about the book and it went straight to the list of “books I’d love to read but I’m too lazy/busy to do so right now”.

Thing is, I moved on and continued studying medicine, trying to get the best out of uni and searching for the rest on my own (a task that has proven to be much harder than I expected- but it’s probably because, truth be told, I’m lazy). I had a relatively good start, this new year had a novel experience for me, since I began hospital practices and got to be in contact with people on a day-to-day basis.

One day I finished my lessons at the hospital earlier, and went home for lunch. As I was in the toilet, I heard the bell ring and I heard my mom and dad a bit agitated.

After five minutes (yes, I like to take my time in the toilet, thank you), my dad knocked on the door and told me that a strange-looking package had arrived for me. Tha package had no senders address but my address was written in a handwriting I somehow seemed to know from somewhere.

I speeded things up and went to the kitchen, where with all eyes staring at my hands I carefully opened the package (OK, I admit it, I wore gloves!). There was a letter, which said: “Thank you for your order. Should you have any questions or complaints please contact us at …….” (Yes, I was stupid enough to lose the paper and now I don’t know the email address). Finally, it was signed: “The beverly hills book club”.

I went back to the envelope and unpacked the second part of the parcel. It was a pinkish, soft-cover, thick book with yellowish pages.

Mystery book- The Poisonwood Bible

I would say I was shocked, but truth is I was extremely excited!! These are the kind of unusual events that give me enough smiling material for at least a month! In fact, this particular one still makes me smile when I think about it.

The main reason is… I still don’t know who sent it to me! First thing I did was ask Euri if he had sent it, to which he said no. It made sense, the little circle on the cover that reads “Oprah’s book club” is really not Euri’s style. I still had another chance at finding the mystery sender… someone else had mentioned the book to me. Was it Jason? Next step was asking him. It could be him, since he was in the US doing his bachellor’s degree.

He also said no.

Next thing I did was ask absolutely everyone I know or anyone I ran into if they had sent me a book by post. Yeah, everyone looked at me a bit clueless… Why would I send you a book? In fact, why would I send you a book anonymously?

I was very curious about finding out who had sent me the book. I couldn’t help being amused by the fact that someone had sent me a book that two other people had recommended to me before, without me ever mentioning the book again. In fact, I myself would have forgotten about the book had it not forced itself into my life!

I figured I could write an email to the “Beverly Hills Book Club”, but by the time I came up with the brilliant plan, the letter had disappeared (I probably threw it away convinced that someone would sooner or later take credit for sending the book).

A couple of months passed and I still didn’t know who had orchestrated this surprise. Finally, I remembered I had once signed into a penpal webpage and I had posted my address in that page. Maybe an unusually kind mystery penpal had accessed my info and sent me a book for no particular reason?? And how weird was that someone who didn’t know me had sent me a book that two friends told me I should read? But the question that was really tearing me apart was: how would I ever find out who this person was?

Indeed, I never did. Time passed and I got used to not knowing. The book now rests on my bookshelf, surrounded by diverse, yet somehow related, literature- what I call the “books I’ve started and hope to finish someday”.

Books I've started and hope to finish reading one day.

Turning 24, and hoping to see a lot more!

So today is my birthday. I had a very nice day. and enjoyed a little meeting with the usual good friends, and some old friends I hadn’t seen in way too long. It was beautiful.

Also, Ninx, guest writer some months ago, sent me a “Green ecard” and dedicated her super long blog post on her life in Delhi for the last 6 months to me, which was a real honour. And for anyone interested, I will post a shorter version of it this week. But if you can’t wait, check her adventures here. Thank you Ninx, you really made my day!

Before I forget, I wanted to say HAPPY 25th BIRTHDAY LINKIE! From a previous post you know we share birthdates (I still have a lot to write about this guy, but for now I’ll just say that). So Linkie, this post and the video that comes with it is for you… and for Linkie’s tree-hugginig love (a very dear friend of mine. I know she’ll like this video too!).

