Hopping Through Dar / Tanga / Pemba / Zanzibar
Emirates flight EK725 from Dubai lands Dar es Salaam 5 minutes ahead of schedule, the American pilot tells us it’s because he helped push the aircraft…haha. He has been joking since takeoff, telling us that he wears his seatbelts all the time because he is scared of heights…haha. The almost ready new airport adjacent to the current one looks nice and modern. I hope things work in there, especially the air-conditioning system.
This supposed House of Peace seems to be floating in a tropical forest somewhere in Brazil; I feel like I am in the steam room back at the Leela in Mumbai. Sweat starts oozing from every pore in my body the moment I get to the immigration hall of the airport. Since Mheshimiwa Magufuli is so adept in getting things to work as the President, he should really spend some time at the airport in Dar; the air-conditioners will start cooling in no time. Did I really live in Dar once? Was it this steamy then?
Early the next day, I am at the American Embassy in Masasi, on the outskirts of the city. The Embassy occupies the drive-in movie cinema where I used to come and watch Bollywood movies as a teenager. Wednesday was a special day; twenty shillings per vehicle, as many people any car could fit. Wahindis inevitably turned this into a lucrative business. They’d bring Canter trucks jammed the local African ready to pay five shilling each. Now, it is a sprawling structure with enough security an ant would have trouble breaching, even. Although I have a prior appointment, the massive bald-as-an-eagle security chief looks me up and down suspiciously. Several times. I guess he does not get a middle-aged Muhindi in kaptoora, flip-flops sporting an earring visiting the Embassy very often. I explain to the lady in charge that I need a new passport fasta-fasta because I’ve run out of pages and she obliges. I am so happy with the service and efficiency of my government, I feel like saluting a huge portrait of a grinning President Trump on my way out. But I hurriedly change my mind. There are cameras watching my every move, and a salute to the Commander in Chief might be taken out of context here. I got to be careful.
Dar is teeming with summer fruits and the aroma of nundu / kuku chipsi, I can’t escape it. Every imaginable color of mango is on display with the street vendors – mawaazo, booreeboo, shindaano, moowa, doh-doh… incredibly sweet and astonishingly flavorful. And heavenly pineapples and jackfruit faneesi and soursop and gulaabi…burp. The 2-kilometer radius around the Khoja mosque has a canopy of shifting scents of various nyama chooma and kuku barbeque starting about 4PM; there is no dodging it. It is useless using cologne or scents for salaat; we all smell of kuku and perspiration concoctions in the prayer hall. In the peculiar wisdom of our Khoja Jamaat, the aircon remains switched off in the heat of zohr, so I squirm and fidget with sweat under a furious fan during salaat. The air is turned on during cooler magreeb. Kinda confused logic. To me.
While I prepare for my trip to Tanga / Pemba / Zanzibar for due diligence on various CAI projects, I am holed up with brother Shabbir Yusufali, a recent returnee to Tanzania from the US. His pad is on the 10th floor of a newly constructed building, walking distance from the mosque, so all salaat in jamia is mandatory. For me. After fajr salaat, I sit by the doors of the masjid, drink 2 cups of kahaawa coffee from a passing vendor and nibble on the peanut kashaata accompanying the coffee. At this time of the day, the kashatas are fresher, not yet polluted with the dust and grime of the streets. It is time for solitude and contemplation on my younger days in this city, as the coffee bitterness and caffeine kick in.
At the Hayat Gym within the mosque confines later, it is a delight to run and pump iron with the modern equipment installed. Daily membership rates are very affordable. I am saddened at the attitude and mindset of the members who use this Allah bestowed gift, however. Weights are scattered around on the floor from last night, there are scraps of plastic wrappers and bottle-tops on the floor, within inches of abundant plastic trash baskets. There are clothes and underwear spread out to dry in the changing room, someone has squirted a stream of burgundy gudka gunk in a sink and now the water will not drain. Overhead lights will not work and some faucets have snapped handles… All because there is cheap local labor to pick and clean up the mess? This crass attitude prevails elsewhere too, the compound outside the prayer hall has mature, intelligent and considerate people light up, unmindful it is Allah’s home that is being defiled and that the habit is vile and destructive.
The pilot of Auric Airline’s Cessna 208B that flies CAI Africa representative Murtaza Bhimani, Nyota Foundation’s Mohsin Nathani, brother Shabbir Yusufali, me and 8 others to Tanga looks as if he has just migrated from Pampers to pants; even his voice has yet to mature. I pray real hard the cereal he’s had for breakfast has sharpened his mood and flying skills. 30 minutes later, we are in ancient and laid back Tanga, driving to The Blue Room, home to the original nylon bajeea. There was a time in Tanga’s glorious past, when Bollywood and cricketing celebrities would come to Tanga for the nylon bajeeas and then head to nearby Kapoori Panhouse for pan and an accompanying cancer stick. Sated by an artery-clogging breakfast, we head to the Abulfazl Abbas Elementary School, newly redone with Beta / CAI donor funds. There is no greater pleasure, for me, than helping unprivileged children equal the playing field for a quality education. 140 children now have a modern school, with toilets that actually have running water and classrooms with desks. Due to the improvement in the infrastructure, the school strength will insha’Allah go up to 300. I am determined to make this school the best one in Tanga, worthy of the holy personality it is named after. At the Changa School some 3 miles away, we get a warm welcome from grateful students/teachers/parents for digging them a water well and getting water into toilets. CAI will insha’Allah install doors for the toilets and install new toilets and repair the floor.
It would be an insult to Tanga if I did not taste the local embe moowa. To me, there is no match for the sweetness and flavor of this mango in the whole wide blessed world of Allah. So, we purchase 30 of them lovelies for $1.50 and I am in heaven. A splendid seafood dinner at Mohammed Chandoo’s right across the pitifully deserted Tanga Khoja masjid and we are off the next day, hopping to Pemba and Zanzibar.
Both Pemba and Zanzibar have terrible education infrastructure in schools away from the main towns. Children sit on the floor, hunched up over tattered books. The toilets are filthy, without water for hygiene or doors for privacy, many classrooms have no floor or roof – it’s heartbreaking and pitiful. CAI is working with partners to renovate 2 schools insha’Allah that will have these poor students modern classrooms with desks and toilets with water and privacy. The plan is to provide 700 sturdy desks, each sitting 3 students to relieve the acute problem of getting the children off the floor.
An afternoon spent in the steamy island and we return to Dar es Salaam the next day. I have 2 days to complete compliance reporting and meet up with donors. I’m happy that I’ll be headed to a cooler home soon, after 6 weeks on the road. I indulge in some nundu, kuku choma, and chips myself. Burp. And to top it all off, Murtaza Bhimani’s wife Fatima treats me with renowned plump Bukoba sanenes (local locusts), lightly sautéed in garlic, salt, and pepper. Many more burps. My trainer will be suitably disgusted.