We have joined the ranks of parents tied and bound by the school holiday system. Having cancelled a vacation in France we assumed – naively, it turns out – that we could book a last minute flight away. No. Not unless we sell our car, or some non-essential organs, it seems. The holidays that were available for this coming week were in near-identical resorts, the children’s clubs and swimming pools attempting to make up for mediocre food and lack of individuality, all for prices which bring a tear to the eye. We face a week in the UK, and our cases contain sunglasses and Wellies, shorts and waterproofs. The school holidays of my childhood in Africa were a different kettle of zebra altogether.
Most of our breaks from school were spent playing at home, playing with cousins visiting from the Capital. Older cousins-exciting cousins- with their knowledge of card games, Top of the Pops and the world in general. On Sundays the excitement was palpable: there was a flurry of activity as fresh curries and warm parathas were scooped into metal tiffins, buckets and spades hastily dug out and then we were off, clattering down the stone steps from the apartment. The brown Toyota was the can, we the sardines as we made our way towards the shimmering sea. Once at the beach we did what children do, stopping only when the aroma of a freshly cooked lunch emanating from the tiffins drove us back to the compound under the palm trees.
To Bapuji and Ba, with their impoverished childhoods, the concept of a holiday was alien. Bapuji’s enviable work ethic and the sheer size of the family prevented any change of scene – even day trips were a rarity – and an overnight sojourn was deemed impossible. It was only when the children were grown that they ventured to these famous white sand beaches just a short ride away from town. The beaches, which today are strewn with seaweed, hawkers of jewellery made from seashells and hordes of local folk were then empty and idyllic.
Then there was Safari. Waking at dawn for an early trip into the savannah. Heads bumping the ceiling of the Safari van as it bounces along a pothole-heavy red earth road. Nothing.. nothing.. nothing.. zebra! More zebra. Tired of zebra. A baby elephant holding onto its mother’s tail as they walk in single-file towards a distant drinking hole. The chase: the urgent voice on the radio, vans speeding up, racing towards a common point, creeping finally towards sleeping lions. Thousands and thousands of stars in the night sky. We did not go on Safari often, despite living in a country that stated tourism and Safari as its main industry. It was special, a rare holiday, saved for those times when we had foreign visitors.
Here, today, the cold wind is blowing. I feel a trip to the aquarium coming on, but first I must hide the buckets and spades before the children see them.