Avaes Mohammad

Posts Tagged ‘Sufi’


In Uncategorized on October 15, 2009 at 12:59 am

Its strange how stuff ‘just happens’ sometimes.  Stuff you might imagine would demand arduous efforts, involving long periods of intensive, gruelling research, testing expeditions even or at least concentrated flickering through towering piles of dusty, light-bleached books. But sometimes?  Sometimes it just happens.  It’s given.  On a plate.  A gift.

To discover my cultural heritage!  That’s why I set out on this wondrous journey.  To discover parts of me I feel are scattered over the face of this globe.  To collect those fragments and see whether they can actually be put together, not unlike a jigsaw.  Hoping the final image, in its completion, will serve as a mirror that truly reflects.  But I’ve also been using this opportunity to steadily explore another very particular and heart-felt passion of mine: Music.  To be specific, Sufi Music:  The music played across the world by a sect, or more simply, a group of Muslims who might sometimes identify themselves as Sufi’s.  Wikipedia, that omniscient lighthouse of all truth, defines Sufism as “a science through which one can know how to travel into the presence of the Divine, purify one’s inner self from filth, and beautify it with a variety of praiseworthy traits.”  I associate it with a type of Muslim that’s quite chilled out in the way he/she lives their life.  Someone with manners, who’s caring towards people they know and people they don’t, someone with a sense of humour, who isn’t afraid to smile and I suppose most importantly someone who’s unashamedly in love with God/The Divine and for whom that relationship of Love is real, tangible, human.  For some Sufis this feeling is so powerful it demands expression.  Some paint, some write poetry and some express their love through music.  Sufi Music.

My family aren’t Sufis.  At least not formally.  No-one whirls uncontrollably as a matter of routine.  No-one goes to a ‘special centre’ to do ‘special things’ but I have been raised in a family who respect and have befriended Sufis and their philosophies.  It was a Sufi Saint who facilitated the marriage between my parents and named me before I was born, thereby predicting my gender.  My father was born in Karachi, he’s Pakistani.  My mother was born in Mombasa, she’s Kenyan.  Nevertheless, one of the things they do have in common is their innate love for this music that elevates them both into mini-states of ecstasy and transcendence that all at once makes you feel you’re standing in the shadow of the Divine.  There’s no mysterious ritual to it.  You just have to turn it on, press play, and I see them both lifted upon winds of bliss.  I know because either by nature or nurture, I’ve inherited this too and understand the significance of the shutting of their eyes, the swaying of their heads, their gentle, syrupy cries.  Simply by pressing play.

Nevertheless, even though the effect might the same, the forms of Sufi music both my parents bring with them are different.  My father, being South Asian, brought Qawwali to our home.  Ecstatic Sufi poetry sung, screamed, sometimes shrieked in uncontrolled moments of passion, over cyclical hypnotic bass-heavy beats that drive through to your inner most core.  And resonate.  The style of Qawwali my father listens to is wild, unhinged.

My mother brought with her the East African tradition of Mawlid.  Choral singing from rows upon rows of voices with piercing melodies so beautiful they converse with stars.  In unison they sing the greatness of God and his Prophet Mohammad, accompanied by simple yet intense rhythms played from the Persian Frame Drum, the Douf.
Qawwali is to be watched as much as heard and some of my earliest memories involve my father bringing home the latest VHS’s of Sabri Brothers and Aziz Mian for us all to watch and hear together.  My mother and her East African friends would come together at certain times of the year to transform a terraced back room into a Mawlid Hall and amongst the smoke of Frankincense, emit their songs of praise.  A woman would walk between us all, spraying rose water.  Angels, I was told, like sweet smells and no doubt, angels would have been amongst us, listening.  Using music to feel God was a very normal part of our family’s living.

The point here being that the same tradition of Sufi Music existed for me in two distinct forms from childhood.  Each one coloured by where it had come from.  Deep Pakistani red with dusty brown overtures and luscious, wet Kenyan green.  Yet they both had exactly the same effect.  Their core was the same, they both lifted and fed our hearts while still remaining wonderfully independent: each upholding the peculiarities of it’s own distinct beauty.  How much has Sufi Music been altered and affected by the culture it’s exposed to?  This has remained a constant question for me while on this journey.  And so far privately from this Blog, I have walked through dark labyrinthed alleys and even desolate ‘jungles’ to find my answers.  Slowly I’ll unpeel all my discoveries.  I begin though with the following fortuitous discovery presented to me in Kutch.

