Avaes Mohammad

Posts Tagged ‘Family’

India: DHRUB (050709)

In Uncategorized on August 4, 2009 at 6:36 pm

DHRUB

My father was born in Karachi.  He’s Pakistani.  My mother was born in Mombasa.  She’s Kenyan.  I was born in Blackburn and I’m English.  But all three of us speak Kutchi.  This is the language we speak at home and this is what binds us to one another.  Despite our individual cultural differences, when we sit together in one room we have this in common: the Kutchi language and with it, Kutchi humour.  Maybe this is why I feel so comfortable in Kutch, because this one land can hold us all in one place equally.  East Africa is mine and my Mothers.  Pakistan I share with my Father.  But in Kutch all three of us can walk and feel a part of it.

Not far from Mandvi is Mundra, a walled town on the southern coast of this region.  Today it’s a bustling, overcrowded, quite filthy place that has been suddenly jolted into the industrialised world with the building of a major sea port.  Indians from all over the country have rushed to move here in order to milk the cash cow and in the process are bruising it.  Mundra is the town that my paternal ancestors moved to Karachi from.  In 1990 my Uncle showed me which house our ancestors originally lived in, but I wouldn’t be able to remember how to find it now and the town looks so different from then.  Back then Mundra was as sleepy as Mandvi is now.

My father’s side of the family are Turks.  Kutchi Turks.  As if this pot hadn’t enough ingredients already, let me throw in another hard hitting spice to create yet another edge with which to tanatalise tastebuds of cultural cuisine.  Centuries ago, actual centuries, a group of Turks from Central Asia, somewhere around Bukhara in present day Uzbekistan, came to India.  Some people say they came as warriors, others say they came as part of an entourage lead by a Sufi saint today buried in Mundra.  One account tells of this entourage assisting local Kutchi’s in a battle against a community of cannibals.  I’m not sure how they got here and what they did when they arrived, but somehow, whether by conquest or reward, they were allotted a whole village with some of the most fertile land in the whole of Kutch.  Dhrub, a magical oasis of coconut and date palms, banana plants and peacocks lies only a few kilometres away from the dry, dusty plains around Mundra and is still today exclusively the home of Kutchi Turks, the descendents of those original settlers.  In a country where tribe and lineage is still a mark of status and sometimes destiny, these people have attempted to remain ‘pure’ by intermarrying for generations, thus maintaining their centuries old identity as Kutchi Turks.

My father never married a Kutchi Turk.  Out of circumstance rather than choice.  Maybe I’ll share the details later.  As such, I’m ‘impure’.  Strange how I have parents that look similar, have the same language and eat the same food even but yet, I can still be considered a half breed.  Only in India…I hope.

The wedding in Mandvi that took place within the household of my uncles’ friend had taken up a lot of my time but the day before I  left Kutch I was adamant I’d make a trip to Dhrub  and Mundra.  Khaliq came with me and we boarded another Toofan to take us there, crushed like cattle once again.  In India there’s music everywhere, beaming out from temples, shops, homes, trucks, buses and of course people.  The guy I have my right thigh pressed firmly against and whose left elbow is secured against my own ribs is blasting tinny, treble high renditions of bollywood classics through his mobile phione, while singing along with full passion for nobody elses pleasure but his own.  He does this like it’s the most normal thing in the world.  And in India it is, in fact it’s appreciated.  A caravan of camels go by, there’s a road being dug and elaborately dressed and decorated women carry away the rubble on their heads.  Slowly, this deserted, neglected land gives way to the occasional Palm Tree standing tall and then I know we’re close.  We get off and cool down with sweet sugar cane juice a couple of kilometers outside the edge of Mundra.  I was in these parts for the first time in 1990 when I was only 12.  Back then it was nothing here but sand as far as you could see and the occasional tea stall with idle men speaking idly on idle matters.  The port has brought new buildings with shining shops and glass walled offices that reflect the harsh light of the sun and so stand glistening like jewels of imported modernisation.  Dusty jewels alone in the sand.

A rickshaw takes us past the serenity of Rasa Peer’s Shrine, down that straight road from where I saw a snake being chased by a mongoose as a child.

‘Do you want Dhrub the farms or Dhrub the village?’


I didn’t know there was a village.


‘The farms.  Kader Bhai’s farm…the one where his wife lives.’


Kader Bhai was my father’s cousin somehow and died a few years ago.  As a child I had stayed with my family in his grand farm  that mainly grew dates.  Hard, fibrous, sweet dates, yellow and red.  Dhrub dates are famous all over India and get shipped as far as Bombay.  The water here is sweet they say…makes the dates sweet too.  As well as dates though I remember coconut palms, guava and  also fig trees in this magical, shady haven where pink, bright yellow and white flowers blossomed, between which peacocks justify their vanity with dazzling displays of monsoon dancing.  ‘Sange Varee’ the farm was called, except my widowed aunt doesn’t live there anymore and has moved to a smaller adjacent farm since her husbands demise, still with white flowers, figs and palms, though less grand.

We do what I’ve done this entire journey to track down her farm…ask people.  A few near misses later and we find the gates everyone talked about.  A young girl answers our Salaams suspiciously.


Is Emna fui in?  I’ve come from England.

Er…yes.   She’s taking a bath.


We’re given water to wait on the verandah with and it is sweet.  After a second glass of water an old figure hobbles to the front door with a zimmer frame and with a warm demeanour offers her Salaams.

Wa’alikum Salaam.  I’m Avaes.  Shaffi’s son.

She bursts into enthusiastic smiles and approaches me as energetically as her zimmer frame will allow.  As is the custom, I kiss her hand and we sit close to one another.  If I’m honest I never really expected such a warm reception.  I wasn’t sure she’d even know who I was.  I’d only met her as a child when there was no zimmer frame and a tall, enigmatic husband by her side I’m sure contributed to her straighter gait .  Fresh, ripe, luxuriant figs are brought out onto the terrace and we speak endlessly about what it is I do now, my family, Africa and of course the subject of my marriage.

‘We can arrange a nice Kutchi girl.  You’re here anyway.  Do you want to see some?’


Another ‘aunt’, another one of my fathers cousins is at the farm next door.  In her retirement years she chooses to split her time between Dhrub and London.  We arrange to have Lunch with her, on their terrace, amidst their date palms.  As we get out of the car I fail to recognise her, standing aloofly facing us from afar.

‘Say salaam to Ma’, I’m ushered.

As I approach and the face on tall shoulders begins to fit an image in my mind, she cries out

‘Avaes!’

Another old aunt I haven’t seen since childhood that remembers me.

‘Who is it?  Go on…guess!’ Dares Emna Fui.

‘I already did.  I knew as soon as he walked out of the car’, she states proudly.

‘How could you tell?  I couldn’t.’

‘He’s blood.   Of course I can tell.’

Blood.  A symbol of murder, destruction, heinous violence and also closeness, kinship, predestined belonging.  I was raised with the  belief that ‘blood’ was carried through the father’s side.  A child takes the fathers name and is a seed propagating the fruits of his fathers identity and heritage.  The mother a mere vessel, noble enough to forsake her own identity for the sake of this worthy task.  I was young, maybe only 14 when my maternal grandmother told me I could only really be associated with my fathers family, I couldn’t be considered there’s.  That’s simply how things were done.  Fair enough, but I still felt I’d been robbed of my connection to any maternal ancestry.  Maybe that’s part of the reason why I never visited her in hospital before she died.  The professor however, who I met in Mombasa, one of the things he shared with me was this piece of Islamic teaching…’Don’t forget the mother’s side as it is powerful’ he quoted the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, as saying.  On the day of judgement all people will be called by their mother’s name…not their fathers.  When people speak to me of blood I know my blood is cloudy and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Dinner is served, amongst which is Makati Seenya, An East African sweet and airy  fried bread.  Both aunts were Ugandan refugees at the time of Idi Amin and still hold close their memories from there.

‘So how long you staying?’

‘I leave Kutch tomorrow’

‘And you call this visiting us?’

‘I’m going to Khwaja’s shrine in Ajmer.’


Mention of the saint pacifies them a little.

Emna fui asks again.

So what of your marriage?

I’m in no hurry?

No  hurry?  How old are you now?

Thirty.

Thirty!  So what you waiting for now?…Hey!  You haven’t got a white woman have you?

No.  I haven’t got a white woman.

You sure?

Yes!

Good!  Coz they’ll only give you trouble, trust me.  Pick a poor girl…you’ll give her a  better life and there’ll be no trouble either.

After dinner the fella whose farm it actually is shows Khaliq and I around.  With camera in hand I stroll with them, the fella, a local copper, complains about the lack of  rain and how the dates are smaller every year.  There’s a crash.  I look around and can’t believe the fact that a real-life peacock, brazen as day, has just forced its way onto the farm through a hedge.  My jaw is still on the floor by the time I realise I need to take a decent picture but by then this vision of beauty darts straight back out again.

They’re everywhere, the copper says.  No they’re not, I think to myself.  The hard dates we pick off the trees are delicious and for a moment or two I fantasise about my own farm with sweet water running through, date palms, white flowers in bloom and peacocks dancing in monsoon showers.

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We join the old brigade again and this time I sit next to the older, taller aunt, Seru Fui.  You’d never believe what she wants to talk about…

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So what of your marriage?

I’m in no hurry

No hurry!  How old are you now?

He’s thirty and he says there’s no hurry

You’re thirty and you say there’s no hurry!  So what are you waiting for?…hey you don’t have a white woman back there do you?

No.  I don’t have a white woman.

Good!  Coz they’ll only give you trouble…mark my words!

I laugh it off.  That way I’m not disagreeing and offending them,  but neither am I agreeing and appeasing them.

It really is a shame you can’t stay for longer or I’d have taken you to Mundra and showed you where your ancestors used to live.

That would have been great.  Another time I hope.  I really want to be back soon.  Who was it exactly that left though?  from Mundra?  Do you know?

I’m not sure.

What did they do?  Do you know that?

Ships.  They worked on ships.  That’s why they went to Karachi.

The day was running on and we needed to also.  After the hand kissings and well wishes, we say goodbye.  The copper gives us a lift to the edge of the village and on the way remembers someone he thinks I have to meet.  I’m not as bothered as theoretically, the whole village is supposed to be somehow related.  The motorbike carrying three people swerves suddenly to the right.

Look who i’ve brought!

An old man with bottle lensed glasses and stooped back hobbles towards us…

Tell him…explain who you are!

I’m Allayas grandson, Allaya from Kara…

Allaya’s grandson!  What are you doing stood up?…Sit down! Sit down!


The old man rushes inside to call out his wife, after which he sits close to me, eyeing me up and down, looking particularly bemused the point at which he meets my hair.

Do you work in films?

I’m a writer.

Yes.  You look like you work in films.


He relays a whole list of Kutchi Turks in England and doesn’t hold back his disappointment when I admit I’ve never heard of them…supposed members of my paternal clan.  His wife, wrinkled but still young looking, loud and brash, sits with us.


Allaya, your grandfather…what a man!  I was still a girl when he used to come here.  He’d come  a lot…the border was easy back then.  He’d come regularly.  Once he took me back with him, to Karachi.  I said I have no visa though!…he said I wasn’t to worry…on Karachi port he knew everyone!…he took me through like his own child…no passport, no visa.  Nobody asked him anything.  I think he worked there.

He was the labour officer there.  In charge of the coolies.


I find family difficult enough without taking on board  an entire tribe and I still feel uncomfortable with the idea that you have to care and be close to someone purely based upon associations of birth, associations you have no control over.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed this moment and felt glad for visiting these people.  It provided me with a little snippet into the life of my grandfather and in so doing, made me feel closer to a man of whom I have no memories of my own.

India: MITHA RE PA… – WE’RE SWEET… (020709)

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2009 at 7:06 pm

MITHA MAROO

‘Mitha re pa Kutch ja maroo! Maroo re mitha,  Kutch ja maroo’

We’re sweet the people of Kutch!  The people are sweet.  The people of Kutch.

So goes the folk song.  Kutchi pace of life is relaxed.  No hurry to do anything or go anywhere.  Tomorrow is the name of that mythical place where things get done, but wherever tomorrow is, it’s a place far from Kutch.  In the mornings people go about their business of opening shops or going to market, but in this seriously chilled Kutchi town, there’s no urgency man, no urgency at all.  Take for example the day my uncle Khaliq receives a phonecall from a business partner in Bombay:

10am: ‘You need to go to Hyderabad to meet a client.  It has to be you and you have to go this evening.’

[Pause]

‘Let me think about it’

2pm:                 ‘Are you going then?’

I’m thinking about it.

5pm:                 Look…you need to stop faffing!  It has to be you…we can’t trust your guy down there.  Leave this evening.

[Pause]

Okay.  I’m thinking about it.

7pm:                 What’s going on Khaliq?  Aren’t you taking this seriously?

[Pause]

Of course I’m taking it seriously.  I’ve been thinking about it all day.

10pm:               So what have you thought?

Hmmm.  Well…it’s too late now and I’ll have missed the last train, I think I’ll go another time.

Khaliq is around 34 years old and one of the youngest in his household.  He lives in a house with three of his sisters, an older brother, his older brothers’ wife and child, his mother and also an aunt.  The house has two bedrooms and a general kitchen/dining/living area. The space outside is well used, a yard where you can relax, light a stove and cook, hang the washing, keep a cow, catch the breeze… that kind of thing.

I came here for the first time only three years ago, I was taken out of my hotel by Khaliq one morning and I suppose, ‘forcibly abducted’ into their home.  If I’m honest it felt strange to have these ties of kinship imposed upon me, especially ones that were so tenuous, but I was curious.  Many things are different, many things hold differing weight between The West and The East.  One of which is the concept of family and the weight that word holds.  The ‘family’ I have in Mandvi, Kutch, come somewhere from the lineage of one of my great, great, grandfather’s siblings.  I don’t even know which one.  I’m aware that in the ‘West’ this would be considered too far removed to be of any real relevance anymore, bothering to stay in touch may be considered too bothersome but these are exactly the clashes I frequently find myself torn between in this part of the world.  Within such clashes are sometimes my greatest moments of illumination too.   Despite the western cynicism I arrived with, I was very quickly overcome with feelings of humility and also a little shame when faced with their genuine affection and excitement at seeing me, another offshoot of a common ancestor.  A prodigal son again, I only ever received the warmest, sweetest of welcomes from them all.  It felt good to be amongst them once more, the welcome even warmer this time, tinged though with a sadness that hadn’t been before.

The eldest of the brothers, Sultan, had died since my last visit.  He was young still, only in his 40’s.  The subject of his loss still raw and an undeniable void had been left ringing between their walls.  The mother greeted me with a limitless smile on her lips but also glistening eyes that soon shed their load before me.  Sultan and I were fond of each other and he wasn’t here to greet me this time.  When we’d spent time together we were like two excitable little boys, his smile infectious and childlike.  In the evenings he’d sit with me after dinner and pour over me his enthusiasm, generously beaming smiles and laughter towards me.  His wife gave birth to his third son shortly before he died.

I’d arrived only a little while after his little boys’ circumcision and so found him running around the house the whole time exposing himself from the waist down, trying desperately to achieve some relief for his wounded little self.  He’s certainly Sultan’s son, many evenings I’d play my drum, which I bought from Zanzibar, accompanying either Khaliq or Aqil on the santoor, while this excitable little boy danced his naked, shameless self into a laughing frenzy.

The family’s main occupation is the maintenance of a local Sufi shrine, which seems to involve cleaning, praying, lighting incense, organising annual festivals and feeding/housing the needy on occasion.  There’s no fee associated with this for them but they’ve been doing it for generations and that’s reason enough to still be doing it now.  Both Khaliq and his brother Akil work also.  Khaliq is a bit of a wheeler dealer from what I can make out and Akil is a beautifully talented engraver.  He carves signs out of marble and stone for mosques, temples, graves, etc.

They’re a great collection of people and I love being around them.  Khaliq, although I only met him for the first time three years ago, seems much closer than he actually is.  We share so many interests and it’s incredibly easy for me to spend time with him.  He doesn’t talk a lot, he’s not the small talk type. A calm, quiet persona, he loves poetry and will happily spend an evening reciting his favourite verses to me by the lake.  He loves music even more and plays both the Drums and Electric Santoor, though less passionately since the loss of his brother.  He enjoys quiet walks…along the beach, to the lake, or just through that road that takes you to the edge of the town where nobody lives.  Particularly in Khaliq’s company, I feel as though I’m around someone I share something with, even if it is just a love for music, poetry and idle walks.  But these are things I’ve never been able to share with other, closer members of my maternal family.

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The old aunt in the family, Amma Ma, she’s a riotous personality!  She must be in her eighties but still so full of life and fun.  I’d see her taking charge of the shopping in the morning and would often bump into her just strolling, striding around town, rhythmically chewing down some fruit with a hop in her step.  As she enters the house she’ll bounce past me and slap her palm loudly against mine, a mischevious smile in the corner of her mouth.  It was her that told me of my family tree, how all the men in the family had been ‘Miyanjis’ before my grandfather, both in Africa and India…this meant they lead prayers in the mosque and taught children to read the Qur’an.  In return they lived off whatever the community could give them to eat and wear.  She also told me that it was my great, great grandfather, Osman, who originally emigrated from Mandvi to Zanzibar, aboard a ship similar to the ones I’ve seen being built in the shipyard.  Why did he emigrate?  To escape Djinns…

‘They were all Miyanjis, for a long time…Osman’s father Ibrahim, Ibrahim’s father Adam…all Miyanjis.  Djinns!  When your great great grandfather Osman lead prayers, Djinns started to pray behind him…and then they started appearing before him…they wouldn’t let him go…obsessed with him they were.  He couldn’t take it though.  One evening they took him to their own area, on the edge of Mandvi into the jungle, for him to bless one of their newborns…he only realised what they were when he arrived there…in the middle of them all.  He ran back scared out of his wits.  Then he started seeing them everywhere…on the street outside here…everywhere!  So he took a ship…went to Zanzibar to escape them…that’s why he moved to Africa.  That’s how your grandfather and your mother and everyone ended up there.  The Djinn followed him though.’

Djinns.  Creatures mentioned in the Qur’an that live on earth like humans, but are created of smokeless fire.  Usually invisible to the human eye.

‘We’re really glad you visit us you know…if we see each other then we know who our family are…if we don’t see each other then how do we know, isn’t it?  Your great great grandfather, Osman, who went to Zanzibar…he used to come back…to see the family here…then your great grandfather Abdul Razzak…we called him Bwana Kuba here…there they called him Dada Miyanji…he used to come too on the ships…a few times…I saw him as a child…hard man he was…hot temper…he’d bring his wife too…but your grandfather!…he never came….not once!…he was always too busy in Africa with (puts her thumb to her mouth as though drinking from a bottle)…lost in it he was.  And then no-one from his family came for a while.  But we’re glad you’ve come.’

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Kutch is a special place.  Tucked away in a corner, amidst its very unique type of beauty, it still holds all the values my parents had told me about, that I’d grown up with as fables.  I grew up hearing about places where people were warm and relaxed, where smiles were liberally shared commodities and friendships were esteemed, honoured and considered life-long, regardless of race, creed or caste.  These are the stories of East Africa I’d heard from my mother and also about Karachi, which I’d heard from my father.  Tucked away in a deserted corner of India, in a land I can lay some claim to, these values are still very much alive and that reassures and heartens me.  It heartens me because I think such values may be possible within me.  In 2003 when thousands of Muslims were butchered by right-wing Hindus in the neighbouring region of Gujarat, the people of Kutch still went to Dargah together, Hindu and Muslim, they still caught a breeze at the lake together, Hindu and Muslim and they still commemorated Diwali and Moharram together, Hindu and Muslim.  This reassures and heartens me because it shows me it’s possible.

In Mandvi, my typical day was thus.  I’d wake up around 7:45 and rush to the beach by autorickshaw to meet Imran and Baadal.  Imran was my horseriding instructor and Baadal my horse for an hour every morning.  With the wild Arabian Sea hammering huge waves to the side of me, I learnt to ride Baadal up and down Mandvi beach every morning.  I now know how to make a horse walk, trot, gallop, turn and stop.  The first few days were difficult as Baadal resented being told what to do by a stranger, a stubbornness I completely understand, but slowly we connected and soon he felt like a friend.  After horse-riding by the beach, I’d meet Khaliq back home for breakfast.

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So where shall we go this afternoon?

Dargah! (the saints’ shrine my relatives look after).  There’s a good breeze there.  I’ve got a couple of people to see but I can do it from there and you can write.

Later in the day.

Where do we go now?

The lake.  There’s a good breeze there.

Still later in the day.

Where shall we go this evening then?  I’m hungry.

The sea.  The breeze is really good there at this time.


If the days were relaxed and gentle, the evenings were wild and riotous.  I was lucky enough to be there at the time of both a wedding within a family of one of Khaliq’s close friends and also an Urs, an annual celebration of a Sufi Saint from amongst the African community who have been settled in North-Western India, probably as long as Indians have been settled in East Africa.  Both events equated to many late nights filled with singing, dancing, music and in some cases outer body experiences.

India: PANJO KUTCH – OUR KUTCH (200609)

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2009 at 5:35 pm

PANJO KUTCH

It’s a hazy day.  Cloudy.  Overcast, grey and quite cold.  Absolutely perfect!!  Just over 48 hours ago I was in the stifling heat of Lahore, Pakistan, where I remained for a week.  Temperatures were around 46C and by order of the government, electricity is turned off every alternate hour.  they call it Load Shedding.  No fans.  No AC.  Those who can afford Air Conditioning in Pakistani cities abuse it this time of year to the extent that the National Grid simply can’t cope.  Fat, trousered behinds comfortably cooled on leather swivel chairs and padded settees, behinds that can afford their own generators anyway and so ensure an unhampered coolness to waft between their well-pampered buttocks.  While the rest of Pakistan waits in those alternate hours, unable to do anything but sweat.  And wait.  Nevertheless I remained in magnificent Lahore, which I’ll speak about later, for a week.

After a month in the kaleidoscopic whirlwind of sensory overloads that are the cities of Northern India, even Lahore seemed a welcome respite.  Despite my best efforts though, the heat simply didn’t provide favourable writing conditions for an adventuring artiste as I.  I lie a little.  It wasn’t just the heat.  It was also the fact that Lahore, with its outrageous generosity, is an incredibly easy place to make friends and with its splendid beauty is an equally easy place to distract yourself into with them.  And so after a week of fighting several losing battles, I’ve torn myself away into the peace, serenity and absolute magnificence of the Hunza Valley in the Karakoram Range of Mountains, by the Chinese border.  Purely for the sake of my art of course.  It’s a hazy day.  Cloudy.  Grey and quite cold.  Beautiful!  From outside my window are golden brown barren mountains, the clouds have wrapped themselves around the snow covered peaks, as though they haven’t met in a while and demand some ‘us time’.  Forests of fruit trees spray against the mountain base.  It’s cherry and apricot season.  Big, sweet Marks and Spencers type cherries are everywhere and I pick them on demand, no green aisles, no checkout till, no money even…just the best cherries i’ve ever tasted and it’s all part of the legendary hospitality of this misunderstood country.  The Hunza river, confident, strong and eternal roars magnanimously just below me, feeding into the mighty Indus only a few kilometres downstream.   On my journey up here I’d followed the Indus up from the North West Frontier Province region and couldn’t help a deep feeling of admiration towards the river’s sense of purpose.  So forthright, so committed to its objective, so assured in its direction, I was in awe of it.

As well as my passion for mountains however, I’m actually here to catch up on my writing.  India, where I was previous to Pakistan, demands that you look.  That you hear.  That you touch.  That you are touched.  That you speak.  That you’re spoken to.  That you shout.  That you’re shouted at.  That you scream, that you smell, that you taste and that you get out of my fuckin’ way!  Now!!  With the uncompromising petulance of a brat, it demands.  Constantly.  For a month I was victim to these demands.  If writing material is what I was looking for then I simply had too much and it’s only now, over a week after leaving India that I feel I’m able to write more about my time there.  The dust having settled.  I arrived in Bombay and have already shared my incredible introduction into the country.  In Bombay I met with artists, performed my poetry at various venues around the city, hobnobbed with the ‘cultured’ and ‘hip’ middle classes and spent most evenings enjoying the company of Raju and his community of friends on the side streets of Colaba.  Laughing, singing and being sung to but like with most things, especially on this journey, I had to leave.  But I left so i could go somewhere else.  I left so I could make my way towards Kutch.  It’s the base root of this journey in a way.  The region which hosts the language both my parents speak, which also hosts ancestry from both sides of my parents, from where my forefathers and foremothers originally emigrated.

It was Tuesday the second of June I think when I entered the Kutch region of India.  I woke up around 6am from the berth of my train so I could take in as much of the landscape as possible from the window.  The Rann of Kutch in North-Western India is Frontier Land, the last point at which sand can still be attributed to this noble Bharat-Desh and bear the sacredness of Indian identity before it turns into conspiring, terrorist sand of the enemy, Pakistan.  Some sand lies on the edge though.  Some sand is blown in the wind.  But that’s the enemy within sir.  Traitor, problem-sand.

Like the other Wild West, Kutchi land is also arid.  The train strides like a Mancunian through this expanse of scorched desert, markered by barren hills.  Cacti sit with elegance by the side of the road, accompanied by occasional small green bushes and round mud huts, littering this serenity of red earth and dark hills.  Red earth and mud huts like those between Nairobi and Mombasa.  Some farm land is occasionally seen, but not much.  The train finally ends its 16 hour marathon in Bhuj, the capital of Kutch.  From there I was to get down to Mandvi, on the southern coast of this area by the Arabian Sea, the town of my maternal ancestry.  Once more though, coincidences provided me with good company.  In the booth next to mine were a father and son from Mandvi itself, actual friends of the family I still have there.

The train pulls into Bhuj and people collectively ignore the idioms of rail-safety and choose instead to jump on and off train tracks in order to cross platforms.  My Mandvi travelling companions and I begin the day with breakfast…freshly fried ganthia, green chillies, chutney and jalebi.  A cup of tea later and we board an aptly named Toofan, (Storm), the local mode of 4×4 transport to help us cross the deserts and hills into Mandvi.  The same rules of public transport have been following me from Nairobi…get as many in as possible…and then some more.  It’s only an hour long journey to Mandvi and its joyous.  Trains provide a smooth feeling of watching from afar, of aloof linearity, whilst driving embraces the contours of the landscape, sharing its joys when smooth and comfortable and also its pains when steep, rocky or hilly.

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We cross dusty roads, barren landscape at first.  Cacti peer in to see who’s arriving.  Occasional white cows meander.  Red earth glows.  A gentle wind blows and loose earth is displaced around the landscape, without actually changing though.  There’s space.  And in that there’s so much beauty.  Humble but no less profound than any other beauty I’ve been fortunate enough to witness.  There’s not a lot of anything but the sparseness out of the window overwhelms me with peace, security and a strange feeling of understanding.  Like I understand this landscape.  I’m not sure what I understand about it, but I know it.  It looks like the language I speak.  It echoes with the humour my family shares.  It looks like the colour of my parents’ skin, sometimes.  The land is extreme, but it’s soft also. and against this stillness, everything else is just further highlighted.  The ripple of a snake against the roadside, the lines in the man’s face sat next to me, the smiles.  We cross through small towns with buildings painted in pastille shades of blue and pink.  Jain temples with rainbows trapped in their walls.

‘Ha salaam alaikum.  Ker aay?  Khaliq!  We have your relative with us…we should be at the bridge in 15 minutes.’

As we get closer to the coast, green introduces itself onto the canvas too:  Green crops that reflect the light of the sun and that earthy green atop ubiquitous date and coconut palms.  They’ve become ubiquitous for me lately anyway and here they signal the presence of that great contradiction: desert oases.

Fifteen minutes later and we arrive at the bridge.  The other side of it is Khaliq, my ‘uncle’ sat on his scooter, his white shalwar kameez flapping in the cool sea breeze.  I get off the Toofan and Khaliq and I embrace tightly.

‘You look exactly the same’

Except he’d got a bit fatter.

‘So do you’

Except my hairs a lot longer.  Three years ago he came to my hotel room when I was staying in Bhuj on my own.

