Mullah Mchungu, my elderly occasional comrade and frequent nemesis is visiting Sanford, Florida once more. I feel his arresting hand grip my shoulder after Thursday program at Sanford Husseini Islamic Center.
Kisukaali, says his quivering voice, surely you can say sallam to an old man, where are your manners?
Sallam Mullah! I exclaim happily, I did not see you. How are you?
Old, achy and unwanted. When will you offer me tea and a sympathetic ear?
The Mullah makes it a point to visit me home whenever in Sanford and we have animated chats over variety of subjects, almost all most controversial. He makes me squirm with colorful opinions, many valid, lots I would not want to voice even to the walls for fear of life and liberty. But the Mullah, now in his late seventies cares perhaps not, so he can afford to be tongue-loose.
So I pick him up from son Ali’s house and bring him home. We sit in the porch; it is hot, humid and the sun merciless. We could sit in the cool living room but the Mullah has some nasty habits, of lighting up stinking Indian beedis and hawking up deep, stubborn nicotine residue from the depth of his aging lungs then spewing. No, we are fine out here; I’ll bear the heat and insects for a while. I serve him tea and snacks, equip him with an ashtray and a discarded can for whatever he might unearth from his lungs.
The Mullah has things in his mind; I know he wants to lighten his burden. As usual, he takes his time, finishes tea, light up a bedee, clouds up the porch and hawks. He is now set.
Aree Kisukaali, you eat brown bread? The Mullah has asked me bizarre questions ago; this, I think, tops the list; all I can do is simply, cautiously nod assent. He smiles. You know Kisukaali, there was a time when brown bread was relegated to the poor and servants. The affluent ate then fashionable, white, bleached bread and considered consuming the coarse stuff as beneath their dignity. Now, of course, white bread is poison, so they say, and you can bankrupt yourself buying the varied brown stuff. Ghee, you see, was taboo once upon a time, now; it is a lifesaver. They say. My Mum, may Allah bless her soul, consumed ghee right off the can, dipping piping hot rotees in it, savoring the taste with eyes shut in blissful delight.
Okay, this is interesting information; again, I nod warily.
You think I am a bit loose up here, yes? The Mullah attacks suddenly, circulating a nicotine-coated finger around a temple. You think I am a bit odd, senile and eccentric, nai?
Startled, I want to say yes but shake my head no, of course, eyeing his resting legendary walking cane carefully. A false protest, denial, forms on my lips but the Mullah airily waves a leathery hand in dismissal.
Humph, he says dismissively, of course you do, everybody does. But I am saner than you think and sharper than most men half my age. Listen, I tell you this because you are well travelled and have seen the world, so perhaps will understand me. Travelling, I know, levels thinking and sobers up fools real fast. Believe me, there are many fools I unfortunately have to associate with.
I shift in my chair uncomfortably, not sure where this conversation is leading. The Mullah asks for more tea, which I make and bring. He drinks it, smokes, hacks the porch down and settles in comfortably.
Allah, Kisukaali, it’s hot and sweaty out here; if you find a stain on this chair afterwards, it’s not my overactive bladder, just sweat. Mullah Mchungu smiles at the look of astonishment on my face and continues before I have time to react. What was fact once is now fiction, truth is lies, falsehood is the new fact, it’s all ghool, ghool, like a jaleebi, only this jaleebi is bitter, you know?
I have no idea what the old man is on about, so keep quiet, wait for him to continue. I look at our world now and wonder how your generations will cope, the realities scare me, really scare me. I grew up in Tanzania to struggling parents yet did not know a single day of insecurity. We had no refrigerator, no phone, no TV, no toaster, no microwave; yet I ate food, fresh and wholesome you won’t find anywhere today. There was a purpose and a goal in that struggle. My father smoked like a bloody chimney and my mother ate so much paan, you’d think she painted her lips, tongue and fingers red; both lived healthy into their nineties. They bred like rabbits and we were a large family; nobody starved. Look around your HIC community now; tell me honestly, can anyone match that lifestyle? I shake my head no. You know why? I wobble my head again.
Mulla Mchungu’s face unfolds from a furrowed scowl into a conspiring smile. Greed, he almost whispers, all greed. You guys want more, and more and more! The more you get, the more you want. Eh? Why is he telling me this? What ‘more’ have I asked for? What has my ‘wants’ to do with bread and ghee and jalebi and cigarettes and paan?
It’s you, your corporate America that is responsible; and your kowtowing government. They will start a trend to make money, but that is not enough. They will change the trend to make more money. Tell us what to eat, how to behave, how to make love...’ I laugh out aloud, finding this last bit amusing. You laugh, Kisukaali? You think I am being funny? You wait. If you live for another ten years, I guarantee you corporate America will make most of HIC community accept gay and lesbian behavior as normal. As a matter of fact, laws will mandate HIC accommodate them in the services provided. Its a matter of time, its coming. Thank Allah, Ill be long dead and dust.
I sober up, digest Mullah’s prophesy. Don’t you see Kisukaali, that falsehood is the new truth? Let me prove it to you. Do you follow the war in Syria? Man, this man certainly knows how to throw curveballs; I nod affirmative. This conflict is a perfect example of fiction changed into fact. Agreed, Syria has less than ideal rulers but corporate America, lusty with greed and bankrolled by the oil money, is arming the wrong side. You guys have not learned from the mess in Afghanistan when you bankrolled and armed nuts that still create mayhem in Afghanistan, Pakistan and across the world. No, no! Ignorant nincompoops, some politicians, old farts, who know absolutely nothing about world geopolitics, want more innocent blood shed and call for open-ended war. These men should be given some extra strength mouthwash and put into an asylum, you know? I can smell the rot from their mouths through the TV! They talk in such riddles all naive American think Al Nusra are bloody angels! The Mullah pauses, shakes his head, chuckles and continues. But then, it is no different from our communities, eh? We have same opinionated chamchas amongst us as well, who jump to conclusions about everything and everybody, shooting their tushies; you can easily identify them by distinguished facial marks.
Boy, these are heavy words; I anxiously look around to make sure both bordering neighborhood swimming pools are free of prying ears. The Mullah is so animated and angry, I decide not to confront him, but speak words of empathy.
I hear you, Mullah, I say. We live in a world much changed. We cannot go back to good old days we had, except for memories. My generation will rue my childhood and my children theirs. It’s a cycle of life we can’t change. As for the US government, my only option for change is through the ballot box, the rest I leave in the mercy of Allah. I cannot and don’t agree with everything this country does, but she has given me much; my family and I have much to thank her for. Corporate entities are the same everywhere, no? They look out for their own interests, never completely fair to the common man; they are not the only culprits, are they? Greed is same anywhere; US, UK, Russia, Tanzania? The same applies to people of different communities.
The Mullah becomes exceptionally quiet, eyes closed, guiling sleep. But he is awake all right, I know. So I wait for a rebuttal; he disappoints me not.
Unaseema? Just because you live in this country, you don’t have to be so protective of her. Hear you talk, you’d think the streets here are paved with gold. Bcheee. I have done my ranting and raving for today; take me home. If this is all I get for my efforts, basi mimi msheenzi!
Basi mimi msheenzi – So I am a fool.
Bcheee – An offensive, dismissal sound, made from the mouth, peculiar to E. Africans.
Unaseema? You are saying?