It is now over three months since I move my family from India to the accusing (towards Cuba maybe?) pinky finger landmass of Florida in the USA. This change has been quite agreeable off course, especially for the children. Maaha Zainab relishes her fifth grade class and new friends; Alihussein is already stressing out with college classes, Tasneem busy messing around with her salon while I try to juggle the forex market. And CAI, off course. Gone are the days of squatting dogs and humans on streets, days of toenail curling pongs, of mind-boggling, undisciplined, punishing, traffic snarls. No frightening drunken Ganeesh parades or nasty (and dangerous) color dousing startles at Holi festival. I do miss the mango madness though…
Here in Orlando, lives my community of East African Khoja’s, a group most unique, in many aspects. You can trace our ancestry well over a hundred years to the general area of Gujarat, in India. The entrepreneurial spirit in our blood propelled us to Africa, where we prospered, many from illegitimate wealth from magendo business transactions, a practice active till this very day, encouraged by governments steeped in contradicting and confusing, corrupt-friendly laws. These laws, resulting in political uncertainty, (some) lawlessness, inept education, health and other infrastructure systems, drove us to migrate again, to shores of Europe and North America. We live here now, as good law abiding citizens (if, when and where short cuts and magendo practices are not quite possible – without detection).
We are a hearty bunch, generally, and nostalgic to everything that is remotely East African, the general area from where we lived before migrating to the US. The desire and will to ape everything cultural from back home is very apparent; from Kiswahili kofia and khanzu worn at the mosque, mbarazi and mandazi served on Sunday mornings after salaat, the Kiswahili language (with quite a bit of colorful matusi at baraaza time) to very strong entrepreneurial desire for wealth and success. Wealth, mind you, that is generously donated to those poor and destitute all over the world.
I was not want of choice for cities to move; I could go back to Houston TX off course, but after living in that gigantic city on and off for 28 years, I was ready for a change. I, however, chose Orlando. People have (generally) good things to say about this particular community in SE USA. The various activities for children at the religious center, including a vibrant madressa, an agreeable warm tropical weather, reasonable real estate market and more importantly, a compatible cultural mindset makes Orlando an ideal choice.
Holy, blessed month of Ramadhan has just ended, and what a delight it was to be able to attend salaat, partake in shared iftaar arranged by HIC, the traditional practice of Quaraan recitation, dua Iftetah and lectures by invited specialists. I did not realize how much I had missed this very Kiswahili Khoja type of arrangements all these years in Texas and India! Now that it is over, Maaha Zainab laments she misses her Madressa workshops; I miss the exotic kitumbua, mkate mimina, kalemati…yum, umh, yum…, no wonder I did not loose the body mafuta I had hoped.
HIC was alive with prayer and activities, beginning with children’s workshops, Quaraan recitation, magreeb / ishaa salaat, scramble for iftaar, short baraaza outside with (almost all) men relishing their first puffs, choice of meetha, khaara or khimaam pan and colorful Kiswahili conversation. One man in particular had a peculiar habit of breaking out in an ancient, loud Bollywood stanza from eras gone by… Lectures followed in English by our own educated Khoja young aalims, occasionally brilliant, at times humdrum and sometimes outright corny; encouraging start? It was heartwarming and huge relief to see Abdul Jaffer on his feet once again after giving us a nasty scare. I missed a week due to commitments towards our starving brethren at Somalia / Kenya border…
The Eid crescent was mercifully locally sighted, so recurrent controversies were avoided, even though the actual day was observed worldwide spanning three separate days! Tuesday for us in Florida, Eid day, was spent meeting, hugging families, friends, and (alarmingly) watching a pile of dollars thin out dolling Eidy to children. It was another (gastronomical) struggle at HIC with neehara for breakfast and (calorie galore) heaps of mutton biryani for dinner; ah, what would we be without the parbaaros. Not that I complain, mind you.
I see a bright future for us Khojas of Orlando. We are a growing community with an intact, traditional outlook, albeit progressive one hopefully. And we are going to grow, no doubt, insha’Allah, what with the massive new Masjid Al Hayy coming up soon, not more than a mile from home.
Yes, the decision to move here to Orlando Florida was the right one. Alhamd’Allah.