‘Salaam alaikum.  We’re related.  I’ve come to pick you up’

Or something like that anyway.  He looks well nowadays but also burdened with a new sense of responsibility since his older brother died two years ago.  He loads the scooter with my bags and I look to the left of us to see the great wooden ships they still handbuild here according to centuries old designs.  The same ships I had seen in Mombasa and Zanzibar.

DSC_1095

Zanzibar: SKETCHES OF ZANZIBAR 10-12 (200509)

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2009 at 1:11 pm

[I have very distant family in Zanzibar: A second cousins, stepfathers uncles dog had fleas. One flea, Yaqoob the magnificent, mated with the flea of a horse, despite the social stigma. The horse belonged to the great uncles second wife’s adopted nephew, of the people I met. The following sketches are conversations I had with members of that distant family.]

TRUMPETED

Yaseen: You see that guy just gone? He’s crazy…used to be okay…but he’s total crazy now. You saw right? With no shoes? Before he was in police…you know trumpet?…he played it…really good…in police band! But people get jealous. They don’t like to see other people doing good. They say why him? Why not me? So they did black magic…you know? Now he’s crazy man.

BREAD

Liaquat: The revolution! I was a boy then. Just a boy. But I remember…I remember it. We didn’t even know there was a revolution today. It was Diwali that day…we were getting ready to see fireworks. My uncle said go and buy bread. So I went running to buy bread. A guy stopped me in the street. He said what are you doing outside? Go inside! Go back home! I said no…I have to buy bread. He started shouting louder…said I have to go inside…it wasn’t safe here he said…I said No! I said I came out to buy bread for everyone and that’s what I’m going to do. So he slapped me. Really hard. It really hurt…I was just a boy and he was a man. So I looked around for a stone or something to throw at him…then he started chasing me….and I ran…I ran home. I told my uncle that this man had slapped me so he came out with me to find him. The man told my uncle that today was a revolution. They were going to kill every Arab and Indian they could find. The man told us to hide. We stayed inside for three days.

RECESSIVE DOMINANCE.

Yaseen: They don’t like it that Indian Zanzibari girls won’t marry them because they like Indian Zanzibari girls. There’s not so much intermarriage with Black African Zanzibaris and Indian Zanzibaris. Nowadays it’s mainly between Indian Zanzibaris and Arab Zanzibari’s.

Avaes: Oh. [Beat] What about your sisters’ husband then? He’s Black African Zanzibari?

Yaseen: Huh? No man…he’s Arab.

[Beat]

Avaes: Oh.

Kenya: IN NAIROBI FILLING IN THE BLANKS (260409)

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2009 at 4:04 pm

260409

IN NAIROBI FILLING IN THE BLANKS

The fire from last night is dead. Charred logs that’ll be lit again tonight. In the bar of my Nairobi hostel, Kenyan radio provides the background music as I write. It’s normally really good. Today however, a Kenyan Celine Dion pierces my peace.

On the evening of 23rd April I finally felt better enough to leave my ‘aunts’…well…my mum’s cousin’s. I’m really grateful that I was able to stay with them for as long as it took for…

…a mesmerising bird just landed on the baby palm tree in front of me.Not much bigger than a sparrow, but with a long, copper red tail and lower body and dark indigo blue everything else….

Okay…yeah I left my mum’s cousins home. I was there till I got better from the fever I had. And that was great. Ultimately though people, no matter how much ‘family love’ family members you haven’t met before show you, sometimes…it’s best taken with a pinch of sweet salt. The intention should always be enjoyed I reckon. And I do. The declarations of unbridled care and love just shouldn’t always be totally expected. And I don’t. I waited till the early evening on the 23rd before I left. I just wanted to wait for Suhayl, their 16 year old son to come back from school so I could say goodbye to him. A die-hard Manchester United fan (like everyone here), he was my guide and companion for the past two weeks and I’ve become really fond of him. He arrived and I picked up my bags. Suhayl walked me to the taxi, ensuring I got in okay and that the taxi driver miss-called him to let him know I arrived at the hostel. I want to get him a Manchester United shirt when I return to England but hate United…oh what to do, what to do!!

Suhayl on the look out for marauding Arabs at Fort Jesus, Mombasa.

Suhayl on the look out for marauding Arabs at Fort Jesus, Mombasa.

290409

Hostel Afternoon

Hostel Afternoon


The hostel’s perfect. I have my own room… a wooden shack/hut thing with a double bed, mosquito net and a lamp. The showers and general facilities are all communal. A great outdoor restaurant/bar area where we party away the evenings with music, singing, jokes and hardy, possibly tall tales of crossing treacherous roads into Ethiopia, being chased by Lions in Mozambique, Aid projects that never see the money and travellers bribing their way through the continent. All evenings are like a United Nations youth convention. There are American travellers, A Canadian Aid worker, A Norwegian backpacker, An Afrikaans businessman who’s really just a drunk…a very pleasant drunk, A Peruvian Conflict Resolution worker, a stunningly beautiful Danish Environmental Scientist and Me. An Englishman. Maybe one day I’ll be able to say/write that without pausing. Maybe not. English, from around Manchester…Can’t stand United…Can’t stand English football full stop, thank you very much mate. And I’m here discovering my cultural heritage. I’m a writer. It’s quite the sexy persona I have. Nearly everyone I’ve met is a closet writer, dancer or musician and the fact I got this gig is giving me loads of Kudos…I may need a bigger backpack to carry it all in.

Anyway…now that I’ve developed this reputation it means I actually gotta write. Coz that’s what writers do apparently. And I’m behind…so before I go on about the time I’m having in Nairobi, I wanna go back a couple of weeks and talk about Mombasa.

I was there between the 8th and 15th of April. Seems a bit distant now but I wanna get it down before it’s gone. I travelled there on the bus with my mum in the seat in front of me and Suhayl right at the front of the bus. As we drove in I was enjoying watching the focused, sombre expressions on my Mum’s face. This evening was the first time she was entering the city again since leaving it 37 years ago when she was around 20 years old. It was only a few days ago in Nairobi that she disclosed the reason for her prolonged absence. In those 37 years countless family members and friends had revisited Mombasa from England, all coming back with stories of how the city had changed. The stories scared her. She remembers an idyllic Mombasa, laced with nostalgia and the type of magical charm which legends like Arabian Nights are made of. She remembers a warm, friendly, sophisticated people. She remembers being able to play by the sea. She remembers doors being left open. She remembers a love between people that race and religion always remained second to. She remembers handsome, well groomed, elderly gentlemen making their way elegantly to and from the mosques. Stopping to share stories over Kahawa (local coffee). I think most of all however, she remembers her father. Where he worked. Where his friends lived. Where he hung out. Where he stopped to share stories over Kahawa. Each of these memories, each of these streets are precious to her and she’d just rather not visit a Mombasa that to her, betrayed itself.

‘Where is this? Excuse me…where are we? Which area is this? Excuse me…’

Mombasa had grown while she’d been away. The suburbs that used to be a collection of shacks are now like small towns. She actually looks worried. Then we cross a bridge, go through a roundabout with a Shell petrol pump by it and she sits more comfortably. Glued to the window.

‘Is this Mombasa then Mum?’

‘Haa. We’re here’

‘Has it changed?’

‘No. No it hasn’t.’

She’s surprised at all the cars, but points out Gulshan Restaurant that stands where it always did. Still there. She points out the mosques. The shops. The cinemas. Still there. People dress the same way, mostly. Walk the same way. The streets are still clean. It’s all still there. The bus pulls into the stop. ‘This is the same bus stop we left Mombasa from in 1972’. Life’s poetic. It just is.

I get off the bus to get our luggage. After I finish battling with a crowd of hyper-keen taxi drivers and manage to pick up our bags, I turn around to see Mum walking towards a tuk-tuk (auto-rickshaw) behind a small framed elderly fella, dressed quite dapper for his age in a polo shirt and trousers and a well maintained full head of hair. That must be him. I’ve heard stories about him. His miserly reputation is famed all the way in England. Husseini Mama. My mothers uncle. My late Grandmothers’ baby brother. The closest member of my mother’s family still in Mombasa.

I climb into the tuk-tuk after his skinny arms rip my back-pack from me and load it onto the vehicle. We haven’t even said hello yet. In my family, the tradition is for me to kiss the hand of elders. But the moment seems gone now. So I sit uncomfortably with my rudeness.

‘This is Old Town’

We enter a latticed network of twisted alleys, with peering balconies and old tall buildings so close on either side that they almost kiss each other. The architecture could be Portugese, could be Arab, could be Indian. We stop outside a kiosk where an old man is sat watching the night. Husseini argues with the tuk-tuk driver about payment and we take our bags. He runs after us down the dark alley as Suhayl and I carry the bags. The old fella takes my Mum’s 20 tonne suitcase from me and starts carrying it up the two flights of stairs. After the first his tiredness outweighs his sense of duty and I take the bag.

‘Mum I’m gonna go for a walk with Suhayl. Just to chill for a bit’

‘I’m coming’

She’d just seen a rat in the flat and was on edge.

My quiet walk turns into no fewer than a party of ten out on an evening stroll. It’s like my mum hasn’t been away. She just strides into it. It’s all exactly where it all was. We walk past Island Dishes, up the hill and left towards Fort Jesus, built by the Portugese to guard their Mombasa from aspirations the Arabs had for it. The ocean is just the other side of the Fort. We’re about to walk down an alley but Mum won’t let us. Her Mother had an encounter down that same alley once. With a spirit that consequently never left her. For me it’s like history unfolding inside a picture. The stories I’ve heard growing up were being reuttered in their original locations. We take another route and walk under ornate balconies and beautifully detailed wooden Arab doors. Old Town is gorgeous.

In Old Town

In Old Town

The next few days in Mombasa are riotous. Non-stop full adrenaline! Walking the streets. Seeing towns outside Mombasa. Going to restaurants. Visting family members. Visting my grandfathers friends. Visting my grandfathers friends children. Visiting strangers. Visting towns outside Mombasa. Visiting the ocean. The beaches. The Sea air. Of all the visting, two trips stick in mind. Makinapir and one of My Mum’s old houses:

Makinapir. An hour back up the Nairobi-Mombasa highway. A Sufi shrine with a railway track running alongside the mausoleum. Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and local Africans of the various tribes attend this shrine. The mausoleum is built in typical South Asian style. It houses the body of a Sufi Saint who arrived in Kenya in the early twentieth century to build railways, alongside my ancestors on my Maternal Grandmothers side. The same railways that serve Kenya today. None of my family here have ever been on a train. Maybe they consider it sacrilege? The story of the saint at Makinapir, as narrated to me by the caretaker of the mausoleum is this…….. The British had all these Indians building railways in East Africa. This dude was one of them. He’d arrived from a part of India that today is in Pakistan. The guy was quite old. His job was carrying some stuff, rocks or something, in a basket on his head to the line. One hot afternoon, he was tired. So he sat. The British officer fella didn’t like this. ‘Get to work old man!’, he said. And so Old Man got to work. But as he walked, the basket hovered above his head. Almost like out of pity for him. Coz he was such a nice dude and so in touch with God and Creation and all that, that he developed a special relationship with everything around him. And the basket itself is like, ‘Dude! You’re tired man! I’ll lift myself thank you very much!’. The fellow workers saw this and having heard stories of holy types all their lives understood that Old Man was also a Holy Type. ‘Holy Type Dude!’ , they said. We’ll carry your rocks from now on. ‘Nah fellow dudes’. He said. ‘We’ll all do our own share’. And so they did. But the secret was out. He was special. So everyone started going to Old Man with their problems. The greatest of which was Lions. Some railway builders were being eaten by them. So one evening Old Man walks over to an approaching Lion and, well, talks to it. Face to face. Man to Lion. ‘Please stop eating us Lion dude!’. Or something like that. And it worked. The Lions stopped attacking the railway builders in that area. Before Old Man died, he asked to be buried wherever he died. A railway track sits directly alongside the mausoleum. I’m guessing he died working. His colleagues did bury him according to his request but also built him a mausoleum as is the custom for Holy Types. They say that after it was built and before there was an official caretaker, Lion footprints would be found around the mausoleum some mornings. Apparently, they’d come in the night and sweep up the place with their tails, you know, tidy the place up a bit. Then get off. They were fond of Holy Type Dude too you see.

I loved spending the afternoon at Makinapir. I loved this story. I loved how recent it was. I loved seeing the people who came to offer prayers and just take in the atmosphere. Literally people of all colours (even white) and all religions. I thought it was cute that a hot young woman arrived in her little hot pants and quickly whipped round a sarong before stepping inside the mausoleum. Few places in the world are as inclusive unfortunately. Thursday evenings they have prayers that are offered in song with drumming accompaniment. I’m really disappointed I never got to go on a Thursday evening. But it’s a special place and I hope to be back. Hopefully one Thursday evening.

Mum’s Old House.

Me Ma's Old 'ouse

Me Ma's Old 'ouse

One morning my mother’s uncle Husseini, his lovely wife Sakina, Suhayl, my Mother and I, walk through Old Town to visit the houses Mum used to live in. We walk through the alleys with people shouting as they sell fruit, coconuts, bhajiyas and spiced coffee (Kahawa). I filmed this morning. Like a proper tourist. Hair tied back, donning Ray Bans, and walking behind my mum with a camcorder as she paused. ‘The Halwa-wallah’s still here… Your aunt Baby (that’s what we call her) was born here…Your grandfather prayed in this mosque…We’d get sweets for free from here. My grandfather had told the owner to give us whatever we wanted whenever we liked.’

We walk past Yusra Clothes Shop on the right and I think of a friend in England.

‘See where that old man is sat. We used to live there.’

We walk in. It’s also a clothes shop now. My mother explains to the attendent that she used to live here about 40ish years ago.

Mum's old front room

Mum's old front room

‘Yes? So this is history!’

She cries. The shop was their front-room come bedroom. Twelve of them. Its not a big shop.

‘There used to be a small kitchen and bathroom at the back?’

‘Yes Yes! Still is, Still is’

Like a secret vault, he pulls at a panel that’s actually a door at the back of the shop. We walk through and she cries a bit more at seeing the small rooms that were her small kitchen and bathroom. She walks out. I’m still filming.

‘We were happy here.’

The Album Shot (outside another of my mum's old homes)

The Album Shot (outside another of me ma's old homes)


Husseini.

Husseini

Husseini

Before I leave this Mombasa section I’ve got to talk about my mothers uncle Husseini. I really like him. He’s such a contacurous old git. Just the same as that old git from The Royle Family. I like his contacurousness because it reminds me of my Nan. His sister. He thinks everyone in his family is against him, that no-one respects him and more importantly, he’s adamant in his belief that he knows best. His wife is blatantly the boss. He knows it and this really irks at him. He still works as an electrician. One evening we were all going for dinner and he refused to join. He said his wife didn’t want him to come.

Mum [to her aunt]: Are you coming for dinner?

Aunt: Yes. [to her husband] Are you coming?

Husseini: No.

Mum: Why?

Husseini: Because my wife doesn’t want me to come. Didn’t you just hear her? I’ll just have to eat here tonight I suppose. I’ll just eat what my wife has cooked.

Ridiculous. But funny. One evening we’re at another Uncles. Husseini doesn’t shut up. He can’t. He talks incessantly. Fortunately he’s good humoured enough to be confronted about it.

Sakina (wife): [in Kutchi] You talk too much

Husseini (husdband): [in Kutchi] No I don’t. [in English] I am know everything. I am know more than you!

It’s strange that I love his weird ways. These were the same weird ways I disliked in my Nan towards the end of her life and avoided her a little on account of them. And now that she’s dead, I’ve travelled to Mombasa to sit in the company of her brother just to be reminded of those very same weird ways.

The evening when Husseini doesn’t come for dinner, we discuss these ways. The conversation going round is that old men who feel they need to be in control can only be bitter. They’re old and can’t be in control anymore. They should accept that. Women control the home better. Men that fight this can only lose and so have no option but to become bitter. I agree and hope I remember this when I’m old.

Kenya: DON’T ASK…IT’S A SOUTH ASIAN THING! (210409)

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2009 at 12:55 pm

210409

DON’T ASK…IT’S A SOUTH ASIAN THING!

Apologies to all who will have been worried about me the past week or so.

I’ve been recovering from a fever that I developed last Tuesday, 14th of April. Only today have I felt able to walk a respectable distance in a relatively straight line. The debilitating, sharp pain in my head feels on its way out too, thank God. My temperature seems more stable and I’m grateful, so very grateful for the fact I can write again. After a few pathetic attempts, I was actually afraid I might not be able to. Blessings abide!

I was at the coast in a town called Mtwapa, around 50 km from Mombasa, with my mother and her ‘friend’ (a woman she’d never met before who she insisted we visit and stay a night with…don’t ask…it’s the South Asian way!). We woke up on the morning of Tuesday, 14th April at my Mum’s ‘friends’ house in Mtwapa. Neither my mother or I had actually slept. Our room was facing onto the main road so traffic kept us awake along with Mosquitoes getting their belly’s worth through the mosquito nets. The following morning I was already knackered without the day having begun.

Since arriving in Mombasa my mother had been like a child. Excited, exuberant, excusably selfish. Every minute of everyday it seemed we were travelling. In, out and around Mombasa. Travelling to family members, places, her old homes, restaurants. It was intense and most of it was fun at first. I was fast becoming tired though. The heat of Mombasa, to put it bluntly, ain’t to be fucked with. I don’t know what the temperature was but it’s the first time I’ve had to have my hair in a ponytail to prevent my black locks from scalding the back of my neck. Travelling any distance at all around here isn’t easy. Full stop. Most of the roads are fine. But undoubtedly there’ll be a significant part of the journey where the road will be nothing but a random arrangement of protruding rocks, boulders and ditches that look as though someone’s just taken a huge bite out of where there once should have been road. All held together by dust. When sat in the back of a bare pick-up truck, a 4×4 that had the seats welded in only the night before or when sharing the front seat of a car with a 10 year old who’s still to learn the gentle art of sitting the fuck still, all for hours on end, these journeys are akin to a physical beating.

Point being, we arrived in Mombasa the evening of Wednesday, 8th April. By the 14th, I needed just one day off. Just one day to do my own thing at my own pace. No vehicles. Just wander. And then join my Mum again on her ratty race. I told her this on the 13th. That I don’t know these people she wants us to stay with, they’re not even related and I wanna rest. She was having none of it in a very polite way. Telling me it’d be rude to cancel now (they were on their way to pick us up), I wouldn’t fall ill and then packed our stuff like there was no problem. Admittedly I should have piped up earlier, but things were happening so quickly it was only when these strangers/friends called to say they were round the corner, I realised I couldn’t carry on. Too late anyway. I ended up spending most of the rest of the day competing for arse-space with that annoying 10 year old.

So we’re in Mtwapa the morning of the 14th. Over breakfast my Mum and I discuss the mosquitoes of the previous night. I feel like maybe it’s the longest conversation we’ve had this trip together. Just the two of us. It’s 8 o’clock. We get picked up for Mombasa at two. ‘Let’s go out’, she suggests. ’Somewhere around here just. We’ll go beach or something’. The beach is never too far away and they’re idyllic here. Silver sands, crystal blue warm waters. Palm trees…shall I stop? Fine. Let’s go to the beach.

My mother, her friend and I walk out.

‘Mum where we going then?’

‘Malindi’

‘You what! How?’

‘In a Matatu…it’s only an hour away…aunty said’

Can’t believe it! Feel like I’ve been hoodwinked by my own mother…there’s no trusting anyone in these dark times. Another gruelling journey in the cruellest of all the transport modes. A Matatu isn’t big enough to be a van or a minibus. It’s not small enough to be an estate car. It has 13 cramped seats including the driver. But that’s not to say it’ll stop picking people up after 13. It’s uncomfortable and heated. Of course for some it’s a charming display of African vitality and self-reliance, with great local music blaring through striking, individually painted vehicles. For me this morning, on a journey I know will not take an hour, it’s a cruel pain. Nearly two long hours later, we arrive. And I’m dehydrated. I make my Mum and her friend promise that we’ll get a taxi on the return journey. I’ll pay.

We go to the beach and it’s beautiful. Fishermen are bringing in huge catches and I jump into the warm sea. As I walk out again a bitter cold wind wraps around me. We leave the beach soon after to visit a shop famed for it’s Halwa. An Indian sweet. They’re made fresh before you and come in 500 gram packets. My Mum buys 10 kilos. Don’t ask…a South Asian thing!

As we’re about to leave, my Mum’s new friend whispers to her how expensive the taxi will be. Around thirty or fourty pounds. It is quite expensive but I really feel I need it. Convinced by her friend though, we take a shuttle bus. ‘They’re big and comfortable like a Nairobi to Mombasa coach’, she says. They’re not. How surprising. It’s just another Matatu. Except it doesn’t stop anywhere. The windows in these things are strange. They’re at face-level. If you open them, the driver’s travelling so fast that you feel your face will soon rip off. So mine, along with everyone else’s was shut, unwittingly creating a greenhouse to the early afternoon sun. As the journey progressed, I became increasingly uncomfortable, increasingly heated and increasingly irate. All the while wishing I was in that taxi, this was the biggest test of my pact: that I wasn’t to argue with my mum. And so I didn’t. Instead all my frustrations towards her bubbled inside. It wasn’t her selfishness of putting her adhoc schedule before my well being, it was having the wishes of people we really didn’t know that well put before my health and well being that was beginning to really grate on me. I remained quiet. And as it boiled inside me it no doubt contributed to the heat boiling in my head.

