Raisi Is Dead / A Crash Landing

Raisi Is Dead / A Crash Landing

Raisi Is Dead / A Crash Landing 150 150 Comfort Aid International

Raisi Is Dead

Mullah Mchungu looks at me listlessly, his dentures, with telltale signs of decay, grin at me idiotically. I am never sure if the grin is genuine or if the dentures are masking a more sinister mood in him. From the blank look on his face, I can tell he does not recognize me; otherwise, he would have sarcastically greeted me.

Salaam Mullah, how are you? I ask.

The eyes study my face for a few seconds before I see a flicker of light in them. He clicks his dentures, changes position, and lets off a lingering fart, shattering the relative silence of his apartment home. It is the start of ‘winter’ in Dar es Salaam, so we don’t have to be at the mercy of overhead fans on full blast.

Kassamali, he says, my ability to fart without staining my pajamas at my age is a blessing. So I am fine. I thank Allah. What brings you here? When will you give me my money? Now or after you have buried me?

Kassamali? Money? Baffled, I look towards Hameesi, the Mullah’s lifelong suffering caretaker standing behind his easy chair. But Hameesi simply shrugs his shoulders and rolls his eye to the heavens, gesturing towards his wooly temples to indicate that his boss is losing his marbles.

But then the Mullah’s already wide grin widens even more as recognition sets in, and this mirth is now matched with warmth in his eyes. The dentures click once more.

Kisukaali, ghadhero. Aree, Hameesi, did you fry Kisukaali some bajeeyas?

Hameesi had already raced to the kitchen to fry his legendary bajeeyas when I entered the apartment. The fritters, eaten with the fiery coconut chutney his hands can churn up, are a once-in-a-lifetime culinary feat. Just like going to Hajj. But I am on a diet of sorts and had stopped the guy. Hameesi was crestfallen, so I agreed to have his equally delicious karak elaichi-free chai. No Mullah Saheb, I say, I have already had breakfast, and I am off fried food for a while…

Bah, snorts the Mullah, your new generation and fancy diets. Look at me. I’ve never dieted all my life. I’ve eaten what and when I wanted – fried, baked, boiled, raw. I’m still kicking, ain’t I? I don’t see any fancy doctor; I take no medication except some vitamins my daughter and this tormentor Hameesi force me…

There is a silence, broken only by shouts from a bottled water vendor from the streets below and toots of horns from the distant traffic.

Did you know Raisi died? asks the Mullah suddenly, startling me. The question is so unexpected and strange that I get goose pimples and shivers.

Yes, the poor man died, the Mullah continues, killed in a helicopter crash. And this has saddened the Khoja community here in Dar es Salaam to no end. What bugs me, Kisukaali, is the fuss and ado for the dead man; may Allah bless his soul. There are plenty of others dying all over the world. I don’t see our Khoja’s shedding any tears for them, do you?

But Aghaa, I protest instinctively, he was the president of Iran!

The man looks at me in contempt. And his eyes, now on fire, look menacing.

And? Use your head, man! So, he was the president of Iran. How was he relevant to Tanzania? What had he done for Tanzanians to merit this honor? Or for the Khojas of Tanzania? I’m not saying we should not be sad or not pray for his soul. By all means. Why keep a special majlis and create such a ruckus? Why is he special? I am not questioning his piety or goodness; I don’t know him from Adam (a). If special prayers are merited, can you think of more eligible people than the victims of Gazza? Poor Raisi died in an accident – ELWER. The innocents in Gazza are butchered, burned, and torn to pieces by bloodthirsty beasts. If anybody deserves special attention and prayers, it is them; may Allah have mercy on them. I don’t see the Khojas jumping through loops in special prayers for them, do you?

I open my mouth to retort but shut it as fast. There is little sense in getting into an argument on subjects I am hardly an expert on. I’m curious, however, how he knows what’s going on at the mosque when he’s holed up in his apartment all day long, but I’m afraid to ask.

You know what irks me, Kisukaali? The announcements between magreeb and ishaa by the well-meaning Imam informing us that Raisi has died and oh how good and pious he was, the defender of the oppressed and…

Oh, come on, Mullah Saheb, what’s wrong with that? Surely…

Oh, hush, you idiot, and don’t be a sentimental fool. Even the ones rotting in their graves knew about the disaster by now. The Imam, may Allah bless him and give him sabre-jameel, can’t wait until the Friday Jummah to voice his opinions, which is perhaps the appropriate platform to do so. So he wastes precious 10 minutes of our time on a subject that is already apparent and irreverent at salaat. Is it a wonder the attendees for salaat at the mosque are so few? Get rid of the shenanigans, and you’ll see a marked uptick in turnout.

I leave it at that.

A Crash Landing

Daughter Zainab is visiting from Orlando, and I treat her to a safari at Serengeti and Ngorongoro, which includes a hot air balloon ride over Serengeti. It is touted to be a once-in-a-lifetime treat, and it better be, considering the costs. We wake up at 2:30 AM and drive 2.5 bumpy hours on a chilly morning to reach the launch site. It is a professionally managed affair, with plenty of steaming coffee to warm us up. The bathrooms are impeccably clean, western, and functional, with running water and toilet paper, liquid soap, and warm individual towels. Since it is super chilly, we get to keep warm over gas-powered heaters. Royal service. In the middle of nowhere.

You’d think the odds of an aircraft crashing with me in it would be higher with the traveling I do. We take off after a few hiccups and ascend to about 1,000 feet to take in the breathtaking view of the vast Serengeti plain under us. The sunrise is spectacular, and as it rises, the vista and animals below us reveal Allah’s splendor. There are 16 of us: 12 Americans, 2 Canadians, and 2 non-English-speaking Chinese. We are all high on Adrenaline, jabbering and clicking away at the various animals we spot. The Americans, retirees, are loud and brash as usual. The pilot, an Australian-trained Indian, keeps a running commentary and is funny with his quirky jokes. Until the wind shifts.

I’m happy because I am close to the pilot and the fire that lifts the balloon up keeps me relatively warm. I sense trouble midway through the ride as I watch the facial expression of the pilot change from cocky confidence to uncertainty. He can’t get a handle on the shifting winds, which are propelling the balloon faster than he can handle. There are no brakes in this thing, so he must go against the wind drag to slow it down, or else the range of tall hills will be where we’ll crash. Or into deadly thorny acacia trees. Not a nice landing. But that’s exactly what happens. All 16 of us are somewhat nervous by now, and all the jabbering has ceased into an eerie silence. The pilot struggles to turn the balloon, pulling on the ropes and squawks into a walkie-talkie to his team on the ground for options as we speed towards nowhere. I can see plenty of open fields to land the balloon, but the winds will not cooperate. The pilot attempts landing twice, scraping on treetops but fails. Then he commands us to huddle down and crashes into a thorn-filled Acacia tree on the third attempt. It is a miracle all of us escape unhurt, except I lose my sentimental cap. We are helped down by the ground crew and the sheepish pilot, the balloon a heap of mess atop the tree, parts of it in tatters by the thorns. We are then whisked away for a sumptuous breakfast fit for an Amir.

What adventures.


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