‘There are Africans in India!  They’ve been there for generations!!  When I saw them I was amazed.  They look exactly like they’re from here.  Zanzibari!  I’m sure they were all Zanzibari.  But they speak the language and dress like the Indians there.  Still  though, they’ve kept parts of their African culture.  They have this incredible Goma, this drumming and singing and dancing.  They’re mostly Muslim you see. They perform Goma during anniversaries of their Saints.  It’s not Indian.  You see it and its African.  It’s just African.  The way they move, the music, the drumming.  It’s something they’ve kept.  They’ve come here you know, We’ve seen them.  They came here to Zanzibar to perform Goma, but I would love to see them in India.  I never have!  I don’t now where they are.   I’d love to but I don’t know where they are.’

Farouq my Zanzibari friend told me of this supposedly elusive people of African origin in India.  The Sidis.  But in fact Sidis have been following me around for quite some time now, since before the beginning of my journey.  Around three years ago a musician friend of mine discovered their presence in India from the internet.  He was keen to visit them and study their rhythms at the time in an attempt to gauge the Indian-African hybridity of their art.  When I arrived in Nairobi in April this year, Zarina and Zahir, editors of the magazine ‘Awaaz’ which represents Indian Kenyans, showed me an article highlighting the Sidi community in India.  I’ve been to South Asia before and I remember seeing Sidis in Karachi, where they seemed relatively integrated into Pakistani society.  So I already knew people of African descent lived in South Asia but the Goma Farouq spoke about in Zanzibar intrigued me:  Even if only as an example of a people who have lived in a ‘foreign’ land for generations, having seemingly adopted all the customs and culture of that land but have still maintained aspects of their original culture.  It fascinated me.  And as this journey progressed from Kenya, to Zanzibar and then to India, one day, as I was sat quietly in the front yard of my distant family in Mandvi, Kutch, my uncle Khaliq nonchalantly utters…

‘The Sidis are starting their Goma tonight.  We should go.  You’ll like it!’



‘The Sidis.  It’s an Urs (annual festival) celebrating one of their saints.  They’ll be performing their Goma.  Goes on for three nights all through the night.  Fancy it?’

‘er…yeah.  Okay then.’

‘Okay.  Starts late.  We’ll leave tonight.  It’s only down the road.  Charge your camera.’


Simple as that.  An encounter that could have taken arduous research and testing expeditions, just happened.  Was just given to me in the style that so much has been on this journey:  A gift.

Khaliq is out.  It’s eleven and I’m agitated.  The English in me can’t actually cope very well with the etheral quality time has in Kutch.  Khaliq comes back.

‘Are we going?’

‘Er, yeah.  We’ll just have tea.’

‘Won’t we miss it?’

‘These things are on till dawn.  Relax!’

A lesson in relaxation later and with bellies warmed by hot tea, I straddle the back of Khaliq’s scooter and we snake our way through blackened alleys that are controlled by a whole different species at night.

