Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Suk-Suk - Part Two

I have, this week, concluded 50 tons of CAI donor funded food distribution tour at the Somalia – Kenya border region, alhamd'Allah. This project was initiated and executed within 3 weeks after the decision was made to do something, anything, when images of dying and malnutritioned children appeared in the media. It was, for me, unconscionable to simply express pity and remain inactive. All credit for this very successful program goes to Allah (S) for the taufeeq and opportunity to serve at His pleasure, our very generous and ever ready donors and the team put together by Dr. Muhsin Sheriff (Docta) of local Kenya NGO CHEPS for arranging, assessing, planning, travelling, actual distribution and all other incredible, at times seemingly impossible logistics this scale of project demanded; CAI is profoundly indebted to all of these for the incredible opportunity.

The following narrative of the trip is first hand, through my eyes and I take full responsibility for words used in describing events, not very civil for some readers, perhaps. Sometimes, there are no ‘nice’ ways to describe stark realities. Who knows, you may enjoy the chronicle.

Pinpoint accuracy?

The communal bathroom is outside, an unlit smelly shed with no running water; you lug in a lotta. I slip and almost fall upon entry, franticly grab at the wood frame supporting the tin shed; my fingers come away with something slimy, something I cannot see, something smelly; I shudder in disgust and run out to cleanse my hands. You guessed it, there is no soap…I scrub my fingers raw with almost half bottle of hand sanitizer I carry for just these instances. But I still got to go; my bladder is almost a busting. I take a torch this time and (very, very) carefully, reluctantly, return to the toilet shed. The hole in the ground that greets me is super tiny and I wonder for a minute if this is only for number one business. Well, there are no other toilets around so this must be for both numbers. Wow, talk about practicing squatting with precise accuracy!

The generator is switched off at nine sharp and the place engulfs in utter darkness. I drift off to uneasy sleep but the place is so busy with rattling walls and roof, snores, groans, farts and related smells, it seems the entire camp is vibrating with a gusto of workshop energy from some 40 plus humans temporarily dead; I am wide-awake by one. I grind my teeth and tolerate the torment until it mercifully ends with a muezzin calling the faithful to eat sehri (daku); we are given sweet weak tea and some dates for a fast we will observe but pay back later as well.

Shriveled breast

There are people lined up outside the distribution site by the time we show up and we go to work almost immediately. This camp is all new refugees from war-torn Somalia, in terrible shape. With army like discipline, we disburse the first 10 tons of good nutritious food made up of beans, cooking oil, corn meal (ugaali) and high-energy biscuits for the children. These biscuits, recommended by the WFP, are highly effective in immediate energy for children most vulnerable to diseases due to malnutrition; just 3 pieces are enough to sustain a child for a day. They cost US$2.55 / kilo and comprise:

Typical nutritional composition

Value per 100 gms

Nutrient Content Unit
Fat 22 Gms
Protein 12 Gms
Energy 470 Kcal
Vitamin A 1650 IU
Vitamin C 38 Mg
Vitamin D 165 IU
Vitamin B2 o.8 Mg
Vitamin B1 0.9 Mg
Vitamin B6 o.9 Mg
Vitamin B12 3 MCG
Vitamin E 5 Mg
Iodine 85 Mcg
Niacin 7 Mg
Pantothenic acid 38 Mg
Folic acid 350 Mcg
Calcium 410 Mg
Iron 5.2 Mg
Magnesium 150 Mg

I delight in handing these out, silently urging each child with all my heart to live a long and healthy life. These children are tearjerkers. When I break from the giving, I roam around, snapping photos. There is this one toddler on its mom’s back, bawling away. Mom, who is in line waiting for her share of handout, dances her back in pacification, but the child is inconsolable. In frustration, Mom screws the kanga around, brings the child towards her bosoms and thrusts a shriveled breast into the toddlers open crying mouth. I look away, but the urge to gawk is irresistible; forces me to turn back and stare. The child screams at first, perhaps sensing Mom’s rudeness, then suckles frantically. Alas, the breast is apparently dry, for the child gives up and screams, incensed. There is so, so much helplessness in Mom’s face, I want to weep… We distribute ten tons of food and biscuits here in Dagahley; next stop Dadajibullah.


