Magufuli rocks – For now
Dar is the same, if not with more unruly traffic. The gajjar chicken, mishkaki and nundu remain robustly lip smacking. Remnants of the recent elections can be seen in half torn posters of candidates everywhere. The victor, John Pombe Magufuli is on a refreshing rampage through all government agencies, firing corrupt officials left, right and center. Like a cowboy on a mission, the guy walks to public departments and kicks butts with a vengeance. He has cancelled national independence day celebrations, banned business travel (pole sana Emirates), printing Christmas cards using public money and holds meetings with government officials with snacks of roasted karanga and a bottle of water (pole sana pricey caterers); many bellies will certainly shrink. Insha’Allah. All good stuff, of course. Culpable corruptors in the business community fret with acute discomfort, look on with shifty, nervous eyes and fervent knuckle cracking.
Let’s pray this uchangamsho does not fizzle out. No?
I am travelling through Senegal for a school project; CAI, yet again, giving me so much. Accompanying me from Dar es Salaam is Murtaza Bhimani and from New York, Abbas Jaffer, who flies from NY to Paris and on to Dakar. Commitment for CAI, this, I say. With senseless mayhem in Paris and Bamako, Mali, I am a bit uneasy for Abbas but he has no issues alhamd’Allah. Kenya Airlines flies us at an unholy hour of 5 am from Dar es Salaam and deposits us at Nairobi from where the flight to Abidjan is delayed 5 hours; we are offered no nourishments. In Dakar, we are guests of Sheffif Mohammed Ali Aydera, a remarkable personality who has done wonders for the poor in rural Senegal.
Senegal has been and is a stable country since independence in 1960. I can immediately see this solidity transferred into the infrastructure and people of the country. Clean well-paved roads, minimal honking and driving discipline of vehicles are evidence of a people matured in self-government.
Aydera’s NGO, Institute Mozdahir International, is well oiled with the local government. Murtaza and I are whisked through immigration and customs painlessly and then deposited into King Fahd Hotel, gifted by Saudi Arabia, which strangely, has enough alcohol and bacon in their restaurant to seriously inebriate and clog ten blue-whale arteries. Abbas is escorted in the same fashion a couple of hours later.
Senegal, West Africa in general, is pricey and I get multiple toothaches from price shocks during our short stay here. Breakfast next morning, which is lavish, I admit, set us three about US$70! Aydara picks up the tabs but still, my teeth protests. We have ways to go so we hit the road and drive about 430 miles towards Kolda, where CAI will insha’Allah sponsor a middle / high school for poor students in the area. Although Mozdahir has set up several elementary schools in the Kolda vicinity, there are no higher-level schools. It is a long, tedious drive, so the night stop at the house of a local Amir near Kolda is a welcome relief. We are fed a greasy mix of roasted chicken and French fries then given an air-conditioned room to retire – what luxuries yaar!
This place, just outside Kolda, is a Sufi town, subject to Sharia law, independent of government rule. The azaan comes on an hour early, for salaat ul lail. And there is an hour of very loud zikr after fajr salaat. From the loudspeaker. Sleeping is impossible. Smoking can bring about 100 lashes, and it is not smoking banghi or ganja I speak of. Murtaza lights up a cigarette and is promptly reprimanded. Aydara informs us it is only because we are his guests that Murtaza is not having his skin ripped apart now. We depart soon after sunrise. In a hurry.
It is from this point that our trip gets to be really interesting. We stop at a village where Aydara is revered as a saint, with people kissing his hand and chanting Aydara, Aydara. This man, you see, is a Sayyed, his father was a local Imam with mystic powers and aura. The father predicted that his son (Aydara) would bring about a change in the village and country by proclaiming the real mazhab. That prediction has come true. We stop at the grand Imam Ali center, under construction. A man, sporting a portable megaphone, breaks out into different poems about Ahlebeyt (A). He is at it non-stop for hours afterwards.
Senegalese greet each other very much like the Afghans, with anguishing long inquiries of health, conditions of the village, the people, the animals… A typical greeting goes like this:
Sallam aleykum Aydara.
Wa alaikum salaam. How are you? Jamtan? (Is all well?)
Jamtan (All is well).
How are your parents, insha’Allah?
Alhamd’Allah. And your farm insha’Allah?
Alhamd’Allah. And your children?
And on and on and on. This is not to one person; it is to hordes of people. So all I hear are multitudes of Jamtan, alhamd’Allah, bismil’Allah and insha’Allah for a considerable time.
The village treats us with sheep slaughtered and barbequed that very instant. We dig in like feral savages and fill our bellies with some of the most delightful nyaama choma ever; I feel like a lion after a kill. Burp.
With the poet (very loudly) reciting… Be aale Muhammedin ureefa…, we visit village after village, with centers that have names like Zainul Abedeen, Mohammed Baqr, Fateme Zahra, Kathija, etc. All centers have a small basic secular school adjacent to it. Simply fantastic, makes my day. Sadly, none of them have desks and children sit on the dirt floor. But the fact that they are getting a secular education in such challenging conditions gives me much hope and I pledge 100 desks (one sits three students, $70 each) from CAI to be given to the neediest schools.
We recite zohr at one of these centers, which is packed with both men and women. When complete, an elderly man snatches the bullhorn from our poet and addresses Aydara.
You Aydara, he bellows, you are a noble man.
There is a mummer of assent from the crowd.
You are the son of a nobleman.
Aye, says Aydara.
You are from the loins of a worthy man, proclaims the old man. Aye, says Aydara.
We are your children.
Aye, says Aydara.
We are your flock. You are our guide. You take care of us. Our stomach rumbles without you…
Our trip back to Dakar is long and tiring; 430 miles is not easy to traverse, especially in Africa. We have to break for repose along the way. It is a bleak hotel in the middle of nowhere, full of mosquitos; there is thankfully a mosquito net to keep us protected. A rooster resolutely stops me from sleep, starting up at about 3 AM until his crowing gets lost in the call of prayers. I am so irate; I can easily have him for dinner. We get to Dakar late in the day for dinner at Aydara’s house and a 3 AM flight to Monrovia.
What Aydara and his NGO Institute Mozdahir International is nothing less that remarkable, especially in establishing schools that cater for the basic education of poor villagers. Since this fits in very well with CAI’s objectives, our hand will extend in supporting this extraordinary effort in West Africa, which goes beyond Senegal into Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso and Gambia.
Boe, me and rai all over again
Kenya Airlines is the dala-dala of airlines in Africa. We have no choice but fly this airline. Dar-Nairobi-Abijan-Dakar-Accra-Monrovia-Freetown-Accra-Nairobi-Dar. In less than a week. Enough to make kachoomber to all our body functions. The airport in Monrovia is at least 90 minutes from the city, without traffic. So both Murtaza and I are bushed by the time we check into the hotel booked by a foreign businessman well wisher. So when the hotel menu says it will set us back US$54 for a 12-ounce of local steak, I flip in fury, ready to pop an aorta. The only other option is stewed meat and rice (pronounced me and rai) at a dingy hole-in-the-wall setup in a rough part of Monrovia. Liberians cannot be bothered to pronounce whole words, so comprehension is a constant challenge. The food is palatable. I guess anything is when hungry. More importantly, it is halal, not easy for a visitor to go out and about looking. Monrovia streets are tough, not very hospitable for strangers in the night.
We are in Monrovia for no more than two days, here to audit and inspect an elementary school CAI sponsored. Apart from regular teething problems, the school is running very well alhamd’Allah. I am impressed with the teacher’s English. Why, they can be better than some CAI schools in India most times! Challenges remain, however, with the lack of textbooks that the Education Ministry claims they do not have. Funding permitting, CAI will try and help, Insha’Allah.
We leave for Dar the next day via the Daladala airlines.
Note: It is incredibly important CAI invest in and support secular education projects in the countries involved. Education is the only way out of poverty, misery and more importantly, an open mind. A mind that is balanced, tolerant and accepting of others that live in this world of ours. Allah, the Prophet and our Aemaas would expect no less from us.
View photos here.