CAI has many donors who prefer to remain to be anonymous, staying on the sidelines but stepping in when there is a cash crunch to see a project through. These are people, some of whom I have not met, ever, drawn to help CAI projects after reading my Blogs or looking at the photos/videos of our accomplishments or from word-of-mouth recommendations. These are Allah-sent and they help keep us afloat. One such person was the late Altaf Fazal, who tragically drowned off the coast of Mafia in January of 2017.
I was naturally aghast when I heard of the tragedy, not knowing, then, that Altaf was a victim of the accident and had perished. I have always wondered about people like Altaf and recently had the pleasure of meeting with his widow, Tahera, a lady with spunk – soft-spoken, gritty, determined, and brave. I was interested in knowing about the accident (there is nothing documented anywhere) as research for my next novel. Tahera kindly obliged. The following is a brief narrative from Tahera which may be interesting to you:
On January 12, 2017, Altaf, my two children Zainab 10 and Mariam 14, and I, and a few family friends set off to Mafia Islands for a few days of fun, frolic, and fishing. There were four families, a total of eleven of us. We went fishing on the morning of January 13 and caught several fish that infest the waters off Mafia Islands, including small sharks. We went fishing again on the 14th, a hot summer day in East Africa, and caught more fish. The kids wanted to go fishing once more in the evening but the other ladies and I did not feel up to it so we stayed back. I pleaded with Altaf to return by 6 PM as it would start to get dark quickly thereafter. As usual, Altaf asked me not to worry, promising he’d be back by then. Four ladies, all mothers, and an elderly uncle stayed behind to rest.
I got an inkling something was amiss when Altaf and the others did not return by 6:15, then 6:30, 7:00, and later. I was naturally out of my mind with worry and apprehension by this time. Mine and the other ladies’ calls to our husbands’ cellphones went unanswered. On that boat were my two daughters, my husband Altaf, friend Ali Khakoo, his daughters Abeeha and Mubaraka, friend Imtiaz and his daughter Fatema, friend Mujtaba, and three fishermen, supposed experts in fishing off Mafia Islands. I called up Captain Ali, who was the owner of the boat, hoping he’d answer. He did and I sighed a huge breath of relief. Finally! I screamed at him, demanding to know where they were. Captain Ali calmly replied that he was at home, recuperating from a slight fever.
I was stunned. So where was my husband, my children, the others, I demanded? Captain Ali sounded amused. Why, they went fishing with three of his best men? When I wanted answers as to why they were not back now at 7 when it was all but dark outside, Captain Ali replied that I was being too nervy, wasi-wasi, and to relax. The three experts on the boat knew what they were doing, he insisted. At 9:30, I all but began assuming all sorts of disaster scenarios, and Captain Ali, too, was prompted into action.
At 10, I got a call from Captain Ali’s phone. It was Imtiaz, a survivor of the accident, who asked and spoke to my uncle and related the tragedy.
Later, it transpired that the boat engine had failed. Although there was a spare engine on board, the boat began taking on water due to the rough seas and wind, and capsized, emptying all twelve of them into the salty waters. For some unforgivable reasons, there were only six life vests.
In the water, the waves separated the group. Altaf, Mujtaba, and my girls on one side and the rest on the other. Mujtaba could not swim and panicked, taking on saltwater, and drowned almost shortly afterward. Altaf kept himself and Zainab afloat; Mariam hung on to a life vest. I’m pretty certain Altaf most probably suffered a heart attack from the strain of keeping himself and Zainab afloat. He pushed Zainab towards Mariam, asking her to be strong. He was the next to go. But he did call out to his two girls and told them to take care of their mother. Also to perish was UmmAbeeha, Ali Khakoo’s daughter, who died in her father’s arms, probably taking in too much saltwater.
By then Captain Ali had raised the alarm and rescue of sorts began. Imtiaz and daughter Fatema and two fishermen were rescued first. Then Mubaraka. My daughters who witnessed their father and Mujtaba drown were rescued last, treading water while holding on to a single life vest. They were in the salty, chilly water, in constant contact with sea life, including sharks, for five hours. They came off the sea in tatters, cold and teeth chattering. Ali Khakoo was found last with the dead body of his daughter.
I returned to Dar es Salaam a different person, unable to shed tears and unwilling to accept my fate. With us in the small aircraft taking us home was the tiny body of Abeeha, wrapped in a straw mat. There was a line of people from the Khoja Jamaat and my parents and other relatives waiting for us at Dar es Salaam. There was much speculation and wild theories about the incident while Altaf and Mujtaba were searched. My husband’s body was recovered after three days marooned among the reefs of a smaller island off the main one, his red T-Shirt spotted from the air; I was rightly denied to see his remains. Mujtaba’s remains are forever lost. The love of my life was gone, leaving me with two young girls to rear. I knew the challenges ahead of me would be daunting. My daughters and husband faced sharks in the ocean, I face(d) them in human form on land afterward. Altaf was a formidable resource for his family; with him gone, I felt crushingly alone. A single woman of thirty-eight with two young daughters to raise was unchartered territory for me.
Altaf owned a couple of businesses that I had to dispose of because it would be impossible for me to operate single-handedly. Fortunately, I have the emotional support of my parents and my extended family, who saw me through some turbulent and trying times for a single mom to survive alone. I am now the manager of Tanzanite Executive Suites, a hotel in Dar es Salaam, thanks to the kindness of Gulam Bhimani, the owner, who saw my potential and supported my independence. My priority is my two girls who are doing well, alhamd’Allah.
The views and opinions expressed in this Blog are entirely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of Comfort Aid International or her Trustees.