Suk–Suk, whispers Abdi Noor, Suk-Suk repeats one of the policemen at the back, Ayeah! acknowledges the driver. We have just spotted a giraffe herd to our right and both Docta and I scramble to take photo shots. I am surprised to see them, did not think they wandered so north in Kenya. There are very, very many, I am told and live amiably with the local population, feeding and thriving on thorny leaves of the all-weather Acacia tree, a diet other animals cannot digest or reach. I was even more surprised to spot a pair of cheetahs, few hyenas, water hogs and many other animal species. All of them are in peril, expanding out from their natural habitat in search of non-existing water.

Suk-Suk and ayeah! are two Somali words I easily pickup from the rapid tongue that flows like a Ping-Pong ball between the four Somalis onboard. Suk-Suk means halt or wait and ayeah, an automatic response or acknowledgement in a one-way conversation. Somalis are loud people and talk spontaneously, all at once, so our car is a hotbed of very rapid and noisy conversation amongst the four Somalis while Docta and I (try) and catch up on sleep.

Where Dagahley distribution is precise and disciplined, Dadajibullah is the contrary; mob-like and unruly. Perhaps it is a more despairing situation; perhaps we are not involving the local sheiks or imams? It takes us seven very hard, long hours to distribute eighteen tomes of food to a boisterous crowd. The women are vocal and feistier here, some ready for a go at fistfights with volunteers struggling with heavy loads. We prevail in the end, using strong-arm tactics of stopping distribution and using local armed guards to keep vigil.


The next three days are a whirl; get up early for sehri of dates and tea, pray, hit the road, distribute to the starving masses, break fast, eat whatever is available to ease hunger pains… The distribution at Wagalla (7 tons), Della (3 tons), Baed (2 tons), Bulla Forest (3 tons), Haggar (3 tons) and Mau Mau (1 ton) go off without incidents, mainly because all logistical arrangements have been taken care of via local sheiks, camp leaders and local mosque imams. Somali’s, both genders, regardless of age, love hawking and spitting; nay, it is a national pastime, no less. We would be gathered in a group, discussing logistics when one would start with a deep hawk and a spit, to be immediately taken up by another person. Khaaak…thuuu! Khaaak…thuuu! Khaaak…thuuu! I object at this disgusting behavior a couple of times, the guys pay me no heed; one simply covers his prize with a quick flip of dirt with his feet as token atonement.

I am really tired by day three and ready to return home; Docta looks exhausted; this is his third distribution trip to these remote areas in less than a month! Both us dread the long trip back to Nairobi so we look for alternatives. There is an airport in Wajir but miraa (a mild narcotic, consumed mostly in Somalia and Yeman) traders operate most flights to Nairobi. One could get a seat, but it is not guaranteed, the flight might come, but might not, the pilot might take you, but might not if he has a full load of the stuff… Our friend Abdi Noor makes a few phone calls and like magic, two seats are confirmed on a regularly scheduled East African Airline flight. Hurrah, I am ecstatic.

Suk-Suk, cautions Abdi Noor, not so fast, we still have tomorrow’s full day of work…

Docta and his team will distribute CAI’s final food consignment, about three tons of high-energy biscuits and seven tons of food this weekend insha’Allah; this will conclude our food aid program. It was my observation that the core food crises is easing with more (Islamic) aid agencies setting up shop. I also now believe long term food aid is not sustainable; rather, efforts should be put into water recourses and farming. Shallow wells dug by refugees and water used for farming is the best short-term solution to this massive problem, both in host country and well into Somalia proper. CAI will, insha’Allah, assist all those that choose to dig a shallow well and use the ready available water for farming. An investment of US$100 per family to secure the well and ways to use the water is, for now, the only viable solution until political games of those in power are played out.

View photos here.

