Nasra, My Latest Daughter
I notice Nasra sleeping on her back, arms raised, as if in surrender, her torso exposed to the elements, a stone throw away from the Khoja mosque here in Dar es Salaam. There is no air-conditioner, no fan, of course. There is no mattress. No pillow. No blanket. no mosquito net to ward off malaria. One of her legs is resting on a dirt floor, the rest of her body lies on top of a tattered, dirty kitenge that has seen better days. The infant’s hair is tightly wound into clumps and clipped by colorful rubber bands. My stride to recite magrebein prayers at the mosque is arrested by this sight. I pause. Nasra’s mother Ayline, sitting a few yards away, sucking on an orange and spitting its seeds around her carelessly, senses opportunity and comes running immediately, wiping her fingers on her kanga, asking for alms. Ayline has a deranged, wild look of a drug user around her and I step back hurriedly. Since the muezzin is urging me to hasten to the best of deeds, I simply smile at the disappointed Ayline and heed to the muezzin’s command.
However, I notice Nasra on my successive trips to and from the mosque. She’s a lively infant, not yet three. She stays close to her mother, playing in the dirt, discarded water bottles, and stones for toys. My heart wants me to help her, but long-timers here in Dar es Salaam have warned me not to give alms to beggars, I’ll get into problems with the authorities and be fined. So, I abstain. But I give her mother many mandazis and other takeaway tabarruk I get from the mosque, warning her that the snacks are for the child. Only. She nods readily.
I think of Nasra before I go to sleep that night. Where is the child now? Asleep? On the dirty kanga placed on the dirt, next to her mother? Has she eaten something healthy? Is she being mistreated by her drug-user mother? Others? Is she doomed to beg for the rest of her life? Will she copy her mother’s lifestyle? Will she ever set foot in a classroom? Ayline got herself pregnant outside of marriage at age nineteen and got kicked out of home in Makumbuku, Iringa (a small town in central Tanzania) by her parents, who want nothing of her. I console myself that I cannot help every helpless child I fancy and fall asleep.
On my return from India, going for magrebein salaat, I notice Nasra playing with a strip of wood which she has dressed up as a baby with a discarded filthy sock. Ayline sits on the dirt floor nearby but she shows no reaction to my presence. She’s either resigned with me refusing to give her money or she’s stoned. I creep up on Nasra and stop when I hear her babbling a tune. Her voice is so pure and so innocent that my heart lurches and I feel the prick of painful tears in my eyes. Disregarding the dirt floor flattened by the recent rains, I kneel and listen but the child is alerted and startled, runs to her mother.
Seeing it’s me, Nasra relaxes and smiles. I chit-chat with the child, who possesses a surprising working Kiswahili vocabulary for a three-year-old. Ayline finally perks up and asks Nasra to greet me formally and the child shyly says Shikamoo, a respectful Kiswahili greeting, batting her eyelid in playful jest. I kneel again, at eye level, and look into her lucid black eyes and something deep in me moves; I make up my mind instantly. I will adopt Nasra (at my expense, of course), take her off from the streets and give her an opportunity to a quality life and education. I long to hug her but am held back by instinct. Nasra is a street child and probably exposed to a myriad of infectious diseases. Until we check her out and she passes a medical, I must defer my urge to hug my new baby daughter. Since passersby’s and fellow worshipers are giving us odd looks and the azaan is almost ending, I tell Ayline to meet me tomorrow as I run for salaat.
But when I relate my plans to colleagues, I am told to stay away, since I am not a Tanzanian and it would be best handled by a woman. Nyota Foundation, CAI partners in Tanzania go to bat for me. Zainab Mvungi, an untiring, invaluable gofer with Nyota Foundation goes to work. Nasra is officially registered with relevant authorities within days and allowed to lawfully travel to Zanzibar without her mother. She’ll join CAI’s Sakina Girls Home where she will be educated and taken care of as a child should be. One more innocent child off the street, alhamd’Allah. I am mighty happy that Allah has given me this wonderful opportunity.
Here is Nasra and her mother Ayline. Please join me in prayers for the success of this child, my latest daughter.
A Thousand Apologies
I got some irate (rightly so) comments from some of you for a Hindi cussword, nay, profanity, I used in my last Blog. I sincerely apologize. I honestly did not know the word was soooo offensive until it was pointed out to me, but it was too late. Hard to believe that a seasoned traveler like me who lived in Mumbai for three years would not know this fact; I did not. Honest. Indians all over the country and out use it liberally. And I, too, use(d) it occasionally. It’s also very common in Bollywood, so I did not think of it as bad as it most certainly is. Although I was reporting an event where someone actually used the expletive, it is nevertheless uncouth, vile, and inexcusable.
Once again, I unreservedly apologize. I should have done a simple Google search and that would have been the end of the word from my vocabulary.
A thousand apologies.
The views and opinions expressed in this Blog are entirely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of Comfort Aid International or her Trustees.