An Eventful Morning Walk
I do a brisk seventy-five minutes (approximately four miles) walk after morning salaat four times a week here in Dar es Salaam. It is quite a pleasant walk, especially now, the non-summer days of East Africa, when the mornings and late evenings are super pleasant. Two refreshing cups of Swahili kahwa (strong black coffee) accompanied by two small kashata squares (brittle peanut bars with jaggery) gives me enough energy to make this a wholesome workout. The route I take is very calming – very little traffic, almost litter-free streets and lanes, absolutely safe, no dogs or their poop to contend with, no human filth (read Mumbai, for example), no obvious sight of humans taking a dump or urinating at a corner, a steady ocean breeze and fellow joggers and walkers for company.
Husseini, the kahwa/kashata vendor smiles me a toothy welcome as he sees me walking up to the corner of DTV roundabout today and hurries to pour a steamy cuppa coffee with a flourish. He asks me about my health and mood for the day, something he does every time we meet. This is not a perfunctory greeting; I can hear the sincerity in his voice every time. I find this attitude enduring here in Tanzania, especially along the Swahili coast of East Africa. There is a Jambo (hello), a salaam aleykum (peace be on you), or a shikamoo (‘touch your leg in respect’ from those younger to me), almost everyone I encounter and make eye contact with. My arrival and Husseini’s warm greeting rouse up a nearby drunk who impatiently demands a cup of kahwa; he is rudely told to wait while I am served. The drunk scoffs and lets off a tirade.
Kumaxxxx, he curses Husseini’s mother’s anatomy, you ask me to wait while you serve him? What do you think? He is human and I am a mnyama (an animal)? Just because he is a Muhindi (Asian) with money, you want to treat me like crap?
He makes a disparaging long rude sound by pinching his lips and expanding his cheeks, a common expression of contempt in East Africa that has no descriptive word in English. Kufonya in Kiswahili for those that understand the language. Too bad Nyerere had to die so early. He fixed all them Wahindis. Cut off their testicles and kicked them off to India. They have now returned and are throwing their weight around. All the stinking masaalas and dengu (dal) curries that inevitably give me heartburn. He curses again and fixes bloodshot eyes of hatred toward me. You Muhindi mpumbaavu (stupid Asian), you think you are better than me?
Husseini and I look at each other warily. He shakes his head dismissively. Usim jaali, Bossi wangu, (don’t mind him Boss), he says apologetically, the guy’s sleeping off his beers.
The drunk lurches towards me threateningly and stops when he sees I am unafraid and calm. We are evenly built but he is of African gene and stock, with solid muscles. But I am sober and clearheaded while he’s still inebriated. One closed fist punched to his stinking mouth would put him to sleep for hours and he’d lose a few teeth in the process. At least. But Husseini jumps to action and cuffs him by his collars and yanks him back, sending the drunk sprawling on the dirty, cracked, and jagged tiled sidewalk, tasting dirt. He stays put, overcome by the alcohol that still inebriates him.
Samahaani (apologies) Bosi Wangu, says Husseini, panting slightly. He won’t bother you anymore. He’s not a violent person, only drunk.
I finish my kahwa/kashata a bit unsettled and go on my way after I pay Husseini for the treat. A whole five hundred Tanzanian shillings (twenty-two US cents).
A Meeting With The President
Comfort Aid International (CAI) is active with education and humanitarian aid for the poor and marginalized people of Zanzibar for several years. CAI has renewed a number of dilapidated schools, dug ten deep-water wells providing about 32,000 people desperate for potable water, is financing and managing a first-class home for girl orphans, providing food aid to the hungry, HIV orphan care, and education scholarships. So, when the opportunity to meet with the President of Zanzibar, Dr. Hussein Ali Mwinyi is offered to CAI, I take it.
It is never easy to meet with a dignitary, especially a political one, a head of a sovereign state at that – the uncertainty of the actual meet, multiple layers of security checks, and the wait make this meeting a challenge in patience. Accompanied by Murtaza Bhimani, CAI Africa representative, Mohsin Nathani and Zainab Mvungi of Nyota Foundation, CAI legal agents in Tanzania, and Ibrahim Raza, a local politician, we are thoroughly searched, our cellphones taken away for custody and we troop towards the grand Statehouse. The President’s office is an imposing structure, even though it is over one hundred years old. We are made to wait in one of the several formal waiting rooms in the Statehouse where thirsty mosquitoes make a feast out of my blood, leaving me itching and burning. It is warm and stifling in the dark chamber with overstuffed easy sofas, even though this is supposed to be the milder balmy month of June. Being attired in a formal jacket does not help.
After an uncomfortable wait of over an hour, we are trooped up a set of stairs to another formal greeting room, except there is nobody to greet us except a refreshing breeze off the Indian Ocean. We are made to wait once more and the breeze makes me doze off; I think all of us nod off. It is nearly two hours after the agreed time of our meet that we are taken to a third room where the President breezes in. To his credit, President Dr. Mwinyi is sincerely apologetic for the tardiness and regrets profoundly. The President has impressive credentials and a wealth of experience – the son of a former President of the Republic of Tanzania, a medical doctor, a lengthy stint as the Minister of Defense for the Republic of Tanzania, and now the president of his birthplace, Zanzibar.
After patiently listening to our presentations and pleas, the President agrees to grant complimentary land to CAI so that an orphanage and a modern school can be constructed for the poor and marginalized people of Zanzibar. Bravo.
Here is a photo of our meet: