Friday, July 21, 2017

Kuku Na Chipsi / A Gay Marriage Gone Sour

Kuku Na Chipsi

A trip to Tanzania, my birth country, especially in the temperate winter month of July, bodes well with my temperament. I can see the rapid construction progress of the long awaited new terminal as my Emirates flight taxis towards the current one; it looks beautiful and modern. The arrival hall is crowded, and it takes me a while to pay for my visa and clear immigration. I temporarily lose my suitcase until I realize it has been pulled off the belt and sits waiting for me by the side while I am patiently scouring for it among the hordes of luggage that whirl around the conveyor belt.

Yahya, my usual taxi driver, races his car and miraculously manages to be outside the gates of Tanzanite Executive Suites in twenty-five minutes from the time we leave the airport, a record of sorts. In this period, Yahya fills me in with the usual litany of ailments in his and other Tanzanian lives; cost of living going up, business going down, Mugufuli’s heavy handed leadership causing havoc to people used to accumulating wealth the magendo way… Yahya says nothing about the relatively safe city, potholes free roads, litter-free streets, stable power and water supply, the rapidly rising flyovers that’ll soon ease the traffic snarls …

I don’t want to hear about all the complaining, so I ask him about what fruits I can stuff my face with in the short two-day trip I am here. Yahya’s gloomy face lightens up. He tells me the city is full of sweet citrus machenza and machungwa, juicy pineapples, blood-red leeches and my favorite, the sweeter version of passion fruit, the snot fruit matunda. Ahhh, I can already taste these and my mouth waters in anticipatory delight.

I check into the once fine Tanzanite Executive Suites, a clean, comfortable, familiar and strategically located hotel minutes from the Khoja center and several lip-smacking Kuku Na Chipsi joints within a safe five-minute walking radius. I can, from the entrance of the hotel, already smell the aroma of the charcoal grilling the kukus and mishkaaki and nundu, and it’s not even magreeb yet. I can’t wait.

After a nice short nap, I head over to the mosque for salaat donning my senses delighting ittar. Alas, it is no match for the cloud of kuku aroma that engulfs the entire street leading towards the mosque, and all I can smell are the remnants of charred chicken flesh on me as I join the jamaat salaat. You can’t win it all, I guess.

I have been very fortunate to travel distant lands and sample some of the most exotic fruits and foods from many countries. However, very few, if any, match the flavor and aroma of the ones I eat in E. Africa, and Tanzania in particular. And so, I go on a rampage of culinary delights with fresh fruits served by Roshan Jessa at his office, to various Kuku Na Chipsi outlets and a sumptuous dinner of ugaali and kuku paaka at Murtaza Bhimani’s.

The Dar es Salaam skyline has changed profoundly in the last few years. When Roshan Jessa takes me up to the rooftop of Samora Towers, I am stunned at the high-rise buildings adorning this city. The view of the skyline from up here is astonishingly beautiful. I cannot believe the development progress, especially in housing construction, that Dar has made. I doubt any of us growing up here could have imagined a break from the gloom and doom of the misguided and ruthlessly enforced crippling Ujamaa policies that had compelled me to queue early mornings for everyday essentials, from milk to bread and pine for non-existing butter and cheese. Bravo.

Sadly, I am in Dar for only two days. A much more challenging tour of Ouagadougou (a mouthful, no?) in Burkina Faso and Bamako in Mali, accompanied by fellow CAI Trustees Sohail Abdullah and Murtaza Bhimani, to inspect current and future CAI schools under construction coming up shortly. Joining us will be well-wishers Amirali Somji from Dubai and Mushtaq Fazal from Dar es Salaam.

A Gay Marriage Gone Sour

As I tuck into the fruits and flesh akin to the janna in the hereafter here in Dar, a gay marriage in faraway Vancouver rocks the global Khoja fraternity and causes fissures among the community and leadership, denting, somewhat, some of my culinary pleasures. The haraam act and unwise publicity of the union by the parents of one partner have profound and immediate consequences. That one of the partner’s mother is (now was) the Secretary General of NASIMCO causes tremors, uncontained outrage and a flurry of condemnation. From everybody.

The event is a discussion subject for many a baraaza dinner meets; discussed, debated, dissected, digested and excreted many times over. So much so, that a visiting friend from Brampton, Canada, jokingly introduces himself to the baraaza group I am with thus:

Sallam, I am so and so from Canada, and I am a happily married man…

Funny yes, but sad. Without proper thought and throwing caution aside, a flurry of messages on social media, some in atrocious English, cook up a storm, lynching the parents of the union for partaking in the public gaiety that follows the union. Understandable perhaps? As if our cupboards are without skeletons and we are the infallibles. Then the rage is diverted to the NASIMCO leadership, and to the alleged coercion of the mother to resign from her post. Again, understandable perhaps, given her very unwise deed, except I fret about the legal consequence if the compulsion is indeed a fact.  Given that this apparent ugly episode takes place in the jurisdiction of NASIMCO, individual jamaats, from Africa to Pakistan, incredibly, join in the mob mentality, all with relentless condemnations and unstoppable admonishment. Understandable perhaps, given the severity of events? Resignations follow like a domino effect, and the entire leadership of NASIMCO is rendered history.

The onslaughts from every corner of the world are relentless in the days ahead, with a whirlwind of WA messages, accusations targeting the leadership of NASIMCO and the WF as well. It is a full-blown circus now, except rather painful and not funny as at all. Past leaders, both at NASIMCO and WF are vilified, and wild allegations of improper behavior, including that of nepotism, election fraud, and funds embezzlement is shamelessly leveled, sparing very few. 

Homosexuality, lesbianism, alcohol and drug use and abuse are real, albeit unsavory issues. Yes, the individuals in a leadership role in this instance erred seriously and used severely unwise judgment in publicizing the blunder. None of us are without issues, however, and we should all spend time in profound sajda of grateful and perpetual thanks if our children are saleh. Surely a more respectable response, from us all - one of constraint, maturity, and unity, one befitting from the followers and lovers of Ahlebeyt (a) - should have followed this unfortunate episode?

Allah knows best.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Elusive Shawaal Crescent – An Earful From Mullah Mchungu

On the eve of the last Friday this past Ramadhan, I sit at HIC for the ritual duas. As in the recent past years, I have, deep in my bones, an inkling of pending disaster. So, I pray, I beseech, I implore Allah to make the last Friday of Ramadhan a day of peace for all Muslims and humanity, that there be no violence in the world. Alas, my prayers are too feeble, my past actions and deeds mired in grave sins, perhaps, for my prayers to be accepted. Two suicide bombers take the lives of 95 people, out and about shopping for Eid in the Shia bazaars of Parachinar, Pakistan; I plummet into desolation and despair. I cannot begin to feel the pain the families and those hurt must be experiencing, not even close.

Next Sunday, at 01:30, Maaha Zainab’s non-Muslim friends call to ask if the Eid crescent is sighted, so they, too, can partake in Zainab’s happiness at HIC. Embarrassed, I say no, it hasn’t. I begin to explain the complexities of this requirement, but give up; I feel my efforts sound hollow, absurd, even to my ears; Zainab is disappointed. At 04:00, I am bleary-eyed with (lack) of sleep and try to convince my reluctant stomach to accept sehri of elchi-less vitumbooas. Ordinarily, I swoop on these and keep the others at home wanting, but the consistent lack of sleep is finally catching up to me; food tastes weird this time of the day.

It’s been a crazy night since Eve yesterday, with the usual tamasha of the crescent (non)sighting. The SMCSC declares Eid early in the day, but closer to Florida, our brethren at IABA in Austin announce the holiday by 23:30, based on confirmed sightings in Brazil and applicable to those in the southern USA. For the followers of the Honorable A. Sistani, I think. Or is it the growing list of other scholars, no less capable, few past and many present? It is so confusing now, no?  Anyway, HIC holds out, while (heated, I am informed) debates ensue between local learned ones and others; some say aye, others say nay, Nasimco says this and that, and the circus plays out. Alhamd’Allah. I only hope IABA is not ignored because the resident aalim there is of a darker complexion?

After a flurry of emails and WA messages about yet another possible sighting, I learn that the hung jury at HIC has finally come to a decision, that the crescent, supposedly sighted somewhere in California is credible news, and it’ll be Eid tomorrow. Zainab is happy, but her friends are snoring and will not be able to share in the gaiety. The vitumbooas sit heavy in my stomach as I prepare for Eid salaat rituals.

Mullah Mchungu's dentures flash their fixed grin close to my face, giving me a terrible fright; my heartbeats take off faster than an SR71 Blackbird. He is lurking among the crowds at the HIC Eid breakfast, where most of us, having fasted for 29 days (lucky us) set upon the served sufro of fiery neehari like starved feral animals. I have not seen or heard from the old geezer for a long time, so meeting him here is a shock, yes, but a pleasant surprise nevertheless.

We go through (mostly false) pleasantries, and I help him navigate the throngs, and we sit inside the baytus salaat where it is comparatively quieter. Surprisingly, he can now walk, leaning on his menacing legendary cane; the wheelchair is for outside battles. I ask him if I can get him some of the neehari.

Aye ghaando, Kisukaali, you expect to destroy my intestines? That junk is for young ones like you, with guts of steel. You want me to have the runs that’ll put me six feet under?

So, I gulp, change the subject, bring him a steaming cup of chai instead and ask about his health and Dar es Sallam.

Oh, never mind my health, Kisukaali, as if you care. Our Magufuli is giving all of us bad gas at home. Everybody is complaining that business is down, down, down. But the restaurant business, from the looks of it, even in Ramadhan, is up, up, up. Full of our Khoja brethren stuffing their mouths, hardening their arteries with mishkaaki and nundu and kuku…

I try to keep my eyes averted from that goofy denture grin, it's disconcerting. The Mullah informs me he is here to spend Eid with his son Ali and his family. He adds that his daughter in Dar es Sallam paid for the airfare, not Ali. I’m not too sure why he adds this bit of information, and I don’t ask; he will get off on a tangent and I am not in the mood for one of his long lectures. This does not stop him, however.

So, Kisukaali, he begins, another Eid fiasco, no…?

I groan audibly, but the guy cares not, glares at me in a fury. He can spring very startling subjects most times, predominantly controversial, on me. I have no desire to have him start on this topic, at least not here, where we can easily get into some serious trouble. This Mullah, however, is as stubborn as an Afghani mule on a mission,

Ghadeera, he fumes, do I have bad breath? Why did you groan? Show some respect, Kisukaali! I am at least twice as old…

As usual, I stay quiet and let the old hen rant. It is best this way, he will have released the built-up stress in him, and I may be able to get some sleep.

Kisukaali, he begins earnestly, I know you are tired of this charade we have every year, so am I and anybody who is endowed with common sense. It is not funny anymore. When will we come together and unite on this very elementary issue? I know many good youths, religious and upright, many in my family, who are getting turned off religion with this annual crescent sighting tamasha. We’ve gone through the silly arguments, every year, and all of them are ridiculous, illogical.

The guy’s tenor has risen, and others in the hall are giving us furtive, curious glances, so I close into the guy, hoping he’ll tone it down. He does. He begins hissing his ire at me.

I argue, again and again, that our ulemas cannot have differing opinions if we believe in the one Allah, the same prophets (s), the same aimaas (s) the same Quraan…it's illogical. Allah has given most of us brains, alhamd’Allah, let us begin using them. Science has given us the ability to predict, with utmost accuracy, the presence of the crescent, let us use it to our benefit. The Quraan says nothing about traveling by airplanes, only animals, and ships. This does not stop us from flying, does it? The crescent is a guidance, to set the months and years, as a general guideline. So, if science can tell us there is or isn’t one out there is not so bad, nai?

The Mullah pauses, gulps down his tea and regards me sardonically, but his dentures are still grinning, so I am not sure if he is happy or mad. He closes his eyes as if spent; I find out he is about to burst a vein soon enough.

Kisukaali, he says and picks up his danda; I tense. Some of us are too dense here, he jabs at his kofia covered bald head, to realize Allah’s given blessings and change for our good. So, we prefer to stick to ancient times because it gives us a false sense of security, while our community is rend asunder and made a mockery of. People go to the moon, while we struggle to sight the crescent from the earth and fight about it.

Mullah Mchungu makes a move to leave, and I sigh in relief; I can go home and snooze. He’s not done yet, however, for he strikes the carpet with his stick in apparent frustration.

The intellectuals among us, who falsely believe they are the only ones that love the Ahlebeyt (a) and therefore have the right to protect us all from hellfire, have the audacity to ask us for patience and fast one more day, that it won’t kill us. That is not the point, idiots! If Allah wants, we can fast for ten more days! Use logic and science that Allah and the Quraan demand from us and make the end a certainty. And they claim that it’s okay to celebrate the one day that unites us and brings us profound joy separately, all in the name of diversity. Fools, I say, bloody fools. Let them know I called them absolute brilliant fools, by God!

He struggles to get up, so I leap to my feet to help, but he glares me off with the fury in his eyes. Unaided, he limps away, hollering at some rampaging kids playing with a ball to get out of his way; they scamper in feigned terror.

I rush home to catch up on my sleep.