Like a Coconut Tree

The phone rings in the morning. My brothers and I wake up. It rings again. The person on the other end won’t give up. I rush into my parents bedroom to double check. Their unmade bed is empty. It’s no dream.

Mum and dad woke up their doctor friend in the middle of the night. They met at the local university teaching hospital UTH. He gave them a stash of morphine. They sped on the unlit, but familiar roads from Lusaka to Livingstone. My dads record time is 3 hours to do the 500km.

That was the first of my grandfather’s heart attacks. Let’s just say there were a few of those sudden trips – between the two grandfathers and grandmother living in the little tourist town bordering Zimbabwe.

By mid-morning my brothers and I are stuffed into a car, packed with snacks, clothes for the parents as well as for us, and we are on our way to Livingstone.

Every single time I have seen my grandfather after that, and I tell you he has had many fantastic days and many issues since -ranging from more heart attacks, to epilepsy, and to cancer, I thought it would be the last time.

Maher jokes that my grandfather has been dying for 25 years but is going to outlive everyone – his first wife died suddenly, after insisting that her daughters return to Tanzania regardless of school terms in India to see her, my other two more “healthy” paternal grandparents left before as well, and his second wife, who happened to be my dads oldest sister, died to cancer.

He moved back to India when my aunt (his wife) was diagnosed with an advanced stage of colon cancer. By being in India they could have affordable medical as well as domestic help. He left India on a boat leaving his family in Bombay as a 25-year-old with a wife and baby girl, only to return 50 years later as an outsider living in a strict Jain community in a dry state. Gandhi’s Gujarat of no alcohol.

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Foreigners, people with a non-Indian passport can take alcohol into Gujarat. Of course it is the state where the most alcohol is consumed.

Maher is not a whiskey drinker like the generation of our parents and grandparents, but the only person he never says no to is my 88-year-old grandfather.

25560729-135558.jpg Nanaji, as we call him, hands Maher the key to his securely locked cupboard. He pours out tots of whiskey, holding the bottle close to the floor. None of the nosy neighbors or people in the street have caught him out yet.

We saw him last in December 2012. The four of us, my parents, one of my brothers and his fiance, were all there. When Maher, the kids and I left for Koh Samui on my birthday, I had the same thought I always have.

I didn’t even know he had the cancer until that last trip. He’s had it for 10 years already.

My mum has been in India for the last 4 months with him as it spreads. My dad has missed his wife, he is off this week to reunite with her, and to say goodbye to one of his best, most trusted friends, the man who taught him good whisky, who introduced him to my mum and who also married his closest sibling.

Now, I realise that my grandfather surrendered to the process a long time ago. He has always been gracious. He loved to take photos, listen to classical Indian music, eat good food, entertain friends, and drink only the best whisky. Anyone who has spoken to him has heard his humble, “Please correct me if I am wrong,” line qualifying every statement he makes. He listens, and gives space to people without imposing.

He is strong and tall, but flexible like the coconut trees I see around me, moving with the wind.

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Ustad Bismillah Khan

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Who am I?

Rahul: Why Maher choosed you?
Me: Ah, very good question, but this one you have to ask papa!

Rahul: You and papa is in love?
Me: Yes we are. Papa and I love each other.
Rahul: You and papa loved each other before me and Leila came out of your belly?
Me: Yes, we did, honey.

Leila: Mama, where was Leila and Rahul before we was in your belly?”
Me: Hmmmm…your body wasn’t anywhere. And you were an idea that mama and papa had.

A Reason Not to Die

Lelia: Why your tattoo is still there after you shower?
Me: Because it’s a real one. It will never go away.
Leila: Even when you die?
Me: Yeah, even when…
Leila: But I don’t want to die. I want to see snow.
Me: Oh really, you want to see snow? You will probably be able to see snow one day.
Leila: I want to make snow with white paint on black paper.

9 Years and Moving to the Beat

9 years ago today Maher and I got married. In Montreal. We were amidst close family and friends – a party we won’t forget.

Guajira – I Love U 2 Much

Dandia RaasThere was dancing – from barefoot in the rain with Yerba Buena at the jazz fest, the garba and dandiya raas non-stop night, to the gypsy band “Soleil Tzigane” who used to play Friday and Saturday’s at Cafe Sarajevo, what used to be my hangout while we long distanced. We were thrilled that the musicians accepted to do our reception.

Ederlezi – Goran Bregovic (First dance)

I can’t just grab a photo that represents the occasion from my phone’s camera roll or off FB, our wedding photos are stuffed into a steel box in Chengdu. Hard copy.

Together koh samui

4 moves, a few mistakes, a stroke, IVF, NICU time, Leila and Rahul, long distance all over again on, and we continue to sneak moments together, learn about each other, grow in our relationship, listen to each other more intently, accept each other more sincerely, continue to compromise, let go, and love more deeply.

At least that’s what we try to do anyway. And hope for more years together.

Related:

Waiting for Cafe Sarajevo to say Good bye.

Frenglish

“We speak Frenglish,” Rahul and Leila say as they squeal with laughter at the discovery of this new “word”.

They often use both French and English words in their sentences. Although we are a OPOL (One Person One Language) family, and are pretty consistent with it, the kids are now mixing up both French and English words in the same sentence.

Sometimes, they even use French sentence structure in English, like Maher does when he speaks English. I don’t remember what is correct anymore myself.

Frenglish –
“Papa is travailling.”

“I am cherching the ball.”

“Can you leve up your arms.”

“I want to aller to the pont now.”

“Can you go avec moi?”

“Who c’est ca?”

And then Rahul hesitated with “what” in the two languages.

Quat?”

A Bilingual Family Shifts Easily Between Languages
Bilingual Brains are Better
Myths About Bilingual Children
Montreal Comedian Sugar Sammy on Multilingualism
Franglais

Flat Thai Tyre

After a few hours playing, grocery shopping, and eating at the Tesco Lotus on a holiday morning,we walked out into the afternoon heat – Rahul in the trolley, Leila upset because she had to walk; both, more than ready to get into their air conditioned car-seats and nap.

I can’t remember if it’s a flat tire or a flat tyre.

“A flat tyre (American English: flat tire) is a deflated pneumatic tire, which can cause the rim of the wheel to ride on the tire tread or the ground potentially resulting in loss of control of the vehicle or irreparable damage to the tire. The most common cause of a flat tire is puncturing of the tire by a sharp object, such as a nail, letting air escape. Depending on the size of the puncture, the tire may deflate slowly or rapidly.”

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Luckily, there was a “tyre fixing” place 20m away, just across the ring road. A man standing close to the workshop immediately crossed the road with us, back into the Tesco parking lot, assessed the situation. He returned a few minutes later, filled up the flat tyre with enough air to get us across.

And indeed, he showed us the hole.