This COVID doodoo is creating so much havoc in my life, I feel it is the ‘greater jihad’ that the maulanas keep on reminding me from the pulpit. Murtaza Bhimani and I try to take off for Kampala from Dar but the Center for Disease Control in Dar works on their own leisurely pace and schedule, especially on Sundays. So, we don’t have our PCR negative tests in our hands as we head to the airport; we’ve been promised by an ‘agent’ that it will be waiting at the airport. It’s not and we miss the flight by 30 minutes; the tests arrive late by a boda-boda courier, full of regular excuses. We reschedule for tomorrow, Monday. In the meanwhile, I stuff myself with some more pineapples; can’t have enough of the stuff. Why, I can swear I smell a pineapple aroma in my sweat, even. Am I am imagining it?
Our COVID doodoo-free test certificates are checked four times from check-in to stepping into the Uganda Airline plane, including hand sanitization and a temperature check by a cabin crew. I wonder if her pretty face will collapse if I suddenly, just for kicks, cough violently? We fly to Entebbe with 17 passengers in an aircraft configured for 74. Mandatory hand sanitization before boarding a bus to the terminal on arrival, another hand sanitization, and recheck of the COVID test certificate before the Ugandans are convinced that I am indeed doodoo free. All Ugandans speak good English. It’s election time for this country and 76-years-old Yoweri Kaguta Museveni is running, yet again. For the 5th time. His smiling face is omnipotent at every corner, overwhelming all other candidates. The banana matoke Ugandans eat here is so divine; I wish I could make it the way they cook it. I promise you’ll physically hurt, out of frustration and heartburn, sitting in Kampala traffic.
The next three days are a whirl of exhausting tours to remote Mbaale to inspect school projects with S. Allawi of Ghadeer, the local NGO with whom CAI will be working within Uganda. The three projects that we visit are heartbreaking, with 140 odd orphans barely surviving on less than acceptable living conditions, poor food quality, and quantity. CAI will attempt to right this wrong, soon insha’Allah, adopting 140 additional orphans under direct care and support, especially for quality education. We also visit three arid villages where water is scarce and women and kids trek miles for a single jerrycan of murky water. CAI will insha’Allah dig three deep-water wells in the neediest villages in the next three months. I leave Uganda with a determination that the hapless orphans I met must be assisted with the rights to nutritious food and an opportunity to quality education in a dignified manner. CAI is indebted to S. Allawi and his family for their outstanding hospitality and kindness in feeding Murtaza and me for our time in Uganda.
I return to Tanzania to attend the highlight of this trip, the opening of Sakina Girls Home – Zanzibar, an un-rivaled sanctuary for twenty beautiful orphans that CAI donors will care for and educate, insha’Allah. Ah, what a wonderful day and event, on the day we commemorate S. Zainab’s (s) birthday, as a fitting tribute named after her beloved niece. A deep water-well for an arid area of Zanzibar is also commissioned, CAI’s fifth in 2020 in Zanzibar. I encourage you to view some wonderful photos of this (and others) events here.
I have one more day in Dar before I return home and I must visit Mullah Mchungu if I am to live in peace for the rest of my life. The Mullah is his usual combative self, calling me a ghadhero for waiting until the last day to go visit him but asking the ever-smiling and hovering Hameesi to get me karaak chai and make me garam-garam bhajia with coconut chutney that only East African coconuts can truly do justice to. Ah, some of the simpler but divine pleasures from Allah. So, what bounties of His can I deny?
We chitchat for a few minutes and he listens to me as I passionately go on and on about the twenty totos in Zanzibar and CAI’s foray into Uganda. He says nothing, as usual, so I assume he approves, else he’d speak his mind and surely do verbal war with me. Then I make the mistake of asking him why I don’t see him for prayers at the Khoja mosque. Loh, it’s a colossal mistake I make. Here is what he tells me; it’s not verbatim, of course, I’ve paraphrased where necessary:
I used to be regular at salaat; fajr, zohrain, and maghribain, without fail, 24x7x365. The only time I did not make it was when I visited my clown of a son Alireza and his daakan wife in Orlando. Or when I was very ill, the time you visited me here, remember?
I don’t, but nod sagely anyway.
I saw the crass treatment by a few of us of the Black man who joined us for salaat, yet I said nothing. It embarrassed me and I felt rotten, yet I shamelessly said nothing. I saw the preferred treatment for the maulana and his immediate cronies, yet I shamelessly said nothing; There are spots reserved for regulars, the ‘more pious’ ones, a practice reprehensible in the eyes of Allah; I shamelessly said nothing. The extra padded prayer mat for the Imam, as if his ankles and feet are heavenly, yet I shamelessly said nothing. The personal air-conditioner and fan for the Imam so he can cool his sweaty brows and prolong the qunoot with a cocktail of elongated duas, nice-sounding but unnecessary, while the rest of us squirmed in sweat and my knees quivered with fatigue, yet I shamelessly said nothing.
I laugh out loud and want to tell him he exaggerates but stop when I see the steel and fire in his eyes. His smiling goofy dentures suck in air, loosens, and nearly pop out, but he clicks them in place just in time.
So, what seems to be the source of your mirth, Kisukaali? You find all this funny?
With a snort and a grunt, the old cow bends and strains behind his sofa bed to pick up his walking cane, letting off a prolonged noisy fart in the process. Startled, I prepare to flee, but he simply wants to satisfy an itch with the cane at an impossible angle on his back; he lays it by his folded feet afterward. Still, I keep a wary eye on it as he continues his narrative.
Then, about two years ago, I witnessed something that repulsed me so much, I simply stopped going for salaat. I had begun reciting my salaats sitting on the rows of chairs the jamaat has placed just for old and decaying people like me. It was fajr and the second adhaan was recited. The Imam was reciting ekaamah, the front line was almost empty, save for diehard regular worshipers in their ‘reserved’ spots. There was still a spot vacant as the ekaamah ended and two guys came forward to fill the spot, a Khoja and a tall handsome black man. This black man was a regular, perhaps still is, and well known to all of us, and he was the first one to reach the empty spot. Yet, a senior privileged regular had the audacity to stop him and wave his fellow Khoja to the vacant spot.
The Mullah stops here and stares at me for what seems to be an eternity, the goofy denture smile in place, making me squirm in embarrassment after a while. I find what he related possible but kind of hard to digest. Surely, the Mullah must have misunderstood? Perhaps the Khoja worshipper was the inheritor of the spot? Maybe the old goose was imagining the whole thing and blowing it out of proportion? I don’t know, I don’t want to know. Now I wish I had not asked the question.
Well, asks Mullah Mchungu forcefully, almost losing his dentures once more, startling me out my shifting emotions. Do you find that funny, Kisukaali? You have your answer. I salute the Black man for taking the matter in stride, he is certainly a better human than I. Had I been in his place, he indicates the fimbo by his legs with his eyes, that uncouth man would have been carried home with multiple bone fractures that day. Now, finish your chai and leave. I want to take my nap else I’ll be crabby and give Hameesi a hard time this evening. Next time, don’t come and visit the last day of your visit; give me the importance I deserve. Now leave and do remember to recite suree-Yaseen if I pop off. Khuda hafiz.
I almost run out of the apartment, slip Hameesi a tip at the door, and out into the heat of Dar’s afternoon summer sun.
The views and opinions expressed in this Blog are entirely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of Comfort Aid International or her Trustees.