Saturday, September 26, 2015

Its everybody's home

Here is a collection of wildlife pics that I have take over the last few years, mostly in Africa!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

ሀበሻ (Habesha)

I was in Ethiopia for about two weeks, and spent much of my time in Addis Ababa. Given the geographic location of the country, one would not feel very optimistic about the place. Even I had my doubts, but since it was a work trip, I decided to rather focus on work.

After landing at the Bole International airport, it did not take me much time to clear immigration, collect baggage and exchange dollars for some local currency. I had booked the hotel in advance and had requested for airport pickup. I waited for about ten minutes before I decided to call up the hotel and check for the driver. Since there was no internet at the airport, Skype call was out of question. The local phone booths weren't working either. Before I could get furious, a local guy approached and asked the name of the hotel I was staying in. I replied "Nazra". The guy said "Okay, there is no waiting stand here for Nazra, but if you have their number, I can call up the hotel and connect you with them." I accepted his help and was able to speak with the hotel to sort the issue. As I expected, the guy asked me to pay for this. Frankly, I also wanted to pay for his help, but I had just exchanged the currency, and didn't want to pay 100 ETB for a phone call. So I said that I am not carrying local currency. To this, he replied "That's okay. A thank you would do."

This first incident somehow outlined the entire trip for me. Through out my stay in Ethiopia, I was presented with difficult situations, and every time the locals went out of their way to help me.

For instance, after the end of first week in Addis Ababa, I decided to spend some time in Hawassa. Hawassa was a good 6 hours drive from Addis, and so me and other team members left early morning on Saturday. The road trip was extremely soothing with an amazing view of the Ethiopian country side - lush green plains after recent rains, dotted with small hillocks. We even managed to stop by at a small farm that was producing ornamental plants, milk and other dairy products.

We reached the new hotel in Hawassa sometime in the afternoon. After checking rooms and facilities, we decided to book the hotel. The receptionist asked for my passport. "It's in the main luggage, back in the car.. would a photocopy do?" I asked. She replied that she needed the Visa number so I had to get my luggage and take out the pouch where I usually keep my passport.
Only this time, the passport was not there.

A sudden chill overtook me, as I am usually organized, and hardly miss anything. I began to frantically search for my passport in the suitcase and laptop bag, but without any success. The receptionist asked me to not worry, and allowed me to check in the hotel. She said to give her a copy of the visa, whenever I find it. That was a temporary relief, as they could have easily refused to check me in without the passport.

I went to my room, and waded through my stuff all over again, looking for the passport, but it wasn't there. Then I called up the hotel I was staying in Addis, and asked if I had accidentally left my passport behind. But they couldn't find it either. It was not even in the car that drove me around in Addis. Finally, after trying for almost an hour, I called up the Indian embassy in Addis Ababa to report the loss of my passport. But they were closed as it was a Saturday, so any move was stalled till I got back to Addis the day after.

The situation was grim, but I had read somewhere that in such cases, the embassy may give me an Emergency Certificate to travel back to India, where I can apply for a new passport. Assuming that to be a workable solution, I continued with my stay in Hawassa. The free time on Sunday was spent at a lake side resort followed by trekking at a wild life reserve (Abijatta Shalla National Park). We returned back to Addis on Sunday evening. On reaching the same hotel, I asked again if they had found my passport, but they refused. Dejected and tired, I checked in the new room and then went to sleep.

The next morning, I prepared to head to the Indian Embassy and arranged necessary documents such as copy of the passport, travel insurance, return flight ticket etc. My local partners had already planned the day accounting for this issue. Without any fuss they accompanied me to the embassy. The embassy was quite far from the hotel, and took us nearly an hour from the hotel to reach there.

For the embassy officials, it was business as usual, and they did not seem to care enough, that I had lost my passport. They clearly handed me a list of things to be done and said that it will take a minimum of 10 working days before a new passport could be issued, and that Emergency Certificate was an unlikely option. My return flight was on Friday, and If I were to abide by their process, I was going to be stuck for a much longer duration.

After I had explained the situation to my team members, they immediately took me to the police station to get an equivalent of FIR done, which was the first step to get new passport. On my way, Alex, my driver explained me to just say that I lost my passport, and let him do the talking with the police officials. When we reached the police station, I realized that I anyway couldn't do much talking as they all spoke Amharic. Alex handled the situation and after about 20-30 minutes, and some basic questions, they agreed to write the FIR. 

