Blast From The Past
I make a quick trip to the hillside resort of Lushoto within the Usambara mountain range, the Switzerland of Tanzania, just before Ramadhan begins. For three days, accompanied by Zamina and Zuhair, my nephew Mohammed’s kids, and Ali Merali and Dadima, I become a teenager once more. Being with a bunch of people half my age, who are unburdened by the gravity and burdens of my profession, I recall my days growing up in this region of Tanga.
Lushoto is cool and comfortable, green and beautiful, and cheap. Two days of trekking that challenge my stamina and wobble my legs are nurtured by food from surprisingly very modern eating joints for a relatively remote place like Lushoto. A trip to neighboring Tanga town to visit CAI donor-sponsored Abul Fazl Abbas Elementary School is a must, naturally. So is the ziyaara, visit, to Tanga’s famous Blueroom Café where the partaking of their nylon bajeeya should be a once-in-a-lifetime requisite towards a life fulfilled. It is the end of ‘summer’ so the whole of the Tanga region is full of citrus fruits. Oranges galore and we gorge on probably the only few worldwide places remaining that grow natural and organic oranges – Muheza. These oranges are full of seeds, but every lunge into the pulp is a burst of sublime unmatched taste of vitamin C – this is what Allah wanted us to eat. It all ends very fast and I am back in rainy Dar too soon.
It is almost the middle of Ramadhan now as I pen this Blog sitting in my apartment in Dar es Salaam. It has cooled off considerably now that the rainy season has arrived. The rains bring cooling relief but leave a myriad of other pesky problems. I have to gingerly navigate through numerous dirty puddles everywhere in the city streets. The drainage system in this city sucks. But what I worry about the most is what’s in those puddles – an instant source of breeding mosquitos. This tiny insect terrifies and gives me the creeps. It’s tiny and black, stealthy and agile, and very cunning. It knows to attack when I am most venerable – when I’m enjoying a meal. I swear I’d be a more upright Muslim if Allah Mia threatened me with the sting of an umboo than the fire of hell on the Day of Reckoning.
The daytime hours are a usual hubbub of activity for a city that is the seventh-largest in Africa. It visibly slows down after zohr, when the fasting Muslim population pauses for rest and then perks up when the sun begins the final descent to the west. Allah, I have yet to see so many fried fritters on sale anywhere on earth. Muslims must get an innate itch to have fried stuff when breaking the fast for some reason. Samoosas, kababs, fried mutton chops, fried hamburger patties, bajeeyas (every kind), kitumbua, mkate, vishetes, kalimaate… unending variety of street food stalls and cafes all over the city that the fasting and hungry crowd around to purchase. And the inevitable hiss, smoke, and smell of kuku chicken or mishkaaki or nundu meat being singed by polluting barbecues that I can see and smell all around me from the 10th floor of my apartment.
My daily routine at the Hayaat Gym goes on, just a couple of hours pre-iftaar; I know I am not far from drinking water soon so can be daring in losing body water. Except the experience is often sullied by teen brashness who, for some unfathomable reasons, to me, resort to filthy language while working out. I am constantly fed iftaar dinners by relatives and friends; no wonder I have not lost a single pound so far this Ramadhan. There are no programs at the mosque after prayers, thanks to the doodoo’s curse. The last time I go for magreebein prayers, there are less than ten people in attendance. In a place that is almost half full on a regular day, even allowing for social distancing. I guess this is inevitable when the incentive of iftaar is removed? There is very little to do in Dar after iftaar except for drives along Ocean Road towards Oyster Bay and Masaki for fresher ocean air. Or end up for daaku at some surprisingly nice restaurants around the Upanga and Masaki areas. I end up with a group at Seacliff twice/thrice a week and we listen to dua Iftetah/Komail/Tawasool under the canopy of a dark but starry sky. Spiritual. Followed by daaku sehri and mazumgumzo talks.
The daaku drummers have just begun their beat as I sit here and pen this, supposedly waking up the sleeping dead to get up and eat their suhoor. I can hear them all the way up here, their drums and musical rattles playing a mix of Sufi and religious tunes. It is serene afterward, the City of Peace asleep. Not quite – I hear the loud rattling of stone chips that the peanut/candy/cigarettes tout clatters trying to peddle his wares. At five in the morning! It’ll be imsaak soon and the airwaves will vibrate with the calls for prayers from at least seven different minarets around my apartment, some of them so loud, I almost jump through my skin every time the muezzin begins the call to prayer. A new day in Dar will soon begin.
I take a deep breath of fresh ocean air that comes rushing from the Indian Ocean not too far away and get up to eat Weetabix for suhoor. Life is good, alhamd’Allah. I’m having a ball of a time here in Dar es Salaam. Certainly, more fun than I deserve. I am certainly blessed.
A Heartbreak – Nasra
When Ayline’s marijuana-clouded mind temporarily clears, she realizes the enormity of her decision. (Click here to read the background to this subject). The source of income by begging and peddling her infant child for alms will disappear once she gives her daughter Nasra up for adoption to CAI. Where will the money for intoxication come from? Abetted on by her beggar comrades, she stops cooperating regarding Nasra’s adoption process and eventually stops talking to the caseworker assigned to her. I am outraged and want to fight for Nasra, but I am told there is absolutely nothing I can do. I am heartbroken.
Languishing by her mother’s side at the street corner where the Khoja mosque is located, Nasra leaps up to her feet with innocent glee when she sees me passing by on my way to Hayaat Gym.
Mama, mama, she yells at the top of her voice, calling attention to her mother, jabbing her tiny finger towards me. Babu, babu.
But her mother either does not care or is back to her bangi stupor to register my passing by. I can do absolutely nothing but walk away. I have been warned by colleagues not to entertain the child, not even touch her. The consequences of any eventuality now that Ayline has recanted her decision to give her daughter for adoption would be daunting.
So, I ignore my wannabe daughter, feeling miserable, and keep on walking. The opportunity to remove an innocent child off from the cycle of abject poverty has been taken away from my grasp. A painful heartbreak. I was so hopeful, so happy for Nasra. And for me.
I must accept the darker side of life, I suppose.
And Allah knows best.