The video you’ll see next is titled “Wake up, freak out- then get a grip”. It was written by Leo Murray and it is brilliant. It has an important -a bit worrying, yet hopeful- message. It is very easy to understand and I wish they had taught me like this in school! I believe videos/films have such a powerful role on awareness… (so all you cinema students around the world, help the world please!) At least for those who have trouble concentrating on the reading (like me). Anyway, I hope you enjoy it!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Oh, and if you want to give me a birthday present, PLEASE sign the petition to release Mario Masuku in Swaziland (updates on Masuku here).

Why people should visit Delhi

– Ten Reasons to visit Delhi –

a post by Ninx*, our guest writer of the month.

1. Autorickshaws. Simply the coolest form of public transportation invented ever. Every trip is an experience – whether you’re admiring the dashing skills and bravery of the autodriver in negotiating Delhi traffic, or praying that you’ll survive the trip; whether your driver decides to stop next to a six-lane highway to take a leak, or takes you the back way round so he can make a pit-stop at his favourite cheap booze shop, you will never have an uneventful ride.

2. Cows – because every time you see one (and you’ll see them everywhere!), you can call out “holy cow!” and the joke never gets stale. Well, maybe after the second month people start grimacing and hitting you with things…
3. Morning yoga sessions: not participating in them, but being woken up by coordinated laughing sessions. It’s like being woken up by Santa Claus every morning: little old men going HO-HO-HO at top volume, followed by half an hour of clapping. Apparently, this is good for your health.

4. Nimbu Pani: Cold water, freshly squeezed lime juice, some salt and sugar – refreshment in a glass. Also, as you might have noticed, a great anti-dehydrant, which makes it an excellent hangover cure!

5. Pirated books – this is the first country I have ever been where the vendors at street corners try to sell you, not pirated DVD’s, not music, but pirated books. I’m not saying I encourage the violation of intellectual property rights, I just think it says something about a country that a) there’s enough demand to support a pirated book market, and b) there are people sitting somewhere retyping, word-by-word, published books. And the end product, I can vouch, is remarkably error-free.

6. Khan Chacha’s kebabs – Khan Chacha (Khan Uncle) sells his delicious kebabs (chicken, mutton, or paneer (type of cheese)) from his hole-in-the-wall stall in Khan Market. Simply the best food you will taste ever.

7. Shopping: Cheap, colourful and (perhaps somewhat) tacky, you can find anything here as long as you don’t mind it being bright. I mean, yes, they do make things in subdued colours but the only people who buy them are silly foreigners and 13-year-old girls going through their goth phase (goth in India means wearing maroon instead of red, and navy instead of blue). Just be careful you don’t end up looking like your wearing a bedsheet (an occupational hazard for foreigners in India, who can’t tell the difference between a Fashionable psychedelic pattern and a Bedsheet psychedelic pattern.)

8. Indian clothing – actually an extension of Reason 7 – because it’s the only kind of fashion that combines style with comfort. Where else in the world can you get away with wearing pyjamas all day, AND look good at the same time?

9. The sheer excitement of spending your day being convinced that the city is out to get you: the food wants to kill you, the traffic wants to kill you, the pollution is quietly hanging around, waiting to wear you down and kill you, there are crazy extremists out there planting bombs to kill you and you can never be sure if your autodriver might not try to kill you. And at the end of the day realizing that, as my friend Ulrik has it, there’s actually a kind of softness about Delhi, that it forgives mistakes and bad judgment much more easily than most world capitals would, and that if you, foolishly, step right into a busy road to avoid the spit-saturated pool of muddy monsoon rain that suddenly appeared before you, traffic will effortlessly flow around you, with no more than a token horn blast to chastise you.
Because any country that could come up with something like this needs to be visited.


*Ninx, South African brought up elsewhere (and everywhere), shared two years of her life with me in Waterford Kamhlaba and is now working in Delhi for a while. But that’s just titles… what you really need to know about her is that she’s a brilliant and funny person, has a beautiful soul and a scary passion for chicken. She is a witty writer and has been nominated for the Pulitser prize (no, I didn’t mispell it…) If you want to learn more about her adventures in Delhi, visit her blog: