So, I’m in steamy, soupy Dar es Salaam at the moment, settling in for a few months so that I can do justice to the ongoing CAI projects. It is the first time in almost a year that I fly Emirates. The airline has suddenly become overly generous, extending my Platinum tier miles for two whole years. Without me spending a dime. Imagine! Emirates Airline gives away free tier miles to members as often as a Wania parts anything free from his duka shop somewhere in rural Bhavnagar, Gujrat. The flight from New York, JFK to Dubai is toopu, toopu – empty. I have the undivided attention of a pretty Scottish lass who giggles away at my silly jokes but with whom I have a hard time comprehending the Scottish accent. Anyway, she takes good care of me, even bringing me a croissant pudding from First Class up front.
I see many more face masks on people in the streets of Dar es Salaam since early January when attitudes were more brazen towards the treacherous doodoo. It is business as usual, however, with trade unimpeded and the Khoja mosque rocking in the praise of Imam Ali (a) on the eve of Rajab 13. Boy, I did not realize how much I miss these communal celebrations that are our trademark, especially for the Commander of the Faithful (a).
It is a titanic sacrifice trying to accept the laidback and indifferent attitude that I find in the people of Dar, settling down anew after forty-six years living in the Middle East and the West. There seems not to be any urgency in anything, from the many fundis I need to repair minor issues in the apartment to time management. Everyone in Tanzania works on Tanzanian time, which can be in the mind of the benefit provider. And I thought living in India needed robust inner patience? Except for the calls to salaat. On-time. Especially in the mornings. On-time. Every time. And plenty of them. From near I live, the guy startles me out of bed faster than the Angle of Death can. Bless him.
So, I have this fundi, Joseph, at home, humming to himself, taking care of his business repairing small defects that are not important as such but irritating to an exacting and fussy me. He is thin and wiry, not more than half my age. He looks and sounds as happy as a sunbaked clam, content in what Allah (s) provides for his modest (compared to mine) needs. Perplexedly, I feel an intense and sudden feeling of jealousy for his happiness. Joseph and I spend a few hours talking about this and that. I am trying to polish up my Kiswahili and Joseph is mighty impressed, especially when I tell him I am from Ulaaya; he has no comprehension of where the US is, so Ulaaya is close enough. Joseph has this uncanny habit of dragging his severely beaten-up slippers when he walks, making a grating, uncomfortable sound. I want him to stop but can’t tell him outright for the fear he’ll tell me to mind my own business? Then, I notice this in all the people in Dar, from the urchins trying to beg for money from me to the street vendors. They drag the lower half of footwear when they walk, chappals usually, driving me insane. Is this a new African way to proudly strutter, or? Should, I, too, adopt it? Fit in?
The world-famous K-Tea Shop is around the corner, so a pilgrimage there is requisite, except I have mildly turned off this time around. I am sitting in the adjacent room, waiting for a plate of promised garam-garam kababs and chai to start my day. An ancient fan whirl lazily overhead as if it’s exhausted distributing the hot, muggy air around. The fan blades haven’t been cleaned since Adam (a) was born, so they are heavy with soot and grime. A lump of this soot and grime decide they’ve had enough of unity and break away, and as lazily, droop down and land in a container full of the coconut chutney that gives the kababs a unique zing. Startled, I look around to see if others noticed what I saw. Nope, all of them are deep in talk and food. I swallow in disgust. The waiter serving me walks in strutting, with the Dar famous drag of chappals, a tray carrying my four garam-garam kababs, and a steaming cup of tea. Before I can warn him about the contaminated chutney, he stirs the container and plops generous two scoops of the otherwise enjoyable condiment on top of the garam-garam kababs. Needless to say, my ruined breakfast today consists of an elaichi-free mandazi and chai only. The guy looks wounded when he notices the untouched blobs of chutney and kababs when I settle my bill.
Mzee, he says in a hurt tone, what happened? You did not eat a morsel of the kababs.
I scowl at him, for calling me an old man and for the soiled kababs. I settle for the Chefs Price across the street for the next few days. The food is good, wholesome, hygienic, and palatable both to the eyes and the tongue. Except it’s soopa crowded and the food runs out all the time. If it’s there, a ten – a fifteen-minute wait for a table is to be grinned and borne.
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