Damascus, Dubai, Dar Es Salaam, Zanzibar, Arusha, Tanga

Damascus, Dubai, Dar Es Salaam, Zanzibar, Arusha, Tanga

Damascus, Dubai, Dar Es Salaam, Zanzibar, Arusha, Tanga 150 150 Comfort Aid International
Maaha Zainab, Tasneem and I have the good fortune to visit our Lady of Light, Seyyeda Zainab (A) in Damascus before we embark on a nostalgic, fast trek, at times fleeting visit to Tanzania, my country of birth. Syria is the same dreary old country I remember from the nineties when I used to fly in for business very frequently. Nothing seems to have changed in the decade I am absent; the same grime and dirt everywhere, the careless attitude of her people and the non ceasing smoking even in the most confined places. The hotel we put up at is adequately comfortable and very close to the haram. The haram is as beautiful as before, comforting and crowded and sad with tribulation of my Lady (A) seemingly echoing throughout the its marble walls. I spend some time in there and talk to my Bibi (A), pouring my heart out to her and asking for her intervention with Allah (S) and beseeching her blessings. Damascus market is crowded as usual, what with zawaars from across the world flocking the narrow lanes for cheap merchandise and food. We get tired of shawarma and falafil quickly but there are not many choices. The haram of baby Sakeena (A) is spanking new and beautiful; it used to be underground in my days. My heart wants to explode thinking of her crying for her father and literal suffocating to death in that dungeon. I run in the mornings, just outside the haram area; people stop to stare and some loonies drive close to me and hoot; I wonder what they would do if it happened to be a women jogger. We complete the other ziyaarat and are ready to begin our vacation; we are off to Dubai for the first leg. Our mood is soured by problems at Damascus and Dubai airports, Damascus due to confusion over our visas and in Dubai where my name matches a person banned by UAE; what unflattering popularity… Dubai is hot, super hot; Maaha Zainab does not want to venture out and prefers staying at home to play with Haadi at Sabira’s house. She does go to a water park with Fatema and Ameerali on Friday and we are left alone to visit relatives; Papa (Chacha) does not recognize me, Chachi looks frail. We go to the Satwa Imambargha on Thursday night; Tasneem’s first visit since 2000. Otherwise Maaha Zainab and Tasneem pig out on halaal Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King while I visit my contacts. We go for dinner at Gulaam Suku Suku’s place and Maaha Zainab is in heaven when we are served Nihaari, her favorite meat item. I wonder if there is another eight year old in this world that loves meat so much; a pukka Khoja, this daughter of mine! Dar es Salaam is a pleasure; not oppressively hot, relatively clean and full of memories for me but new and novel for both Maaha Zainab and Tasneem. Murtazabhai Bhimani is at the airport; anxious as we are late coming out due to the delay in getting visas. We proceed to town and are fed by Fatema and her in laws; aaaah, East African food, I am in hog haven! Eating is the most we do for the next ten days we are in Tanzania; mishkaki, nundu, natasha chicken and prawns, shilingi shilingi, matoke, K T Shop kebabs, nylon bajias, chana bateta mix, mihogo (sekeelo and chips and chips dipped in fiery red sauce), madafu, kuku kuku paka, fish paka, papaya, ndimu tamu, oranges, meethi amli, Naaz hotel curry puff, kebabs and meat pies…we eat and eat and eat some more. And we drink; madaafu, kungu juice, passion fruit juice, ramfur juice, lemon juice, orange juice…good thing I have taken my running shoes along and go running almost all days I am on the road this trip. Its amazing how well Tanzania has come along after the shackles of ujamaa and socialism were cast aside. Just to show you that if you free a human being of silly and useless restrictions, progress, innovation and wealth follows naturally. Walking along Dar streets, I remember the dark days of having to wait in line every day for two liters of milk, or butter, or bread or what have you. The streets are now clean, relatively well maintained, relatively safe, the clocks work, and buildings are actually painted. I can’t say I care for the orange, yellow and even green colors used by National Housing, but they are painted at least! You should come to Mumbai, India where I currently live and see the status of older homes… We fly to Zanzibar at an ungodly hour of five in the morning and Maaha Zainab is instantly disappointed the aircraft takes off and instantly lands – fourteen minutes from takeoff to landing (yes, I actually timed it). Sleepy taxi owners outside the airport rip us off and charge me USD9 for a 10 minute ride to our hotel, which is okay – okay. Zanzibar is the same sleepy old town I remember from eons ago except there are now a fair number of tourists wandering about. We hire a car and go around town and then to the sorry site where slaves from the mainland were shackled and forced off to far off lands. I feel pretty bad touring these places but my mood brightens considerably when we have miskaki at Forodhani that night. The place is packed with tourists of all races, lost among the many delicacies of Zanzibar. Maaha Zainab and Tasneem are not overly impressed with Zanzibar and relieved to be back in Dar for the flight to Arusha. I must say Precision Air is impressive; their flight schedule is pretty much on time and the aircrafts modern and clean. Arusha is a delight, as usual, and naturally much cooler, which does wonders to my running time. We spend time with Gulamhussein & family and the Yusufalis of Arusha, Maaha Zainab spending almost all her time with Timmy, a fair fluffed puppy at the Yusufali home backyard. Arusha, alas, has lost the status of a modern town with a population of over 300,000 without traffic lights as a set of these did come up around Njeero Hills recently. The brand new sports club along the way to Laki Laki (where Marhoom Husseinalibhai was the coffee farm manager) is exceptional, especially the lush green cricket turf. Mchawi Wa Radio, Marhoom Bha’s business is still around with a different name. Alas, none of the radio workers or bycycle repairman remain. Ah, my teenage days in Arusha… I always proudly relate to Maaha Zainab about my school life growing up in Tanga, about the wonderful times I had, young and carefree, roaming around barefoot all over town, climbing trees, playing cricket, swimming, fishing, catching tadpoles or just plain getting into all sorts of mischief. So Tanga is a must for us and we hire a vehicle with a driver to take us there. It takes us six hours but the drive is pleasant, roads well maintained and weather fair. The gift lunchbox from Naaz Hotel comes in handy along the way and we picnic in the middle of nowhere along the highway. I can tell Maaha Zainab and Tasneem are disappointed with Tanga but I am overwhelmed with nostalgia. St. Anthony’s, the elementary school and Popatlal Secondary, schools I attended were among the first ones I visit; Mr. Chaudry the strict disciplinarian but very successful and much admired principal of Popatlal is still around, looking the same. Our new mosque, the depilated kabrastaan in Ngamiyaani, Raskazone Swimming Club, Raskazone walkway, Tanga Library, Blue Room…all places with fond memories. But Tanga is on the decay; the once booming town with so much promise is rotting within and losing people. The five homes we lived in are all grimy and sad, other homes in and around town have crumbled, vehicles are few and far and there is resignation in the faces of people that Tanga is dying… We return to Dar es Salaam by bus as the only airline (Coastal Air) plying the Tanga-Pemba-Zanzibar-Dar-Tanga sector on 5 seat Cessna aircrafts charge USD250 per person and takes the same amount of time to reach Dar as a “luxury” bus; luxury being a relative term. After eating and drinking some more in Dar, we depart for home in Mumbai via Dubai; Maaha Zainab has school, Tasneem wants to begin Yoga classes and I , why, I have to travel some more…naturally!You can view photos of this trip here:http://picasaweb.google.com/booaliboo/Vacations?feat=directlink

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