Suk-Suk - Part One

I have, this week, concluded 50 tons of CAI donor funded food distribution tour at the Somalia – Kenya border region, alhamd'Allah. This project was initiated and executed within 3 weeks after the decision was made to do something, anything, when images of dying and malnutritioned children appeared in the media. It was, for me, unconscionable to simply express pity and remain inactive. All credit for this very successful program goes to Allah (S) for the taufeeq and opportunity to serve at His pleasure, our very generous and ever ready donors and the team put together by Dr. Muhsin Sheriff (Docta) of local Kenya NGO CHEPS for arranging, assessing, planning, travelling, actual distribution and all other incredible, at times seemingly impossible logistics this scale of project demanded; CAI is profoundly indebted to all of these for the incredible opportunity.

The following narrative of the trip is first hand, through my eyes and I take full responsibility for words used in describing events, not very civil for some readers, perhaps. Sometimes, there are no ‘nice’ ways to describe stark realities. Who knows, you may enjoy the chronicle.

Ouch, ouch, ouch!

I find Nairobi quite chilly on arrival morning of Aug 16 and shiver in spite of a warm sweater on me, having flown in from nice sunny and warm Florida; perhaps my tolerance level is low after 27 hours of flying / waiting, lack of sleep? This feeling is more than compensated by warm hospitality at Dr. Muhsin’s home where I rest a bit before we embark on our drive to the border area of Somalia, to Dadab, some 250 miles away. A Toyota 4x4 has been donated for our use by the local MP of area in distress, Sirat Mohammed; joining me are Dr. Muhsin Sheriff of CHEPS, Mohammed Abdi Noor, ex Red Cross Kenya boss who is originally from the area and has very strong connections and 2 armed Kenya Police Force personnel and the driver, off course. Abdi Noor is a volunteer, the rest are curtsey of MP.

It is not long before we leave the relative green of Nairobi and hit a dirt road so bumpy, we seem to resemble yoyo toys let loose with a super hyper child. I see my first animal carcass and want to take photos but Abdi tells me to wait, I will see plenty more ahead. Our Sunni brothers are fasting so we stop by the road at magreeb and feast on dates and water and dry hamburgers. It turns abruptly dark, we wash and I join others in prayers, led by Abdi Noor. Ouch, ouch, ouch! The dirt floor is full of dried thorn balls, I clear a spot with my feet but ouch, there are more thorns when my knees and palms touch dirt and yet again, when my forehead touches soil; hope Allah accepts my prayer, I am more intent on avoiding pain. Abdi Noor completes prayers in record time; feel of pain shared, perhaps?

Seven hours after leaving Nairobi, we drive into Dadab and rest at a surprisingly nice, comfortable hostel with running water, western toilets and a shower. There is some confusion with our food distribution plans next morning. Dadab, you see, is home to 3 ‘official’ refugee camps, each originally meant to accommodate 30,000 people for a total of 90,000; it now has over 480,000, with 2,000 new arrival every day. UN agencies provide food rations to registered refugees only, but give (some) water to all. Our aim is to target the non-registered indigents for relief. Our local contact is Sheikh Mohammed Al Farha, a jovial man, always smiling and talkative. Al Farha is highly respected locally and as we are to soon discover, invaluable in arranging the distribution outside Dagahley refugee camp next morning. We take a tour outside the official camps at Dadab; I get my first glimpse of gut wrenching scenes of wretched people so repeatedly displayed on TV screens back home. In a huge cleared space, throngs of refugees in pitiful conditions line to receive food rations from other Muslim relief agencies already in action. The adults are in bad condition, yes, but it is the children that twitch my heart asunder. Almost all women, gaunt and harassed, has a dirty, runny nosed, face full of buzzing flies and malnutritioned toddler wrapped in a dirty kanga on her back.

We drive to Dagahley in the afternoon and meet with the local Mufti and his committee of volunteers; I am much impressed and relieved. They have the system down pat, organized and disciplined, with a no-nonsense approach to fair distribution. All new arrivals have been identified and issued with an ID card; they will receive at least a months food grains according to the size of family members. The quantity of food looks dubious, to me, seems far too little, but Abdi Noor and the Sheikh simply shrug their shoulders, is there an alternative?

Camel meat - a wish fulfilled.

