I was confident about this one.’ I don’t know,’ I said. I like to imbibe life without having to remember names, whether it is an album, movie, book or a freaking flower. Checked off from my list of career options are Taxonomist and horticulturist.
He looked hurt and said it was called the Bird of Paradise. He repeated it once more so I remember.
Then he grabbed me by my hand and took me to another corner of the garden, behind a bush. Just as I was about to scream for help, he asked me to name another flower. Slightly perturbed, I examined the flower. ‘It could be…..’ Before I could complete the sentence, he pulled out the little flowers from the stem, crushed them in his palm and thrust it into my nostrils.
“Ahh, Lavender” I said profoundly.
He blushed and looked very proud. He introduced himself as the head gardener. Now I understood this over-the-top behavior as it had had me perplexed for a minute. So the botany lessons went on for a long time till he moved on to chameleons and squirrels. Raphael had put his blood and sweat into this garden and it was evident in the way he spoke about his plants. He didn’t know the names of his daughters, but remembered obscure plant names like Patenestasia. I gave him a couple of dollars for this unexpected tour and he beamed again. Its amazing how much Raphael had managed to grow in this area. Its amazing how much of variety actually grows in this equatorial climate.
Walked up the Dawg’s room where the party apparently was. Both Pi and the Dawg were watching Aljazeera TV and all over the floor were the Dawg’s hiking stuff. ‘Hey di, pack this up for me no. My wife gave up last week in Philly and now I have no one to do it for me.’
Took a few deep breaths. Congratulated myself for marrying a saint like Pi. Thanks to the Dawg, my marriage suddenly looked bright. I started the packing process. Remember I had even walked him to the store and helped him buy this shit. And he couldn't even pack!
‘Where are the rest of the socks?’
‘That’s all I have di.’
‘What? You need a pair of socks a day! You have only 2 pairs for 7 days! You need to really look after your feet or you’ll get blisters.’ Going by the fact that he hadn’t even changed his T-shirt from the time I saw him in the Detroit Airport (which was 35 hours ago), I didn’t think socks really mattered.
‘You didn’t even tell me to buy the socks.’
‘So then why do you have freakin six bags of trailmix (nuts and raisins)? Are you panning on eradicating all the hunger in Tanzania?’ I yelled. ‘Why did I spend three hours making a list and emailing it to you? To wipe my virtual ass with it?’
‘But you never told me to buy the socks that day.’
‘Arrrrgggh! Ok, where is the hiking pole that I had you buy for Lee?
‘I didn’t bring it. It’s at home!’
Next he looks at my bandana and wants the same one. ’Why didn’t you get me something like the one you have? I am taking it. You can have mine.’ He grabbed mine and flung his bandana away.
That does it! I took some painkillers and sprayed some insect repellent on him hoping to get rid of the pest.
We decided to walk into the city of Arusha and maybe I can hire some local thugs for this job. If his wife becomes a widow and his kid becomes fatherless, even the devils cant make me guilty at this point.
Just as we walked out of the gate, a guy approached me and started talking about Abishek Bacchan in good English. ‘Very good actor. By the way madam, you must look at these necklaces. They will look so good on you.’ He pulls out some trinkets from his pocket and tells me, ‘For you 20 dollars!’ I shake my head and walk on. We are met with many more and they just follow us, bargaining and lowering the cost. I looked at the guy and told him to leave us alone. He stopped abruptly, turned around to the rest of the touts and sternly said,’ Can’t you see fellas, Madam is getting annoyed by your constant nagging. Could you all please leave?’
They all did except him. He followed us to the restaurant and ushered us in and then said he would wait outside. In the restaurant, we decided to order ugali. But it so happens that we are in the midst of some African conspiracy and had to order from the various curries and chappatis available. Very tasty, very Indian. My bet is that there exists no African dish and hence no ugali.
As we walked around Arusha (which reminds you of a city in Kerala), I jumped up with joy pointing at a distance. There it was, behind the buildings, rising above the clouds, Mount Kilimanjaro! A shiver ran down my spine. The first sighting! We gaped at it for a while mesmerized. A local passed by and we smiled. We asked if he had been on Kilimanjaro.
‘No, that mountain you see is Mt.Meru’.
‘Erm, Yeah yeah, it does not look like Kilimanjaro of course.’ To think we were planning on climbing Kilimanjaro the next day.
Leela finally arrived late that evening from an adventurous bus ride and cancelled flights. This was the first time I was seeing her, I was eagerly waiting her arrival on the hotel steps. Her bus pulled in and I ran to hug her. Shocked, disheveled, completely disoriented and 4 feet tall. Under the circumstances, she was still very cheerful. Yeah, inspite of her height. Her stories of the bus ride had me in splits even though I probably should have shown some sympathy. She started emptying her really heavy suitcase to repack into the duffle bag- 50 notebooks (did I mention she is a journalist sort), 100 pencils, 30 wet wipes (She is also a clean freak sort), 2 torch lights and a headlamp (a paranoid sort), sandals and wollen scraves (a confused sort), 2 cameras (a rich sort) and of course world famous dates from Dubai.
We started to pack her duffle bag with the stuff that she'll actually need on the climb. It seemed like this packing would never end for me. If someone gave me a death wish or pack wish, I would have gladly walked into the diamond studded coffin. But then I had to make a good first impression on Lee and the poor thing had a stressful journey. Also her case was excusable as she could not have packed her stuff before. I had brought most of the hiking gear from Pittsburgh.*halo* Since Dubai has no concept of outdoors, they don’t sell outdoor gear (except wollen scraves). She just had to order everything in the US and take a huge leap of faith that it would all fit her. In fact, most of the stuff did as she tore out the labels and wore them one by one before packing.
That night I was quite excited about the climb that I could hardly sleep.