We stepped out of the Matatu in Mtwapa. I stepped out and nearly fell. I had to be held a while as I made my way inside. And then I fell. Unable to talk. Unable to move. My head a pulsating ball of heat. On the verge of tears I begged my Mum now for us to go back to Mombasa. In a car.

My fever had arrived with a temperature of almost 40 Celsius. The following day in Mombasa I went to the doctor. They took blood tests, injected my arse with Paracetomol (I still prefer the two tablets with water after meals method) and gave me a cocktail of medicines. Later that day I broke out in sweats which made me feel better enough to travel back to Nairobi with my Mum. It’s cooler in Nairobi. My temperature dropped first, to return again on occasional mornings. The weakness and severe headache drifted slowly, day by day. Only yesterday was the main milestone reached. My aunt who I’ve been staying with since I arrived back in Nairobi took me to a spiritual healer. She diagnosed me as ‘not being at peace’ and I’ve begun a three day course of treatment with her. It involves her praying on me whilst holding her hand on my head and then my heart. It’s had the most dramatic impact on my feeling better. I’m starting to feel confident again that I can do this journey. Even on these roads. Just not the whole while in a Matatu!

My Mum left for England on Saturday the 18th. She had a great time and I’m glad she did. I’m glad I could have had some part in it. I’m also glad I can be on my own soon. I hope tomorrow or the day after I’ll be strong enough to check into a hotel and start seeing Kenya through my own eyes. Just for a week or two before I leave for Zanzibar.

Kenya: KARIBU SANA (070409)

In Uncategorized on April 9, 2009 at 4:19 pm

070409 KARIBU SANA

Taxi Driver [while shaking his head]:

Ve-Ve Ve-Ve Ve-Ve Ve!!

[stopping to look at my mum and I with a look of sculpted shock]

Thirty Se-ven Years!

[Solemn pause, maintaining the look of shock and complete lack of understanding]

Ve-Ve Ve-Ve Ve-Ve Ve!!!

[Beat]

Zamaani Mama Zamaani (An age madam…an age!) .

From passport officials to taxi drivers and waiters. A sweet shock, and warm, genuine welcome. Karibu Mama! Karibu Sana!! Welcome Madam…Welcome Very Much! Its quite the prodigal son treatment for my mum, the Kenyan daughter. And its lovely for me to see. To see all manner of people welcome my mother back so warmly and at the same time to see my mother beaming and embrassed simulatenously with all the joy she feels. Embarrassed that she ever doubted her welcome.

Mum’s family we’ve met in Nairobi have already been so loving and genuinely warm towards us both. They’re a great laugh and me ma’s on top form…she’s like a teenager! Giggling, joking and the life of the party! We were picked up at the airport by a cousin of hers she’d never known before. Or maybe the cousin was just too young a child when my mother left. She’s called Naseem. ‘Naseem Aunty’ and her husband collected us from the airport and we’ve been staying with them and their two lovely teenage sons. It’s strange to assume a relationship with strangers based upon family ties. But with this family it’s also very easy. They genuinely seem glad to meet and welcome us and for us all I suppose, it’s an opportunity to develop a new relationship. We’ve got on so well, we’ve invited them to accompany us in Mombasa. We’re leaving for Mombasa tomorrow.

It rained as we left Nairobi airport so we’re considered exceptionally lucky visitors. People have been praying for water here for a while now. There’s a real shortage and in the poor areas there simply isn’t any.

Nairobi’s amazing. Very beautiful. The flora and fauna are breathtaking. There’s a pomegranate tree at the back of my aunts flat. An avocado tree at the front and a mango tree as you enter from the gate. All manner of trees, plants and flowers I hadn’t seen before decorate even side of the roads. Plants and flowers like from the greenhouse of Kew Gardens.

But there really is so much to just take in now. Slowly does it. Rough, rocky road surfaces (some not all), traffic that seem to actually want to kill you, debilitating heat, pollution…having spent time in Indian/Pakistani cities, it feels a little familiar. There’s genuine fear about crime…having spent an afternoon in Liverpool once, I feel strangely familiar with this notion too.

There is a noticeable divide in social lines that’s based upon race here. There is a rising black African middle class, all state officials seem to be black Africans, but so do the servants that are employed by members of my mum’s family to come clean their homes every morning. I’m told it’s not just black people but some Asians do it too. Whoever’s poor enough to want to do the work.

There’s a lot for me to take in about Kenya.

What I’m especially loving is the food. There’s a unique cuisine here that’s a blend of African and Indian food. We’d have it as quite a special event as I was growing up….I’m loving having it all around me…Mogo (deep fried cassava chips…served with tamarind sauce, or chilli and lime), Keema Chapatti (like a keema and egg pastie), and my favourite, Hamri Baraazi (doughy deep fried sweet bread type thing, with beans cooked in coconut…divine!)…the food is better in Mombasa apparently…bring it on!!!

The 11th Hour

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Ladies and Gents,

Hello, welcome and thank you for visting my Blog! This entry firmly pops my blogging cherry. I feel a momentous moment coming on…ooh and it just left again!

I’m a writer (amongst other things)…i write poems, plays, essays, reports…i’ve even written a thesis. Gotta say though…this Blog thing feels really weird…I feel like i’m being watched!

Nine hours and i’ll be flying to Nairobi. Sounds crazy, eh?!

For those who don’t know, i’m about to begin a journey that traces countries of my recent cultural heritage. I’m really quite lucky in that these cultures, these countries are a really exciting and diverse combination. My mother you see was born in Kenya in 1952. Mombasa. Her father moved there from Zanzibar. Her mother, my Nani, was already born and resident in Mombasa.

My father was born in Pakistan in 1948. Karachi. When Pakistan itself was just about a year old. His family had been settled there for generations.

All strands of my family however had originally moved to these places, Karachi, Zanzibar and Mombasa, from the Kutch region in India.

So there you have it…the countries i’ll be travelling over the following months will be Kenya, Zanzibar, India and Pakistan. The lands that collectively form my roots and contribute to my cultural heritage.

And in nearly eight hours now, i fly to Nairobi, capital of Kenya, from Heathrow, in the capital of my home country, England. What’s really exciting though is that I travel to Kenya with my mother. She hasn’t returned to Kenya since the year she left for England: 1971. She was about 19 then.

I’m really excited for so many reasons. You can imagine i’m sure…but to begin this journey with my mother…that excites me the most for now. To take her back to her home country after nearly fourty years…yeah its exciting. Its her birthday too.

I want to be shown Kenya, Mombasa especially through her eyes. As i write the following my fingers stutter…My African Identity…i’m looking forward to discovering this!

I’m making a pact that i want to share out here…while you’re watching…i don’t wanna argue with my mum…not once!…she’s with me for two weeks then returns…we used to argue when i was a teenager, that was the last time i really lived with her and I know how sometimes with family it can be easy to slip into old patterns…But i’m committed to trying all i can.

Thank you to those who are reading this…my second pact is that i will be as honest as is safe and possible to be while I keep this Blog updated…if you’re gonna take the time to read this…then that’s least i can do.

I’ll upload pictures and video too…but for now…i must sleep…a little.

Speak next from Kenya…