After magreeb at a kerosene-lamp lit local mosque, we break fast at a local ‘restaurant’. It is dark and difficult to see but can tell (and smell) the table and chairs around an open eating-place is in squalor, full of roaming cats on a lookout for scraps thrown their way - I don’t care; I am famished. I dig in to the plate of samosas (no Al Shabab influence here…as yet) followed by heap loads of boiled meat, delicious! I casually remark if the local people eat camel meat since there are so many of them animals around and express a desire to eat some. I am greeted with polite smiles with Abdi Noor informing me my wish has been granted - I had just consumed meat of a young camel. Really? I feel he is pulling my leg, but Sheikh Al Farha assures me it is camel meat indeed that digests comfortably in my guts. Wow! The service is great however, with Omo (powdered clothes washing soap) dispensed from a torn bag for washing away camel-meat greased hands, water poured from jugs right besides the table onto the dirt floor, scattering the disappointed cats. We are even provided scraps of torn newspapers for wiping our hands and lips.

Sleep and rest that night in a ‘guesthouse’ is a major gut wrenching challenge. It is made up totally of loose, rusting tin (banda), which rattles alarmingly whenever the wind blows. There are about 5 rooms of various sizes, one with 16 beds on all dirt floors; there are beds in the corridor as well, under the open sky. We are given a 4-bed shed; I (very carefully, closely) inspect the dubious looking beds. The bed sheets look like they have not seen water or soap in months, same with greasy looking pillowcases. I shudder; there is however, thankfully, a mosquito net over the beds – a gift from the Malinda Gates Foundation.

View photos here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sakina Girls Home - My home

Marhooma Naseen Jeevan
Saika and Shahina Khan

Saika and Shahina Khan were 5 and 3 (now aged 18 and 16) when their father was killed in a tragic accident. Their distraught mother of 3 children, with an infant son in addition to the girls, turned to Sakina Girls Home (SGH) in Andhari, Mumbai for help. Saika and Shaina were readily accepted and become new family members to other 70 plus orphan girls that call SGH home.

Why would I want to pick out these 2 sisters to blog about? Well, it is not everyday that somebody you care and support tops 94% overall grade at a school in India. This outstanding result, by Shahina, is unheard of, makes me delighted that CAI donors are proud sponsors of SGH, where these 2 sisters grew up to become such successful and productive teenagers. I chanced upon meeting these girls, now back living with their mother, during my recent trip to Mumbai and here is what they had to say:

We miss SGH a lot, a lot; it was haven for us. We miss our friends, sisters really, we grew up with, the daily jamaat prayers, our petty fights, our silliness. But what we miss the most are the 2 people at SGH that shaped our lives - Naseem Auntie and Aliakber Uncle. Naseem Auntie was our mother, she trained and guided us and installed what is best in life for us; made us believe in ourselves. If there are angels in this world, than Naseem Auntie was their sardar! We still can't believe she is no more... Aliakberbhai spoiled us; we were never hungry, treats, picnics, new clothes, yoga classes, it was so wonderful. He is the father we never knew, even now, he guides us...

But the best outcome in our life at the orphanage was the quality education we got while at SGH. We attended the best schools in the neighborhood, followed up by tuition and anything else that we required to excel in class. With this opportunity, both us us have excelled and prospects for a good career are exceptional, especially in the field we have chosen - software development. Once we graduate from college, we will, insha'Allah, have the opportunity of earning exceptional starting salaries we never imagined.

We owe all of this success to SGH and the people who dedicate their lives in running it. I remind them about the donors that make it possible to run SGH. Of course, they are in our prayers every day... And what about paying back to the society that helped you? No question about it, we intend to, insha'Allah, repay all the goodness with our efforts and money. We will never forget, never...our lives would have probably been compromised with almost certain early marriage and poverty; we owe it all to SGH.

The girls now live with their Mum who is a cook. Life is tough on a cook's earnings but they manage somehow. Comfort Aid International continues partial support of the sisters collage tuition.

