I wish I Was Born A Zionist
The persistent ringing of my cell phone five minutes into my deprived sleep after fajr prayers startles me awake; I frantically try to regain consciousness and peer at the caller’s ID. Is this another SOS? Afghanistan? India? Syria? Yemen? Another disaster? Earthquake? A sectarian attack in Pakistan? Is it daughter Zainab from Sanford? No, it’s Mullah Mchungu’s caretaker Hameesi. I groan and ignore it, wanting to sleep a lot more and catch up on the lost snooze from the constant travel over the last two weeks from Dar to Mumbai, Dubai, Harare, and Kigoma. The phone pauses farting for a minute but starts up again. And again. I grind my teeth and eventually answer. Hameesi is nervous and contrite about the calls but says the Mullah made him make them, even though he advised his employer that I’m probably asleep.
Samahaani Bossi, but Mzee says it’s important, whispers Hameesi as if scared someone might be listening in. Can you please come and briefly meet him? You know how he is. Else he won’t leave me in peace for a minute. Even if you come later, it’s fine. I just want to reassure him you’ll come.
So I reluctantly agree and try and go back to sleep. Too late. I make the mistake of glancing at the news headlines and gruesome images of events unfolding in Gaza on my cellphone has my rapt and agonizing attention. Ya Imam, when is this madness going to end? I head out the short distance to the Mullah’s apartment in the once imposing but now ancient building he has lived in for over sixty years, after a lackluster breakfast, knowing that Hameesi will have piping hot bhajias with chatpatta coconut chutney and tea waiting for me. It’s only the beginning of ‘summer’ here in Dar es Salaam but the sun’s already oppressively hot and the air is heavy with moisture; I begin sweating in an instant. The shifting aromas of kababs and samosas frying at K Tea Shop et all do not help. God must love us all here in the city center. With the number of fried kababs, bhajias, samosas, kachoris, and chips that are consumed in a vicinity of two kilometers from where I live, it’s a marvel people still have pumping hearts. By the time I make it to the third floor of the building, my T-shirt is a map of a medieval county from sweat stains.
The Mullah is in surprisingly better health than I saw him last. Then, I felt he was a goner, that I’d be paying him a visit at the Khoja Kabrantaan a mile away. He goes on the offensive the moment Hameesi lets me in the living room, where a furiously whirling fan desperately tries to circulate air around. It does cool my brows and my very damp T-shirt – which is a relief.
He clicks his ghastly dentures in place when he sees me and goes on the offensive. Kisukaali, ghadhero, who do you guys think you are? Eh? You are evil, pure evil. How can y’all stand by and aid a country that bombs an entire people to oblivion? Bomb hospitals, churches, mosques, people escaping to safety? Where is your zameer? Are you humans? Kuxxxxzxxx. He lets out an ugly Kiswahili curse word.
I am so shocked and shaken at the verbal assault that is accompanied by flying spittle that I involuntarily take a step back. The Mullah, although feisty most times, has never used expletives before, and this, with the half-truths he is blurting out, chills me to my core; I freeze with trepidation. Hameesi, too, stares at his lifelong employer with shock and a gaping mouth.
What are you two gaping at me for? Sit down, he orders, flailing a skinny shaking arm at me. I notice his menacing walking cane lying under his chair which Hameesi cunningly moves away from easy reach in the ruse of clearing up the area around the chairs. I tentatively park my behind on a straight back chair and look at his agitated face and grinning dentures.
When will you realize that the Palestinians own that land you are trying to push them away from? It is theirs, you idiots! They are simply trying to get back what is theirs. They have resorted to violence because negotiating, talking, and being nice for seventy-five years have not yielded an inch of their land. Instead, the State of Israel has only taken more land and subjected the Palestinians to incredible humiliation and cruelty. Wherever there is occupation, resistance is guaranteed. Not all Palestinians are Hamas, Bamas, you dummies, study and know your geography! The vast majority are innocent humans, trying to breathe freedom and live a dignified life. The Israeli state is focused on exacting revenge from a population that is largely as helpless as it is blameless.
I clear my throat and want to resort a rebuttal to the outburst. That the events in Gaza are much too complicated and convoluted for me to comment on. I want to say that my heart tears to shreds at the pain and suffering of innocent, especially the children on both sides of the conflict. But the Mullah seems in no mood to hear me and if history is any indication, I’d be wasting my breath trying to speak. Hameesi walks in stealthily from the kitchen with a plate piled up with steaming bhajias, chutney, and a thermos of piping hot elchiless chai.
You know what, Kisukaali? I wish I was a Zionist. I think Allah erred by giving me into the care of Khoja parents. All my life, I was stuck with doing saff matam, eating greasy pulau, gossiping like a bored housewife at barazas, and making magendo money. If I were a Zionist in Israel, I’d blatantly usurp land, abuse, and degrade minorities with impunity, show the middle finger to the UN and international law, and sneer at your country if and when they tried to slap my hand. More importantly, I’d be paid handsomely by your tax dollars for doing all this. And anytime the people I’d oppress tried to fight back, I’d shed extra-large crocodile tears and get more money and bombs. Sweet deal, no? I really wish I was a Zionist.
I want to laugh but the matter is much too serious for mirth or the bhajias in front of me. Suddenly, I’m not hungry. The constant footage of killings and gore in the social and mainstream media has had a dampening effect on my appetite since the violence erupted. Hameesi returns, surprised to see me not attacking his treats; his weathered face registers hurt.
But Mullah Saheb, I say, knowing I’ll be in trouble for opening my mouth. Your sarcasm of being a Zionist aside, you must give credit to the State of Israel and her people. I know the end does not justify the means, but they have excelled in almost everything they have touched since their nation’s inception. Be it their formidable and much sought-after war machine, their intelligence gathering ability, their ability to turn deserts into farmland, their advancement in medicine, their unmatched satellite guidance technology, etc. All par excellent. Undeniable, no? While their neighbors, all with much superior resources in manpower and oil wealth have turned into virtual failed states, ruining themselves and stinking with corruption on a scale unimaginable. One can only vanquish an enemy by strength and Israel is doing this superbly, on the battleground and in the Western media, where it matters, whether we like it or not.
I shut up, perhaps spoke too much?
I am disappointed with you Kisukaali, I thought you were a man with insight and wisdom with all your worldly exposures and experiences under your belt. The Mullah pauses and glares at me and then bellows. I have very little tolerance for fools like you, Kisukaali! One does not build success on usurped land, do you not get that through your thick head, you nincompoop? You don’t steal, throttle, or kill other humans to build greatness. You were created a human being, not an animal. Give the Palestinians their rightful land and then have all the accomplishments you want, good for you!!!
The apartment is then ominously quiet as we look at each other. The only sounds are the whirling fan overhead and occasional honks from cars and ado from the streets outside through the open windows of the living room. I expect the Mullah to yell at me some more, even attempt an assault with his walking cane, which he has been known to do on unsuspecting visitors in the past. But he just stares at me through epiphora eyes and slumps back, as if in defeat. And then, he is asleep. His head leans forward, and I can hear him gently snore a few seconds later. Bewildered, I look on as his caretaker gently removes the Mullah’s dentures, picks him up, and carries him to the room beyond.
I leave the customary tip for Hameesi by the untouched bajeeya tray and quietly see myself out to fight the heat, humidity, and shifting odors of Dar es Salaam’s streets.