A trip to Tanzania, Arusha being the city of birth, is always a delight indeed. My childhood and adolescent were unique, special. I know, I know, everybody will claim this refrain, but mine was extra special; special for all Tanzanian diaspora I reckon. That carefree bachpaana and jawaani, those bisri hoowe yadee, are now but passionate, imprisoned memories buried deep in the recesses of my being. I would gladly trade much I currently have to relive that past. Our wise Imam Ali (A) had advised us to take full advantage of the good things Allah grants us, for good things are transient, they go away fast-fast. Either I got to hear this hadith too late or was too arrogant to heed the advice when it could really have made a difference.
My time is severely limited, as usual, what with all the trips to various CAI projects, past, current and potential. I get somewhat of a breather after quick trips to Zanzibar and Arusha. Zanzibar for CAI projects and Arusha to pay my respects to a recently departed dear aunt. So I make my way through puddles of muddy rainwater from recent downpours towards the house of Mullah Mchungu. These are fresh rains for the season and the clouds above are overcast and pregnant with more to come. It is a task navigating the streets of Dar, the drainage system poor and ancient as the Mullah himself, who is ailing, but I had promised to visit with him when he was last in Sanford, FL. I really do not look forward to seeing the grumpy old man; he can be extremely rude and patronizing. But he is old, lonely, ailing and his opinions, although controversial and combative, are right on the money. Most times. My clothes get perfumed from the swirling smoke of kuku and nyaama chooma dhaabas and the awful putrid smell of dooryaani fruit along the way.
Saala ghadheera, Mullah growls at me as soon as his houseboy sits me at his bedside. You have been here five days and you come see me now?
Okay, I have no idea how he knows I am in Dar five days and he has just called me a donkey, but I take the rebuke in stride; I know he is just showing me a false front. I ask him about his health, but he waves my politeness away dismissively, lights up a beedi instead and blows acrid smoke my way. I look around the modest room where the old man lives; there is not very much. An ancient bed, a battered table on which lies an antique TV set, an ageless wooden closet, some clothes laying about and a thermos by the bedside; I suddenly feel depressed.
So Kisukaali, what have you been up to in our blessed and abundantly corrupt country? Up to no good as usual, I am sure.
I ignore this snide remark and brief him on CAI activities in Tanzania while he watches me with moist eyes and puffs away at the beedi. He nods his head when I am done and hollers at the houseboy to go out and buy some kahaawa and kashaata, something I relish whenever in Tanzania. It is a poor man’s snack, you see. I used to have this when going to school in Dar many years ago; it used to temporarily soothe my rumbling belly when times were hard. The Mullah sips hot tea while I savor my bitter drink sweetened by the crusty peanut brittle.
As usual, the man bowls me a doosra, one that scalds my tongue and sets my heart aflutter.
‘Kisukaali,’ asks the Mullah with a slightest gleam in his eyes,‘would you consider taking an African wife, a Black wife?’
I am at a loss for words for several seconds, trying to settle my heartbeat and ascertain how much the chap knows about my personal life. I could easily be equally rude and tell the guy to booger off but decide to play along, certain the old geezer is up to something, as usual.
‘That’s a rather strange question, Mullah? Why would I want to consider taking any wife, white, black or any other color in between?’
He chuckles, the guy actually smiles, the first time I have seen his gummy teeth and the crinkle of his eyes. Makes him look much better, younger and a real human.
‘Touché Kisukaali, touché, ever the smart pants, nai?’ Says the Mullah with his usual sneer back on his callous face. ‘Okay, we won’t go that route. But tell me, what do you think of our Africans? You know, the people we Khojas call Ghoolas and Ghagas and treat with the utmost contempt? The ones we stole from, and still do, the ones we build separate mosques for, the ones we don’t want to pray alongside, the ones we will not allow our children to play with, the ones we will do anything and avoid having as neighbors, the ones we give leftover food to, the ones we would easily chop off heads if they ever dare to propose marriage to our women… What do you think of them, Kisukaali?’
I say nothing but stare at the old man, the cutting truth of his words making me queasy and uncomfortable. I am guilty of some of these crimes, committed for the briefest of the adolescence period, something I have always wanted to erase from my conscience; I almost curse the old man for opening old wounds. The houseboy comes along to clear away the teacups. As he leaves, the Mullah points to him.
‘See this man, Kisukaali? He has been with me for the last twenty years, almost. He served my wife when alive and reared my children as well. He serves me now, twenty-four hours a day, at my command, something my children would never do. He cooks and cleans for me, gives me company, and when the time comes, I pray it does not, he will gladly wipe my smelly, najees bum.’
I’ve had enough of this painful chat and want to flee the gloominess in the house, made worse by the rain outside which has started to pour again. I am about to say my farewells when Mullah Mchungu asks me a question that stays and bothers me all the way back to Sanford later that day.
Don’t like what I just said, Kisukaali? Because it has touched a raw nerve? Let me ask you a question then, before you leave. You have a teenage daughter, right? Maaha Zainab? May Allah bless and keep her happy, always. Just suppose she comes to you one fine day and says she has met a boy she loves and wants to marry him. The boy is a Shia Muslim, a mutaqee, is a medical doctor and from a good family. She tells you the boy loves her passionately as well. Then she casually mentions that the boy is an African. Tell me, keeping the teachings of the Quraan and practices of our Prophet (S) and Aimaas (A) and the laws of your country in mind, what would you do? What could you do, if anything? Hmmm?’
I make a hasty retreat, drenched to the bone by the time I reach Tanzanite Suites.