A few words about our fallen angel, Naseembai Jeevan. This woman was a stubborn believer in quality education, an ideal we at CAI rigidly follow. This kind and giving lady, who's life revolved around SGH, succumbed to the will of Allah and returned to her Creator about 2 years ago at a relatively very young age. We pay fond tribute to her memory and pray to Allah to keep her soul blissfully happy and reward her abundantly.

Aliakberbhai Ratansi is still going strong, keeping a caring and loving eye over the girls at SGH. May Allah prolong his dedicated life in the service of CAI supported orphans all over India.

Ali Yusufali

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bebakshe Aaghaa, besheen

We are asked to report Kabul airport 5AM sharp; I intensely detest these early morning reporting times, especially in Afghanistan; but we have little choice. Fajr next day is at 3:05AM so I get perhaps 4 hours of restless sleep at Wasi’s hospitable home. Although Kabul can be freeing most winter months, summers are the other extreme. We report at 5 sharp and after understandable checks at 4 separate security posts, we find ourselves at the departure lounge full of groggy adults and irate sleepy children. Kam Air flight to Herat is supposed to depart at 7:30 but there is no ways to tell the status come departure time. Eyes smarting from the lack of sleep, I try to follow an old Dari dubbed Bollywood movie (Amish Poori in an awful costume – Mugaambo, I think) on the screen.

At eight, I become irritable; the lounge is packed with people, many with unwashed bodies and it is getting hot outside; Kabul domestic airport does not have air. I get up and ask a security guard what the problem is, why are we late. The young lad looks at me with bored expression and shrugs his bony shoulders; I don’t think he cares. Don’t know, Besheen Aaghaa – please take a seat, Sir. I return to my seat that is now taken, as the hall is jam packed with people. After about 10 minutes, as if given an invisible signal, everybody, including me, leap up and make a run for the departure gate, as if the flight will take off without us. I later understand there are no assigned seats; the mad rush is for choice seats.

The exit door, however, remains locked, with no security guard in sight. There is very little concept of personal space in Afghanistan, or the Indian sub-continental for that matter. Not intentional, mind you. The line that forms is not single file, but hordes of warm bodies pressed together, straining for an exit. A Kam Air rep comes to the front, pushing his way through the crowd. We are late, open the door, open the door, where is the ahmek guard with the key, he demands into a walkie-talkie. There is confusion for about 5 minutes before a heavyset, potbellied security guard with the key comes jogging from the other side, fumbling with buttons of his pants and a sheepish grin on his face. Where in the world were you, you ahmek goof, demands Kam Air rep. Ah, I have the runs, bad runs, and very bad stomach. Ate very stale kaboobs yesterday, beebakshe. The Kam Air rep snorts in contempt. You have runs everyday! Stop eating – forever! Or at least for a year, open the door! The guard fumbles with the lock, doors swing open and the crowd surges forward; phew, fresh air, I take big gulps. We look at the puzzled Kam Air rep for guidance, where do we go from here?

The Rep looks this way and that, Now where is the baadbakh bus? It looks like he is going to pop a vein, screaming into the walkie-talkie. The aircraft is about 50 feet away from us; I clearly can see the pilots playing piano with instruments. We could have, in half a minute, walked and boarded the aircraft. No, says the Rep, security rules, we must take the bus. This a problem, as both buses are busy ferrying passengers off just arrived Safi Air from Dubai; it may take some time… An old man complains he is tired and cannot stand any longer. Beebakshe Aaghaa, besheen, says the Rep in sympathy; the old man flops on the steps, we wait. After another 30 minutes, the busses arrive and we scramble for our hour-long flight to Herat in the west. Herat is super, super hot, 105F with crippling power cuts; sleeping is almost impossible. After inspecting 41 homes for poor widows CAI donors are constructing, visiting CAI orphanage and her orphans, we return to Kabul the next day.

We have another 5AM reporting for our chartered flight to Yawkawlang the day after. I am yearning for an elusive good nights sleep, but with late dinners and very early airport reporting, this is becoming impossible. Predictably, we are told Bebakshe Aaghaa, besheen, at the hangar where our chartered single engine Kodiak is ready to soar. NATO is on military exercise so we cannot fly, we have to wait. Before my short fuse blows at being called early again just to wait around, Chris, our 28 year old pilot tells me NATO takes a no-nonsense attitude on aircrafts within its training vicinity and would probably blow our aircraft out of the sky if we attempted to take off; I shut up in a hurry. When we do take off, the flight is smooth and eventless, the view over the mountains as usual, fantastic.

