I remember Mama giving me a sumni (half a Tanzanian shilling; worth nothing now) to go purchase a half loaf of bread; a whole bread was a shilling (about US$0.000043 today). It was a karak-crisp white loaf, still kiln-warm, emitting tummy-rumbling aroma, the only variety available for purchase. The bread aisle at Walmart in Sanford has so many varieties, with exotic nuts and ingredients, it makes my head spin for choices. There is no palatable bread on sale for less than US$3.
I remember purchasing the spicy khaara-bateta-potato and chips uroojo concoction for a sumni at (the late) Aunty Fatubai’s, the spindly lady living next to the Tanga Khoja masjid from where she vended her cooking. If I close my eyes, I can still faintly smell and taste the divine mix. I’m certain the recipe and art of making that savory dish died with her. I had this treat rarely, only when I was lucky to have a renegade sumni on me. Aunty Fatubai would sometimes feel sorry for me and give me half a serving for free. She was a sour-looking but compassionate Mama and always gets the benefit of my prayers for her soul. There is no comparison of her culinary talents to the unpalatable gook commercially available today.
I remember buying a cone of fresh, plump, warm, and delicious organic roasted karanga-peanuts for five Tanzanian cents (my calculator sniggers at me when I ask it to convert it to US$ equivalent). And if I asked the young lad to ongeyza, add some for free, he would cheerfully add a fistful if I purchased two or more cones. I just bought a 16oz can of the mass-produced and probably genetically-fattened Planters peanuts today for $4.99.
I remember walking three miles round trip to St. Anthony’s Primary School in Tanga (Now Changa Primary School) six days a week; I did not have an ounce of fat in my body. Afterward, I still had enough energy to go play cricket with buddies before attending madressa and magreeb / isha prayers. Here, unsmiling, severe-looking, bushy-browed but eager madressa teachers toting a twangy bamboo cane awaited to inflict pain to my backside. A ride in the car to everywhere is mandatory today and WhatsApp and the idiot box takes over whenever we have (unlimited) disposable time. It’s little wonder that adolescents have weight management issues and suffer from diabetes.
I remember uncaringly eating anything and everything I wanted, from the maembe-mango / mapeyro-guava I just plucked from the tree outside my house or the khungu-almond I picked up from the soggy dirt under a tree. A quick rub on my shirt to wipe the dirt off and the treat was good as washed. I shared soda bottles with friends and used my fingers to eat everything. Why, there was frequently no water and never any soap in the crumbling and ammonia-reeking school toilets. If this occurred today, I’d have to be airlifted by an air-ambulance to a Sanford hospital.
I remember going anywhere I wanted, with or without friends, and felt secure and was safe. My buddies and I played cricket with a tennis ball, swam at the Tanga Swimming Club, went trapping tadpoles in newly created streams after heavy rains, fished in the Indian Ocean at Tanga dockyard, plucked mbooyu, or ambli or khunaazi without a care in the world, and our parents would be assured we’d show up for zohr prayers and lunch for sure. I spent more time outside of the house than in, climbing trees and experiencing various exciting adventures. Now, I must know where my twenty-year-old daughter is every few hours. Else, I’d begin hyperventilating.
I remember it was a thrill of thrills going out for dinner or a movie at the Majestic, Regal, or Novelty cinemas. These occasions were rare and occurred less than a handful of times per year simply because we had no money for such luxuries. However, exceptions were made for Eid and I planned the events carefully, from the favorite (most comfortable) undies to wear, exactly how much more money it would take to order that extra stick of mishkaki-nundu and if I could squeeze an extra bottle of ice-cold Fanta soda. Today, ordering from outside is taken for granted when women of the house cite their legal and moral right not to cook when not in the mood. I know all women will curse me for penning this. Yes, ma’am, it is no longer your ‘duty’ to cook anymore, but women cooked in my days. Yes, out of duty. Yes, out of love. Healthy, hearty, homemade, finger-licking food.
I remember making my own toys, from discarded wood, iron, or card box. Growing up, purchasing toys was unheard of. The only toy I remember actually paying money for was a fancy balloon I splurged on my fifth birthday from change Mama forgot to take back from me. Today, we have whole supermarkets for toys. Cellphones substitute for toys, killing imagination and curiosity.
I remember reading books. A lot of books. Enid Blyton series of The Famous Five, The Secret Seven. James Hardly Chase – I read all 70 of them. Harrold Robbins. Arthur Hailey’s Hotel, Airport, Wheels, Final Diagnosis. These would transport me to a world of adventure, fantasy, and ecstasy. And the smell between pages of a new book! Heavenly! Do children still read more than a page anymore?
I remember writing letters to pen-pals from around the world and waiting impatiently for the return letter or postcard; it would sometimes take up to an agonizing month. I remember writing to a female pen-pal named Anaar from Zanzibar. I had to do it clandestinely of course. A whiff that I was communicating with the opposite sex and there would be hungaamas, consequences. Today, it’s instant gratification, for either sex. Our kids communicate and interact with no fear, and know they are immune to punishment even if they are up to mischief. WhatsApp and company rule our world, stripping away the romance of the whole concept. Immediate fulfillment.
I remember I was punished when I did wrong and respect to my parents and teachers (sometimes undeserved for the teachers) was uncompromisingly expected. There was no question of complaints against teacher punishment; they were always right. I could say not ‘ouff’ to my elders, even if they were unfair, knowing that their reprimand was out of love and my wellbeing. I remember getting trashed by a Goan teacher who was nursing a hangover; he very nearly blinded me with a slap that blurred my vision for a good few hours; I had no recourse. Now, a teacher can spend time incarcerated for simply thinking of punishment to an unruly child.
I remember hardly falling sick and going to the doctor was a rare event. Our doctors in Tanga, of Indian descent, were seasoned and experienced. A jab of penicillin and I’d be good as new the next day. Now, we go for medical attention at the slightest hiccup and the doctors here in the US are so impotent for fear of a lawsuit, it takes a barrage of tests before they’ll prescribe us a lowly aspirin.
I remember not having to pay for any insurance. Be it health, auto, life, whatever. we crossed the bridge when we had to. Now, bloody hell, I have to have insurance just in case I fart and it offends someone.
I remember Mama gifting me a Staedtler compass set when I passed grade five; I gave it away after high school, some seven years later, still in perfectly good shape. The stuff I purchased, from the eraser for school to the simple Roamer watch, were solid, durable, worked, and lasted. I remember brother Shabbir wearing a Roamer that looked ancient, but it worked to the accuracy and chime of Big Ben in London. I know people who wear different wristwatch thrice a week. If a child retains a backpack after one year in decent shape, the parents consider themselves fortunate.
I remember visiting friends and family homes without prior notice and always felt welcomed, with a ready, genuine smile of a warm kareebu from the host, followed by a cuppa chai and fiery Gujrati saltines, if not a wholesome lunch or dinner. Now, visiting anyone unannounced, even family, and I’d be treated as a nuisance, to be tolerated with an insincere smile. A lackluster offer of chai, perhaps, with an expectation I’ll decline.