With 2 weeks to kill before a (very uncomfortable) foot long stent can be removed below my kidneys in Mumbai India, I decide to visit CAI projects in Tanzania, specifically construction of a completed modern physics / chemistry laboratory at Jeffery School in Bukooba.
You may find the following narrative (and accompanying photos) informative.
Dar airport is not as crowded as I have found her in earlier summer visits and the air-conditioning system at the airport, although lethargic, does provide bearable relief from the stifling heat outside. An imposing immigration officer, twanging bad American accent to foreign passport holders, hurries me through visa formalities and I, remarkably, clear immigration and customs in 30 minutes. Now, luggages go through a scanner for customs so bottlenecks, questions and bribes are much minimized.
The pains, frustrations and complaints from (Khoja, mostly) residents living in this city can be longer than most monthly grocery lists; Tanzania Revenue Authority harassments, spiraling inflation, rampant bribery, anemic infrastructure, power woes, water woes… My observations are somewhat more optimistic however, perhaps due to extensive exposure to state of affairs in dismal countries such as Afghanistan etc. I find Dar progressively modern, with new handsome buildings mushrooming everywhere in the city, roads relatively well maintained, clean and traffic no worse than Dubai, even. Walking the city center around the Khoja mosque after magreeb, I feel safe, strolling through placid beggars lounging around shuttered shops amid drifting, overpowering odor from barbequing pits of sidewalk restaurants.
It is summer here and, for me, a feast of fruits. I go bananas, literally, when my eyes set on all the exotic array of fruits on sale; pineapples, mangoes, jackfruit, soursop (ramfal), zambarao, kungus (and thanks to Liyaakat Alloo, the badaam in it as well, something I eat after a gap of over 30 years), shokeshoke (lychees), apple mangoes, papaya, madafu, passion fruits, bananas…I want to eat them all, I eat them all – burp. Then there are different exotic foods that only original Tanzanian ingredients can stand up to a heavenly palate. Nundu, mushkaaki and kuku ya kuchooma at Mambos and Muchachos, of course; there is sanene (crispy fried grasshoppers), dagga with ugaali, matoke; fried and with nazi milk, KT Shop kebabs, mandazi, kitumbooa – I want to eat them all, I eat them all – burp, burp. I tell ya, I am alarmed at my ballooning midriff (no jogging permitted until after follow-up surgery) between all the fruits and food I consume on this trip, thanks to my good friend Murtaza Bhimani family generous cooking.
Bukooba, when I get there, accompanied by Murtaza Bhimani, flying Precision Air landing on a hardened dirt runway, is refreshingly cool, for me, although Bokoobans lament the summer heat. This is banana country, with plantain groves everywhere I see. It is a quaint little town, quite neat and clean. I am told Bukooba had a budding, wealthy Asian community once and this shows in the handsome houses of worship of Muslims (Shia and Sunni), Hindus, Sikhs and Ismailis next to each other. All Ismailis have migrated out, so the Jamaat Khana is now a high school run by the Khoja Shia community, necessary to stem the migration of her community for want of higher education facilities. Irony no, non-Ismailies could not set foot in Jamaat Khanas ago… It is here that a CAI donor sponsored a new modern laboratory. I am much impressed by the progress of the school and the efforts to expand it.
We are guests of current President of Khoja Jamaat, Murtazabhai Visram, a highly energetic and dedicated person to the community. Murtaza Bhimani, who was born in Bukooba, reveals in nostalgic memories of his growing up here as we tour the town. There is a strong Catholic Christian missionary movement in the area, with many imposing churches getting ready for a papal visit later in the year. Stuffing myself with fruits and food, including introduction to sanene (crunchy crispy grasshoppers), 5 pounds heavier, we head back to Dar and get ready to drive to Tanga next day.
Although I was born in Arusha, I spent most of my adolescence in Tanga, once even more thriving than Dar; I have some amazing memories of her. Joining me in the taxi are friends Murtaza Bhimani and Sadiq Merali as our extra careful driver Yahya tries to avoid the ever-omnipotent traffic police in futility; we are stopped 7 times. One time, the cop checks everything; documents, insurance, medical kit, fire extinguisher… Everything is in order; he throws up his hands in disgust. If you keep everything straight, what are we supposed to eat, he grumbles. Well, quench my thirst instead… give me something. Yahya parts with 2 thousand shillings. Haraam sadeqa, he grumbles.
In Tanga, we put up at Inn By The Sea, a deteriorating Bohri owned hotel near Raskazoone, easily compensated by the sea, scenery, mind blowing sea breeze and tranquility; I have a wonderful relaxing 2 days of recuperation. I visit all places that have influenced my life. Saint Anthony’s Elementary School, Popatlal High School, our (diminishing with robustly squabbling members) mosque, childhood homes I lived in, the grocery shop I successfully ran as a teenager, cinemas I frequented on special Sundays, grounds I played cricket and volleyball, where I went swimming on Sunday mornings after salaat, and to Raskazoone wearing (limited) swanky attire – to gawk at girls … I gorge on food, of course; famous nylon bajeeas at Blue Room where, as a teenager, I used to look in through the (still unchanged) window front, mouth watering, tummy rumbling, because I did not have money to go in. I thank Allah (S) again and again for the wonderful opportunities He has bestowed on me, especially the then hard times, so I can fully appreciate the current blessed ones…ah, what memories, yaar! Zindeghee ke safar me guzar jaate hai jo makaam, whoo phir nahi aate…
Much, much heavier, cursing my seemingly evaporated self-control, I depart back to India for the stent removal and much more pressing CAI tasks that await me. Burp.
I encourage you to visit these photos, especially ex-Tangawalles; I am certain you will enjoy.