We have to attend CAI sponsored mass marriage for 100 deprived couples today at Yawkawlang, followed by sheep distribution to poor widows as part of CAI Economic Uplifting Project and a nights stay at our medical clinic before our flight back to Kabul tomorrow. I request Aziz for a later pickup instead of the usual 6AM next day. You sure, Sir, he asks, strong winds pick up later in the day and the going will get quite bumpy. I have little choice, as the clinic is at least a good 2-hour drive from the landing strip and we have work to do; we settle on 11AM.

The marriage ceremony is on a grand scale with almost the entire village in attendance for this rare occasion to be merry, 25 sheep are handed over to 5 widows to make them economically independent then we drive to Imam Sajjad (A) Clinic in Sacheck. I am here to do a quick audit of CAI operations and meet our new doctor. I am happy to note expansion and modernizing of clinic is on track. As usual, I get to meet few severe medical cases that cannot be treated at the clinic; they want to go to Kabul for treatment but are too poor. A 3-year-old girl with a tumor in her nose and a young boy who rectum pops out every time he has to go to the toilet are approved; CAI donors will foot the bill for their transport and treatment, if possible. It is early next morning, when we are readying to return to Yawkawlang for our return flight that I almost faint in horror. A man working nearly has hit a land mine, his 2 fingers of left hand blown off; there is blood, oh so much blood. The man however, as many of his countrymen in such distress, is stoic, shows no emotion of pain; we dispatch him to Kabul pronto.

Aziz, an alternate pilot we have earlier flown, is at the airstrip on the dot; we take off. I am treated to the co-pilots seat with headphones so I can hear the chatter from fellow aircrafts in the vicinity and Kabul control tower. The aircraft bobs and dances as it is tossed by strong winds streaming through the mountains. Basheer, our engineer, is ashen faced, wants to puke; I am, happily, sitting out of range.

My departure from Afghanistan the next day is no different. I am at the airport at 5AM; spend over an hour pressed in line for security inspection only to be told the flight is delayed.

Bebakshe Aaghaa, besheen.

View photos here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Poa, I say, poa!

A customs officer, owner of a massive gut with shirt buttons struggling not to rupture stops me and asks. You shua you have nothing to declare, Sah? Yes, I’m shua Mheshimiwa, I respond, mimicking his accent. Poa, he says, sufficiently impressed, waves me through. I walk out to a much pleasant Dar es Sallam than pervious visits, July being ‘winter’ here in the tropics. Jacob, the regular cab driver that my friend Jabir Habib arranges for my to and from the city is there, his toothy, happy smile a startling contrast to his dark handsome face. I say, Kareebu Tanzania he welcomes me, happily; we are off towards Tanzanite Executive Suits, a new comfortable hotel right in the middle of the city, three minutes walk to the (Khoja) Shia mosque; very convenient.

Nothing much has changed in Dar from my last visit here about 3 months ago, except more prolonged power cuts and resulting water crises that has everybody tied in knots and testy moods, including Jacob. The best way to gauge the mood of a city and her people is by talking to a cab driver, I tell ya. Jacob wants to talk; I can sense his intense desire. But he has a routine and a style, cannot be hurried, before he will give you an earful. So I wait patiently while he clears his throat, hawks loudly, healthily, opens his window and spits a heavy dose on the asphalt, expertly missing various vendors of bottled water, cashew nuts… Then, he rants away:

I say, wewe, you are lucky, living abroad. Hea, things are going to the dogs, literally. Hea, there is no umeme, no maji. Hea, we have lots of chai facilitation (bribery), many taxes and a president who spends more time abroad than home, running away from the power cuts, perhaps. Hea, mama ya watoto gets mad at me because there is no umeme, and I cannot afford a genereto. She points an accusing finger at my neighbor’s genereto every day I return home. She does not want to hear that my neighbor is a government clerk whose chai money far exceeds his salary. Then I get mad and run away from her and the watoto for some bea. I say, things are bad hea. Hea, the government officials must have a cut in everything. Well, I can understand these thugs need to eat and have generetos and many girlfriends and that is okay. But they want to drink all of India’s chai production in one gulp, not small sips. If they sipped it, they would enjoy it better and we would have some funds left over for umeme, water and other services and that would be fine. But they want the whole thing, these bastards. You know what happens if you take a big gulp of hot, steamy chai, no?