There’s an absurd timeshare agreement on these alleys.  By day they’re governed, unarguably, by humans.  All other species are well aware of this.  Cattle move aside while the two legged ones full of purpose stride exuding ownership over these crooked pathways.  Too narrow to fly through, birds even fly safely out of range, the odd crow only perched on the edge of a building roof, humbly peering.  Mounds of litter gather at the alley edges so even insects are well out of the way.  They leave us alone and we leave them alone. Generally.  Except of course for dogs.  Herds of stray dogs.  An infestation of them, mainly of once-upon-a-time good labrador stock.  Very good stock in fact…imperial even.  These packs of now rabid mutts, it is believed, are direct descendents of those personal pets kept by the British when they ruled over and lived in India.  Once India won her independence and the British began to leave, most of them left behind their pets, knowing they wouldn’t have survived the months-long journey over sea.  And so they’ve remained: the last symbol of the Raj:  Golden-haired, rabid and mangy.  Of one-upon-a-time good stock. The English culture of loving dogs doesn’t really exist in India.  The dogs here, chased, spat upon and thrown stones at, even by the smallest children, are mere ghosts of their brazen and well-nourished English cousins.  Abuse and revulsion, their daily bread on these Mandvi streets.  But every dog indeed has it’s day, or in this case, it’s night, because once the day disappears and members of the two legged species scurry back to their stone hovels, the balance of power quickly shifts.  Discovering strength in numbers, now the streets and alleys of Mandvi are undeniably the terrain of dogs.  Ferocious, like an urban street-gang they sprawl themselves brazenly over this town, now able to outstretch limbs, spread with confidence over an entire width of an alley, each cluster guarding its own patch.  Periodically from the safety of your bed, you hear packs racing through the alleys while howling and shrieking to reinforce their claim over darkness.  Walking at night isn’t advised.  Especially alone.  It’s not a mere bite you have to fear, but the rabies that will likely come from it.  And so we travel by scooter, fast.  Upon every turn there’s a new gang of disaffected canines, eager to wreak their vengeance on the two-legged ones.  Khaliq is well versed in how to deal with them:  full throttle!  We swerve, turn and accelerate ourselves through their sharp-toothed threats and eventually cross a bridge to safer pathways.

There’s more light here.  The streets are decorated, mosque domes are adourned with fairy lights and there are people hanging out, under trees and in courtyards.  As we ride deeper in, the sounds of drums pulsate through the air, beating with fervour.  We ride deeper still and now the drums are accompanied by loud singing and chanting.  A sudden swerve to the left and we stop.  Hordes of people are gathered around the door of this Shrine, covered with multi-coloured lights.  The sea is just to our right and the sound of drums, singing and choral chanting thicken the air.  It’s a festival atmosphere, people bustling to get inside, some just happy to hang around on the edges outside, smoking, the smoke of different flavours.  We jostle and I push my way through the crowd and somehow, through the shoulder charges, ducking and quick footedness, I make it to the front.

It’s difficult to explain my first impressions: Wonderstruck, as though I’d found treasure from just playing in the sand.  I’d discovered something I had no idea about, that I never knew existed.  Not only had I discovered a face of India and I suppose the world I knew nothing about, but also a form of Sufi devotion, through music, singing and dancing that was completely new to me.




Men and women of African descent, dancing collectively in a circle, chanting a chorus whilst drummers imposed themselves from the centre of the deceased saints’ courtyard.  Singers singing into microphones, fairy lights colouring-in the night with richly elaborate draping cloths.  A big bang of colour, drums, dance and singing so riotous you’d be forgiven for thinking yourself at a rave.

Singer:        Bolo La – Illah (Say there is no God)
Chorus:    Illal –lah     (But One God!)
Singer:        La – Illah    (There is no God)
Chorus:    Illal –lah    (But One God!)

I can’t help myself become overcome with joy and appreciation to hear and see this, the most basic and defining creed of Islam, being celebrated like this.  Through music, dance and colour.  For it to be deemed worth celebrating like this is still an incredible and actually quite radical concept for me to get my head around, though when you witness it, seems all so natural.   And human.

Singer:        Bava Gor!
Chorus:    Bava Gor, Bava Gor
Singer:        Bava Gor!
Chorus:    Bava Gor, Bava Gor

Collectively they sing and chant the name of a deceased Sidi saint.  Whether this is his shrine we’re all at or that of one of his siblings’, I’m unsure.


As well as those singing, drumming and dancing, there are many more surrounding us, sat on the floor, hanging from trees, stood in the crowd, watching from walls, everyone dressed well, especially those dancing, women dressed in colourful printed and embroidered Kutchi clothes and jewellery.  Those dancing, drumming and singing seem mainly from African descent, the Sidis, though there are those who are more obviously Indian among them too.  Those taking part by watching are mainly obviously Indian, though there are some Sidis among them too.

