Monday, August 1, 2011

A Hindu Celebration

A tear slowly slipped from my travel-worn cheek, as the bus turned a corner and disappeared from sight. Nimesh stood beside me, respectfully letting me have a moment. In the end, it had been him that had lent Neale enough money to catch a bus North. Neale was headed to Nairobi, hoping to find a cheaper flight from there. I, on the other hand, had to face facts that my travelling days were dwindling to a close. With Neale gone, my heart was no longer in the adventure. It was time to turn towards home.

“Let’s go home,” Nimesh said, breaking my sad thoughts.

“Yes,” I replied. Home, my mind echoed.

Home today was not a bed in my mother’s house though. Neale and I had been taken under Nimesh’s protective wing and now he insisted that I stay with him for the night before leaving Dar es Salaam myself. Tomorrow I would be meeting up with Eddy to hitch a ride South with him in one of his company's jeeps. He was an American fellow that ran a small safari company catering to wealthy American tourists. He had just completed a trip from his home base of Livingstone, Zambia to Dar es Salaam, and now was returning home to rest for a few days before doing it all over again. He had room in his jeep for a stow-away and all I had to pay for was my meals. Meeting Eddy, with his gift of transportation South, had been the sign that told me I was not meant to try to scrabble my way North with Neale. We had promised to meet up again in the future, to travel further together, but the fates had said “not now”.
So I followed Nimesh through the familiar streets of Dar es Salaam, now a little emptier without the large figure of Neale beside me, towards the outskirts of the city. Nimesh lived with his parents and brother in a small home that consisted of two bedrooms and a kitchen. It was comfortable, if not spacious. There was no running water inside, but a tap was outside to bring in water to cook with. There was also no real water closet (WC), but I was directed towards an area where I could void when I needed to. I had been in Africa too long to balk at their primitive hole in the ground. Their “toilet” was cleaner than many I had seen anyway.
In fact, I was more than thankful that Nimesh’s family had agreed to take me in for the night at all.  For them, having a visitor was a cause for celebration, so as soon as I arrived any sad thoughts I had were flung away and I was dragged into the centre spotlight of a grand hoopla. After leaving my shoes at the door, Nimesh’s mother, Jasvanti, took me in hand and hugged me warmly. She had heard the many stories from her son of the big South African man and young Canadian girl that travelled with him. What I didn’t realize, was that in the stories she heard, Neale and I were married! Many questions poured forth about how we met, how long we had been married for, and when we would meet up again. While I felt a little awkward in this little white lie, I reassured them that we would be meeting up again soon in South Africa, then be jetting off to Canada together. Our married life for the last year and a half had been grand! I hoped that no Hindu Gods would strike me down for these little fibs that seemed necessary to maintain a sense of decorum for my generous hosts.
Questions and joviality continued on, as the tea was poured. This was a precursor to the feasting that would follow. I had fallen in love with the sweet tea in Tanzania, so enjoyed it immensely. My eyes popped at what came next though. Exorbitant amounts of food were presented to me, and I was encouraged to eat, eat and eat some more! It was all delicious and I wasn’t exactly sure how to politely say I was full, so kept eating the excellent dishes that were presented in their finest wares. When finally they let me groan back from the eating area smoothed out on the floor, I thought that perhaps I would get a chance to rest, but no. Now it was time for dancing!
What had I gotten myself into, I wondered, as Jasvanti insisted that I change. My belly was straining at my clothes already, but my thin traveller’s garb was not good enough for tonight. I needed to get pretty! A sari was the only thing fit for the occasion. “Ok,” I acquiesced as yards of fine silk were pulled out of Jasvanti’s wardrobe. I stood still as she expertly wrapped me in a length of pink checked fabric, lined with blue and a band of white, and decorated with squares and circles throughout. A light blue top was donned underneath, before the end of the long silk was draped across my shoulder.

“Now we need some makeup!” Jasvanti declared.

I suspected that she would have loved to have had a little girl of her own to dress, but she made due with me today. Bangles were produced and a necklace was declared perfect as it was slid over my head. My lips sported a bright pink that matched my sari, but there was still a missing piece to be put on – a bindi. I had to have one. Jasvanti found a pretty oblong one that was attached with an adhesive backer. I had no idea that bindis could be stickers! Hers was a simple red dot painted in the middle of her eyebrows, by comparison. finally finished, I was a sight to behold. 

“Go get the camera,” Jasvanti urged Hemendra.

Nimesh’s brother ran off to find the missing camera, as I looked at my transformation. Jasvanti declared me beautiful and I certainly looked special, but I wondered at the pictures. Before I could protest though, Hemendra was back with the Polaroid and I was placed in front of the altar for a  photo shoot. After taking pictures of me with every member of the household, in different combinations, I was finally allowed to undress and retire for the evening. It had been quite the day and not one that I would forget for a long time to come. I needed to sleep though. Tomorrow I would be on the move once again. 

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