The next steps were to take the FIR to Police Commissioner and then to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for further approvals. With the Indian Embassy just open for two hours a day, I was easily facing a total delay of at least three weeks before heading back home. 

After the FIR, we all took a lunch break, and decided to regroup for further work. We also had interviews lined up that day with some distributors for my research. So they dropped me back to the hotel. 

Throughout the way, I was trying to find out where I could have lost my passport. I kept thinking where did I see it last or of any other clue that may lead me back to the passport. As I entered the hotel, I checked with the reception if they had found it but they couldn't. 

I wasn't really convinced with their response, and asked if I could see my old room once again. They said that it had another guest. I requested the manager to let me see it once again, just for my satisfaction. So he arranged for a staff to accompany me to the old room. Meanwhile, the only image that was coming in my mind was that, in the safety box, I had kept two things and while emptying it, there was just one thing. So I immediately asked the staff to check the safe again. The guest was not using 
It, so it was open. The staff opened it wide, and there was nothing. She then inserted her hand inside the safe, which looked empty. She then took out her  hand, holding something. 

It was my passport. Phew! Apparently the mat in the safe was loosely kept. Somehow the passport may have slipped beneath it, by some unknown force. It didn't matter. All that mattered was I had found my passport after three days in a foreign country.I thanked the staff and immediately called Alex and other team members that I had found it. Obviously, it is difficult to describe the feeling and the emotion.

The rest of the days in Ethiopia went without any major issues. On the last eve, I took everyone out for dinner. They tried hard to get the formalities done which reassured me that even if the passport was lost, I could bank on them to get things sorted.

And finally I left Ethiopia with a lasting impression of the Habesha! 

P.S.: The term Habesha (ሀበሻ ) refers to anything Ethiopian. It is generally used to describe the people of Ethiopia.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Lima: Photoblog

I visited Lima last month, and here are some of the pics from the city!

Kennedy Park - One of the prominent hangout places in Lima for the tourists.

We encountered this cliff, en-route Pachacamac. Notice the man dressed in a white cape. He makes a living by diving from the cliff to amuse visitors.

Pachacamac- Remains of an ancient temple,built by Mayans and other Latin American civilizations. Sadly the place was destroyed by colonial powers, so as to make the locals change their faith.

Another one from Pachacamac. Pyramid of a different kind

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Break Unbreak!

Some decisions are just random. Like the one I took almost two years ago. I decided to take a break from work and explore the options for myself. The break lasted seven months, and as it turned out, it was just a break for me from work. Time and life both moved on, and neither stopped to teach me lessons. 
Meanwhile, I started spending time reading books, I learned to swim (completed a certificate course in swimming). I also used to sketch sometimes. One of the things on my mind was to set up a business. I always felt that owning a business will give me necessary flexibility to manage my life and time. So I started working with an acquaintance who was running his own business. I came up with some great business ideas, researched on these ideas, and tried to build more understanding on what it takes to start a business.I worked on the business ideas for around 2 months, during the break. At that point, I realized that I should go back to work for a few more years, and keep trying for business simultaneously. 
It was then that I started to look for jobs. After reaching out to many companies, and placement agencies, I finally got interview calls from two firms and that too, within a span of two days, while I was at home. Both the jobs were based again in Mumbai. It felt like, no matter how hard I tried to get away from Mumbai, life was trying to keep me stay put in the crazy city.  So I came back to the city, gave both the interviews, and surprisingly got through them both. 
One of the profiles dealt with wind energy, and it clearly asked me to travel in the remote areas of the country. The other profile, on the contrary, was related to market research and strategy consulting. After elaborate discussions with family, ex-colleagues and friends, and I decided to take up the market research job as it appeared a logical continuation of the work I had been doing. To my surprise, and rather a pleasant one, I was asked to travel overseas, the very first day I joined the company. 
Its almost two years, that I took a break from my job and one and a half years I joined the new job. I have travelled to lots of places including South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon, UAE and China. I might travel a lot many in future. In addition, the work I am doing has got me more closer to understanding the business environment. Looking back, it does feel like the random decision did work out for me! I have to say, it was an interesting turn in my life. Hoping for some more, going ahead! 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

New wake up alarm

They come every morning,
With the dawn of light, always on time,
"Just give us the food, and let us sing"
Is what they say, in their very own sweet way,
I kindly oblige, and get up, rubbing my eyes
Fetching them a fistful of grains, I bid goodbye to the night gone by!