This goes on all night.  Some people tire from dancing so drop in and out of the circle, careful to ensure the circle itself never stops.  Some tire of singing so pass the microphone on.  The following night exactly the same happens, though at another Sufi shrine, of a sibling of the first saint, still in Mandvi.  I know that this saint is female.  The celebrations remain here for two nights.  On the fourth day however, people meet in the afternoon at the shrine of this female.  Frankincense clouds the arena and a ritual takes place involving a woman circling a flagpole outside the saint’s shrine.


The woman circling has her face covered and is being lead.  We’re about to begin a four-mile procession, marching through the streets of Mandvi to the edges and beyond till we reach a shrine of another sibling from this Sufi family, located amidst a ’jungle’.


The woman with her face covered walks in the centre of this procession, temporarily carrying the spirit of the sister-saint who’s tomb we’ve started from.  Drummers lead, those following chant and the procession literally halts traffic as we make our way, occasionally stopping in shacks for tea.


‘We’ve only moved to Mandvi town quite recently you know.  We were in the jungle before that.


Well where else do Bwana’s (Africans) live?  Bwana’s (Africans) live in the jungle.’

The guy organising all of this walks with me.

‘How did the Sidis come to Mandvi?  Was it slavery?

No.  No not slavery.’

From what I’ve read and the people I’ve spoke with, the Sidis have had a generally marginalised existence in India.  A society where social status can still generally be ascertained by skin colour, it’s not difficult to guess the position most Sidis would have occupied on the social ladder.  Some Sidis did come to India as slaves, some however, were also migrants and adventurers of the Indian Ocean. There’s a particularly inspiring historical account of Malik Ambar, an Ethiopian born Sidi slave who rose to become a successful military commander in India.  Today, although they largely consider themselves Indian, the Indian government would rather have them viewed as exotic foreigners that can serve as a valuable tourism commodity.  When I speak to Ali the organiser though, I can’t quite get over an African-looking-man speaking Kutchi more naturally than I.

After quite a trek that saw tarmaced roads turn into dust tracks and pastille coloured buildings into earth-toned trees and bushes, we arrive into the ‘jungle’.  It’s a forest really, if you’re gonna be picky about nomenclature, but for us, it’s a jungle.  It’s certainly wild enough, an untouched sea of thorny bushes and enclosing trees.  It’s late afternoon and the sun has dropped.  We’re backlit by mystic orange as streams of amber pour at us from across the horizon.  I’m beckoned to come quickly by Amma Ma, my elderly relative who made it here before we did and suddenly the bushes step back and allow space.  Another courtyard appears at the feet of a pastille blue painted tomb for our final Sufi saint.  It’s already started, the drummers have arranged themselves in the centre whilst men and women collectively dance and chant together in a circle.  Many people watch from the sides and from slightly afar.  This is the culmination of three nights of Goma and the atmosphere takes on wild passion.  The drumming seems harder, the bass heavier, deeper, the circling faster.  An excited, frenzied resonance drives everyone that little bit harder today.  Some are being driven that bit harder still.  For some, the rhythm, the words and the dance ignite a ‘paranormal’ experience.  A Haal.  Literally translates as A State.  For those who connect with the Goma enough, it becomes possible to temporarily be possessed by the spirit of the Saint we’re visiting.  These people, mainly women, dance uncontrollably, unhindered, separate from the circle with their faces covered.  Usually people are by their side to shake them back to their former selves or pour water in the event of severe physical convulsions.  It happens a few times.  People just carry on dancing.  It’s normal, the paranormal.
















I’m beckoned by people eager to know what I’ve been doing with my camera and to have their pictures taken.  I join in on the local banter, still laughing to myself at my excitement to find people who look African, but are speaking Kutchi far better than me and even my parents.  It’s getting dark so we wrap it up.  A respectful row forms facing the shrine to offer final salutations to the saint.  A one legged man jumps so his chest falls onto hot coals.  I stop taking pictures.


We all walk back together, young, old, male, female, ‘Indian-looking’, ‘African-looking’, with an electric-tiredness in the air you’d expect if you were returning from Glastonbury.  A glorious full moon appears.  I stop with Amma Ma, my 14 year old cousin and a random old woman for street snacks and tea.




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



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.


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)




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.