Happy New Year?
The year 2020 is history. Unprecedented in the misery and death it spewed. I don’t believe my ancestors going back 100 years experienced anything like this past year, where the very air we breathe is suspect. Friends and family greet me on New Year’s Day with a chirpy happy new year and I respond stoically, because I’m supposed to, not because I feel added cheer. It’s still a rotten world out there, where cruelty and apathy rule, it’s the same contaminated air I’ll inhale, it’s the same sun shining hot rays through my window, even in the middle of winter and the birds chirping on the branches outside my room still look the same, alert and looking for an unwary insect for dinner. Nothing’s changed from yesterday that is happier.
I used to get a kick out of reading various batty astrologers out there, conning the gullible into dreams that will never materialize. The likes of Bijan Daruwala, a widely read and hugely followed soothsayer. He, at the end of 2019, predicted that 2020 would be heavenly for Pisceans – that’s me. He predicted that love will smother me and my finances will be looking up. Well, the only smothering I remember experiencing in 2020 is a nightmare where I dream I am being assaulted by flying pineapples. Yes, the very ones I’ve been consuming non-stop. So, I scream in terror and this gives my traveling buddy Murtaza Bhimani a terrible fright in a shabby Mombasa hotel in the middle of the night. And my neck’s hurting looking down at my fast-depleting savings from last year, not up. I’d like to be armed-to-maim when and if I meet Daruwala in India again.
For me, there is still no silver lining from this doodoo. The vaccines are at least three months (or more) away for me, only because I live in the US, a country that can afford a me-first policy and purchase the cure en masse for its population. But I travel to dirt-poor countries, and they will remain exposed for a much, much longer period if they’ll ever get the jab at all. I guess they will have to, once the rich nations realize that staying alive is inevitably linked to the world’s good health. It’s a small world and getting smaller, just as the doodoo proved. However, I’ll still have to have a mask on wherever I travel, and on nonstop for hours on end in an enclosed stifling aircraft, with my spicy samosa/pulao/kachumber concoction burps, and carbon monoxide et all. Oh, how I hate the damn thing!
I reflect on the year gone by. Since it is made redundant by the doodoo, it should not count. So, I’ll still be the same age I was in 2020 on my birthday coming up. Good logic, no? I can jest about the doodoo and laugh over it because I’ve been lucky to have survived it. Thus far. Even though I did get bit by it and escaped with very trifling and fleeting pain and discomfort. Many friends, colleagues, and family have suffered terrible pain and a few have perished.
It’s interesting to see how people in power react to the almighty doodoo:
In Asia, an ex-tea maker/seller elected prime minister has stopped trimming his beard, hair, eyebrows, and nails as some mystic defense against the germ. Good for him, I say. Except he looks a bit scary and I’m glad all his meetings with other world leaders are virtual, else physical meeting would be frightening for leaders not acquainted with Oriental religions and rites. Can you imagine him trying to hug Trump with that façade? Although, it wouldn’t make any difference to Borris, no? The dude looks equally daunting.
In Africa, a no-nonsense, work-only attitude leader is not totally convinced a lowly doodoo can outwit him. The guy has papaya and a goat tested at his top laboratory and by God, both the fruit and animal test positive! So, he throws the doodoo theory restrictions out into the abundant African sunshine and orders his countrymen back to work and carries on with life carefree. Good for him too! His country, from what I see and hear, is doing just fine. People eat kuku and nyaama chooma and summer fruits, trade in the bazaars, pray and eat at the Khoja mosque in Dar es Salaam without the despised mask, happy as larks. There is certainly no slack at Dar’s K-Tea Shop where I have to wait ten minutes for a fresh batch of garaam-garaam kababs to be replenished. Although this Mheshimiwa is blessed with good defensive genes and keeps the doodoo at bay, others with dismissive attitudes towards the germ get bit.
In Europe and the Americas, three leaders, President Trump, Prime Minister Boris, and President Bolsonaro, initially flippant, taste the doodoo’s ire and end up in the hospital. Except they have the moola and tax-payer resources for the best care in our dunya and recover seemingly unscathed. Alhamd’Allah. It remains to be seen how the long-term results will affect them and the others who recovered, including me. I hope and pray my marbles remain unaffected. At least.
I react to the pandemic with shifting ambivalences but act practically. The mask becomes wajib, just like a hijab is to a pious Muslima. My hands are so germs-free with sanitation and soap, all doodoos have given up on me by now. And I give myself a bonus – a whole extra foot and stay seven feet away from fellow humans. When possible.
One positive development is that I don’t have to shake hands with fellow worshipers at the drop of a hat. I think the doodoo has killed that rite, forever. Right, left, front, back, my neighbor’s neighbor, right, left, front, back.… after every salaat. And it was not a choice. My hands were forcibly cupped up, whether I liked it or not. And even after pressing so many hands (I am never sure where the fingers have been up to. I’ve seen noses being picked and unholy places scratched). Seriously! Afterward, we lined up to shake hands as a congregation – it was getting to be rather ridiculous and tedious. The guys who fervently believed that shaking as many hands as possible and with rapid frequency will fast-track them to janna certainly look deflated now. God bless them.
The dawn of 2021 feels heavy on my shoulders; I’ll be sixty-four in March. Where did the years go? It seems only yesterday that I admired and combed abundant scalp hair and felt invincible. I meet old buddy Riyaz Nasser on my way to Zanzibar from Dar recently and we reminisce about the time we were teenagers. He later texts me a photo taken fifty years ago. It showed me riding on his shoulders as we monkeyed around in the gardens of the New Arusha Hotel. I can’t believe my eyes! Both of us have tresses of hair to rival Aamir Khan’s in Raja Hindustani.
On a more serious note, I feel my life journey is like a steep fall from a tall structure. Something like that tall one in Dubai. The ground seems a long way off and I have all the time in the world before I’ll take the hit. Except that the gap now seems so close, it’s bloody scary. Not that I’m afraid of the inevitable end. Far from it. It’s just that there is suddenly so much more to do and so very little time.
I pray and hope I live long enough to see some fairness and dignity to the oppressed in our world. It’ll make the dying process a lot more acceptable and palatable, knowing that yes, there is a price to pay for practicing cruelty and oppression in this temporal world. And the after. The ugly unfairness is so rampant and blatant, it’s nauseating that I cannot do anything except try and assist the hapless with material aid rather than deliver the justice they seek. And deserve.
I wish you all a much better 2021, insha’Allah, and fervently pray that the oppressed children in Yemen, the Rohingyas in Burma and Bangladesh, in Syria, in Palestine, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan sleep soundly, with a full belly, without the nightmare routinely melted out on them.
The views and opinions expressed in this Blog are entirely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of Comfort Aid International or her Trustees.