Thursday, October 25, 2012

Swirling Mavurungos

Tanganyika and Zanzibar tolerate a tenuous marriage; it was dicey to begin with, the honeymoon was briefer than most human unions of today, but most love evaporated almost immediately after dictator Abeid Karume was assassinated in 1972. Although the mainland has prospered relatively well since Nyerere’s disastrous policies got finely shredded, the archipelago lags much behind in several key areas. Most Muslim Zanzibaris want a divorce from the bigger, more powerful, ‘secular’ mainland neighbor, but geo politics, potential oil wealth and egos make rational thinking or decisions challenging. A violent and sometimes bloody civil unrest now ensues.

My (CAI) interest lies in bettering educational opportunities for poor children who are mired in poverty. So I find myself in Dar es Salaam once more, waiting to fly to Zanzibar, give away donor sponsored desks and inspect major repairs to few dilapidated classrooms.

Our contact from Zanzibar calls and advises Murtaza Bhimani not to come; the situation is tense, with riots breaking out in Stonetown and other places. Hmmm, this is a predicament, our non-refundable Coastal Air tickets for tomorrow’s flight have been purchased, after today’s cancelled flight by Precision Air; I have very limited time in Tanzania. Murtaza and I are not going to the archipelago to sunbathe; for that, we have been blessed with permanent, natural suntans. Surely it cannot be much worse than Afghanistan; we decide to go anyway.

The on-time early morning single engine Coastal Cessna208 13-seater aircraft takes seventeen minutes from takeoff to touchdown from Dar-es-Salaam to Zanzibar. It is a daladala type affair; a twenty-something White pilot enters the aircraft, slams the door shut, turns around and in heavily accented English says Hello, I am the pilot, keep your seatbelts fastened, there are three emergency exits; here, there and there. He turns on the propeller that sounds like an igniting Mumbai rickshaw and hits the gas pedal; we are off. That’s it, no mention of floaters, even though the entire flight is over water; I guess if we go down, it’s all over.

The vibes outside Zanzibar airport are calm but eerie; I can tell there is matata in the air. Our hired driver, Mbanja, is waiting, says not to worry, he will skirt around hotspots. But we do encounter burnt out tires, broken blockades and a burnt motorcycle. We later learn it belonged to a policeman who was captured, tortured, fingers chopped off and summarily executed, body then thrown into a ravine.

We spend the whole day inspecting CAI projects of school repairs and taking on additional ones, mainly repairs of sagging classes that are about to flop. Zanzibar schools are in pitiable conditions; teachers supplement salaries of unbudgeted staff and contribute towards shoddy repairs and maintenance. Alas, we can’t deliver the promised 30 desks (each seating 3 students) of 140 ordered; the man responsible is not willing to ‘risk my life for few desks’ is how he puts it angrily, ‘I told you not to come!’ These will, insha’Allah, be delivered as soon as the man is willing to step out of his secure home.

We pass through troops manning roads in armored vehicles on our return to the airport. The flight is event free, same daladala service. A hippie looking pilot with dirty long tresses in shorts swaggers to the aircraft, gives us a thirty second routine and we soar to three thousand feet, landing in twenty minutes, past a waiting Emirates Aircraft wanting to depart, our tiny daladala gets priority over arrogance; what a nice change, no? I am sooooo happy!

Rumors swirl about potential mavurungos in Dar tomorrow, after Friday salaat; there are some today. Sheikh Issa Mapondo, a fiery Wahaabi cleric has been arrested for inciting violence but his followers want him released. Our Khoja Jamaat becomes proactive on Friday, flashing warning on overheads for members to take care, not venture to sensitive areas of Kariakoo or City Center; the US Embassy is usual overkill mode, dire portents galore on her website. Friday comes; the young Imam at our Khoja Jamaat is in a hurry, Jooma khutba and salaat break time records. True, Kariakoo burns in the afternoon and there are other mavurungos elsewhere. In a very ominous development indeed, the police fail to quell the violence and calls in the army for control, the first time ever.

Amongst all these uncertainties, we Khojas worry and fret over the cloudy future these mavurungos augur. But we must partake our noondus and mishkaki nevertheless, so I join my friends for a feast this Friday evening and enjoy. For now at least, the mavurungos are a distant memory.

Rough Kiswahili translations:

Daladala – Shabby, unkempt sharing taxis driving at unsafe speed
Khutba – Religious sermon
Matata - Mischief
Mishkaki – Barbecued beef cubes
Noondu – Barbecued beef hump-fat, bad for the arteries, divine on tongue
Salaat – Prayer
Mavurungo - Riots

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