19 January 2008


From Nairobi

To Seattle

We have met the invaders...and they are very nice people.

It was like this.

Those who know me well know I rarely go out in public because of my health problems. But this was unavoidable. So I said a prayer and hoped for the best.

I was very nervous about their coming. What would they think of me? I am, after all, the outsider in the family. What if I said the wrong thing. What if I broke some obscure Kikuyu taboo? And what if they didn't like me? I had the good sense to start japping naam - that is not a racial slur, it is the meaningful repetition of God's name - and a bolt of lightening hit me! Me, me, me...It was all me! These people were just getting off 17 hours on airplanes. They were leaving everything they had known all their lives. They had left the tropics and were arriving in the middle of winter. Why, they even had to get used to people driving on the wrong side of the street. And I was a totally unknown quantity to them. You'd think at my age I would have matured to the point that thinking of others would come nasturally. No wonder EGO is one of the five big thieves.

My nerves immediately calmed down and I started thinking about how to make them feel welcome. All went well after that.

To begin, the flight from Amsterdam was half an hour EARLY. Who ever heard of an international flight being early? I had the foresight to check that out on the KLM Website. If I weren't a Sikh and were even slightly superstitious, I would have thought that a good omen.

Simon dropped me off at the arrival gate and went to park the car. I asked the guy at the KLM counter where I should wait and he gave me instructions, saying the flight had already arrived but it would take half an hour up to two hours for our passengers to clear customs. So I waited. And waited. And waited. How long could it take to park a car? And where was Simon's other son. And his ex, who also lives in this area?

People started coming up the escalator and still I was alone.

I started toying with the idea that I might be the only one there to greet them. I would be able to recognise them with no trouble at all. A family group of eight Kikuyus on a flight from Amsterdam would be pretty conspicuous. On the other hand, they would have no way to know who I was.

So what should I do? Go up to them waving my hands, calling, 'Daniel? Wayne? Jane? Mary?' And them thinking , 'Who is this crazy lady who seems to know all our names?'

Of course, like most projections that didn't happen..Simon showed up. Someone had directed him to the baggage carousel instead of the area they'd be arriving at from customs. So we waited a bit. Eventually his ex and her sister showed up, but the family still hadn't come up the escalator. We were getting concerned. Had we somehow missed them? Were they having problems with the government officials? Surely, they weren't the very last in line!

Surely they were! They said everyone else was in such a hurry pushing and shoving and they decided just to be civilised and hold back and wait. (They'll learn quickly enough that such courtesy is rare - and rarely appreciated - in America.)

They finally came and there were hugs and kisses - I'm Indian enough to feel a little uncomfortable with all this kissing in public, I admit, but I got through it - and lots of pictures. I can't wait to see them. No one will have trouble picking me out; I'm the one with the long - relatively speaking - hair. Oh, yeah, and the fair skin. Everybody was really nice and they felt like family to me. The only exception was the sole girl child in the group, Young Njeri. I guess she's about 9 or 10, and she kept giving me this 'and who the hell do you think you are!' look. She has enormous eyes, incredibly expressive. Oh, well, I'm sure she was tired and I hope she'll warm up to me in time.

Eventually, Simon's youngest son showed up and all were packed into cars and went off. Simon went to get our tiny car, leaving me again alone in the terminal. I looked up and saw a 'visible' Sikh happening by. Very visible. Punjabi pajama, kirpan at the side, beautifully tied turban (I notice such things). Rather handsome, too. (Yes, I notice that, too. I'm in my midfifties and married, but I haven't yet gone blind.) As he approached, I said, 'Sat sri akaal.'

He stopped and returned my greeting, looking at me curiously for a moment, then spotting my kara, said, 'You're Sikh?' in that unbelieving tone I've heard most of my life.


'Waheguru ji ka khalsa! Waheguru ji ki fateh!'

Testing me, I guess. This time I returned his greeting.

He grinned and extended his hand, 'Harinder.'

I grinned and extended my hand, 'Harinder.' I rarely use that name, but it was too good to pass up. 'But they usually call me Mai.'

He stopped and stared. And started singing, ' "There once was a Khalsa maid," that Mai?'

For my own reasons, I do not like people identifying me in the flesh with the author of this blog, but I didn't want to lie. I don't think it would have worked anyway.

'Yeah.' I was embarrassed.

'Well, why is your hair down and open and exposed like that. And I've never seen a kanga stuck in the hair quite like that.'

Who did he think he was, anyway!? 'I can do most things one handed, but I haven't figured that out yet.'

"I have a daughter.' Before I could react, my hair was in a neat bun. I wasn't sure whether to thank him or slap him. Instead I burst out laughing.

'Do you usually go around grabbing strange women's kesh like that?'

'I don't know what got into me. I've never done anything like that before. Shall I apologise?'

I shook my head, no, hardly able to keep from bursting out laughing.

'But you're no stranger to me. I feel like I know you better than I know my own mother or sisters.'

[Is this blog really that revealing?]

I saw Simon drive up outside. I left, wondering what he would say about my hair, wondering what I would say about my hair. But he was so wrapped up in himself and his sons arrival that he didn't even notice.

So that was the meeting. An altogether interesting day. And I made it almost home without any mishaps.