I am in Africa, once again. Ah, the sheer joy of breathing the blessed air and refreshing color of its soil and vegetation to my eye. I tell you, I have been blessed to have travelled the world but Africa, East Africa in particular, is an icing on this blessing. It is very warm and super humid of course, but I have escaped the searing heat they tell me, the worst is over. Really?
Dar is the usual delight of an emerging and bustling city full of irreplaceable memories with its many restaurants so the balanced and sensible meal plan I have promised myself melts away with every succulent morsel of fruit and flesh that touches my temptress tongue. The mango season is in full swing of course but I have not tasted the Mouwa (spelling?) verity from Tanga in about 35 years. No problem, says my dear friend Murtaza Bhimani of Moraf Store in Dar. A phone call and hundreds of them are bused in and I am lost to mango madness for which my stomach takes me to task the next day. Madafus that cannot be beat anywhere else in the whole world quench my undying thirst.
I go to Zanzibar for a day and the Isle is in crises; there is no power whatsoever; anywhere. I stay at the Tembo Hotel and mercy in the form of generators rule the city. Many businesses have made fortunes selling generators, I am advised. Everything conceivable runs on them which makes diesel and others fuel scarce, exorbitant, with devastating consequences on inflation. Tourists, with tots in tow even, however, abound, amazingly taking the agony of heat and sweat in stride. I delight in lychees and local badaam halwa and eye my expanding midriff in horror, but I am helpless, I tell you, hopelessly helpless.
I go to Mtwara in southern Tanzania for a business deal; never been that south before. Other airlines should learn from Precision Air, the local private airline of Tanzania. You can fault them for eye popping airfares due to their overwhelming total command over air traffic in Tanzania but not their schedules. Boy, it departed Dar on the dot and why, departed Mtwara early! Now that is service. What I don’t understand, however, is immigration scrutiny at both Zanzibar and Mtwara entry ports within Tanzania; never had to clear immigration travelling within any country before.
I meet Pervez Vatchha, my step cousin in Mombasa for the first time. My paternal grandfather Yusufali, you see, remarried after the death of my grandmother and I vaguely remember Mama mentioning this to me. This lady had six daughters and all have children spread over Kenya. Pervez is the daughter of one such daughter and she is a gracious and hospitable host. The mogo chips, in particular, are out of this world, Pervez, asante saana. I get to present my case for the victims of Afghanistan atrocities to the local Khoja Jamaat there and the response is overwhelming. Thank you for your kindness and fabulous opportunity, Iqbalbhai Sunderji!
Then I go to the crime city of Nairobi; I have heard horror tales of open banditry, robbery and killings that have dominated her fame of recent history and I am nervous. I remember this cool, vibrant and breathtaking city from my childhood and am saddened by the adverse changes that have made her so unpalatable. But I have moments of happiness when I meet many of my step cousins there, especially Fareedoon Abdallah, a kind and gentleman who hosts me and Shaheeda Shah whose gifts to Maaha Zainab and Tasneem are met with much joy and delight back in Mumbai. Asante saana guys, you are special.
It is while I am being driven to the airport by Fareedoon’s driver that I almost collapse in terror and panic. The ancient Mercedes Benz air-conditioner is not working and I have rolled down the window to let air circulate for its uncomfortably hot. We get stuck in a jam due to an accident up ahead. I smell the shit before I see it. A short man, menacing, gesturing towards his repugnant weapon, his face covered in a makeshift mask, holds a pad of newspapers on which lie a mould of squashed feces, the stench of which immediately gag me. He barks something unintelligible, perhaps in Kikuyu. Before my mind can process the horror of what is happening, Francis, the driver, veers the vehicle to the left, probably over the thug’s foot and he disappears from view. Francis then accelerates up the hard shoulder on the right and bumps and hobbles over hard barriers past the accident site and back on the paved tarmac within seconds, then speeds towards the airport.
I am drenched in cold sweat, unsure what is accelerating faster, the Merc or my heartbeat.