Jacob does another (angry) hawking, spitting show before continuing.

I say, hea, the government brings Chinese to work on the new (airport) terminal. Well, actually, they bring in the Chinese to work on everything. But them Chinese, they are no fools, they put their women to work as well. They bring in the women who sell their white skins to poor drunk Africans. I say, so now we have a new problem hea - Chinafs. Chinese Africans. You go to the housing settlement near the airport and you will find a dozen of these Chinafs watotos running around half naked. You Waheendees are not like us Africans, we love white skin, so we get drunk and flood to the Chinese in Kariakoo. But you Waheendees, you stick to your own and go to mujraas in Upanga and garland those pretty dancers with wide eyes and nimble fingers with millions of shillings. Then, if there is trouble, the girl is replaced pronto and another pretty one comes along. I say, things are bad hea. Haya Bwana, tumefika hoteli. Poa!

Hmmm…how interesting. No?

I stay in Dar es Sallam for a day, and then fly to Mwanza in the west with my good friend Murtaza Bhimani for a day to finalize a school building project for poor African children. This is my first visit to this lake city, which is a pleasant surprise. Clean and quiet pretty, Mwanza is on the move, economically; there is no shortage of power or water here.

Returning to Dar is depressing, what with crippling power cuts, din of generators spewing noxious diesel fumes - all making it a chore walking, talking or hearing on the streets. I meet Mulla Mchungu at the mosque and he immediately pounces on me. This wealthy Mulla is a long distance relative of mine, a staunch, pious Muslim and an even stauncher Khoja. He claims he has been to hajj 20 times and even more trips to Iraq and Iran for ziyaarah. Masha’Allah, aqeeq rings adorn his fingers and a dark blotch on his forehead gives him an apt pious Khoja Muslim look. Why are you here, Yusufali, he breathes at me, flashing very white false teeth into a sinister grin, looking for donations? Halaat bauwaj kharaab che, Bana! Business saroo nathi, Bana! I assure him it is not his donations I am after; he visibly relaxes.

We talk of this and that, wasting my time until he startles me. We are calling a very popular reciter for the first 15 days of Ramadhan, he whispers, as if in conspiracy. He names a name that I know is pricey. We are paying him US$1,600 a lecture... I am stunned; feel blood drain from my face, but recover quickly, protesting. But I thought you just said things are pretty bad, business is bad and people are suffering! His face registers distaste as he digests this. Bah! This is for Allah, gando, you cannot put a price to that now, can you…? I make a vague excuse and increase the distance between us; for I am terrified I might utter something so rude I will severely later regret. I convince myself to poa.

But most people I know seem to be doing okay, I see. Swanky new buildings, most Asian / Arab built, are coming up fast-fast, cars are new and trendy but the most telling tale of economic condition anywhere is restaurant business. I am of the opinion most Waheendees in Dar do not cook food. From late morning to late night, I notice, restaurants are jam-packed. I am invited to eat out by many families / friends during my brief stay and most eating-places are swarming with familiar faces from the mosque.

On Wednesday, eve of my departure, after magreeb salaat, Jabir treats me to mishkaaki and nundu at Muchachos, a very good barbecue joint in Upanga. It is a delightful treat indeed and we feast hungrily. Then comes a call from Zeenat, my niece. She is at Mambos and the place is packed, no place to park. I advise her to come to Muchachos but the meat and fat are sold out by the time they get there. So they go to Balis, then to Delhi Darbaar, same fate. Finally, at about 9:30, they finally find an empty table at Mambos. I say…

Halaat bauwaj kharaab che Bana!