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Photo Courtesy: Good Samaritan

Ask anyone who has lived in Mombasa before moving elsewhere, what they miss most from home (apart from the food of course), in that same list, Jumuah (Friday) would appear. Now Friday is usually a grand day for Muslims all over the world but when it comes to a place like Mombasa, where the area is highly populated with Muslims, it becomes more than the prayer part alone, it becomes a cultural affair.

I love Fridays for many reasons. It’s not just the end of the week. It’s the day homes get busier than usual. The men are choosing their best sparkling clean kanzus before they get ironed, surat kahf is reciting in the room and in the neighbour’s house and the neighbour to the neighbour’s house too. It’s the day everyone cleans up earlier than usual (apart from the earlier working class birds), the smell wafting from the homes is from the strong lovely scents of oud. The men are extra smart in their neat kanzus, trimmed nails and moustaches and well-combed beards. Women are not left behind as they clean themselves and wear their lesos/praying attires and join the friday prayers while some decide to do it at home in their own solitude and privacy. The typical Swahili neighbourhood is all about good perfumes and scents at this moment.

Now maybe that happens in some other places too, but have you seen the groups of men going to the masjid for the prayer? Have you seen the kanzus all over the streets? The restaurants taking extra orders for special biryani and from all corners, voices calling to prayer and preaching can be heard. You go to the shops at 11:55 a.m. and one door is already closed with the attendants hurriedly serving the remaining customers because ‘hallo? don’t you know it’s Friday?!’

Messages of duas and well wishes are not to be missed on this day as people remember one another in their prayers.People who don’t usually pray may appear on this day and sometimes, earlier than usual. The preacher is preaching in a rhythmic, poetic manner and the rewards of this prayer makes it a lot like the best day of the week. Once the prayer is done, see the multitudes of Muslims streaming out of the masjid, greeting one another; big smiles, big hugs, kinda like a weekly reunion.

At home, Friday means a special meal. It means eating biryani, if not, then the nearest to it, many a times, pilau. There is even extra effort to have fruits on the table and salad and kachumbari and fresh juice and hot chilli, I mean, just the sort of meal you’d look forward to every other week.

The children are home earlier than usual and this day becomes the best to invite family and even friends over for meals. There is a lot of togetherness, love and co-existence vivid than any other day of the week. It is in a great way similar to Eid days.

Those who go abroad especially Western countries, sometimes they barely even hear the adhan because masjids are miles apart. Most of the times, families are totally separated which makes it almost impossible to have a wonderful get-together after the Friday prayer. I mean, isn’t it a privilege being at home? In a place where Islam has become a way of life, we don’t have to struggle to get permission from work or school to attend the prayers. It’s a privilege you can put on the qur’an in the office and no one will grumpily shout to you, ‘get yourself some earphones!’ It’s a privilege we get to hear khutbahs in our own mother tongue, Kiswahili. I mean some Muslims out there are listening to khutbahs experiencing language barrier and not understanding one word. It’s a privilege that we are surrounded by mosques all over, we can even choose which one to go to. It’s a privilege we are so close together in our neighbourhoods and livelihoods, we don’t have to hide practicing our beliefs. We don’t have to struggle to have gatherings. I think it’s a privilege to be a Muslim living in Mombasa. Ever thought of it that way?

By: Imran Abdallah Said

Photo courtesy: http://blackgirllonghair.com/

 

A word of caution for non-Swahili speakers, the Swahili-English translations used in this writing are as primitive as they could get, both for comic reasons and because Swahili is awesome. Learn it so I wont have to translate next time.

 

Deal?

 

Proceed…

 

It’s supposed to be the wedding of the decade. The daughter of a chief marrying the son of a respected doctor. She’s an accountant and he’s a secondary school history teacher. She’s good with numbers, he’s good with dates and today’s is a date that’s been long time coming. She being a pedantic realist and he being a nostalgic dreamer means that they will complete the proverbial ying yang loop, form the perfect couple, and half the stars in the sky will go supernova and turn night into day. At the moment, however, heavy clouds crease the night sky which beams down with malcontent.

 

For the third time tonight it threatens to pour as the groom and his flock of minions walk into the mosque and make a beeline for the front, where the imam and the bride’s father await, the expressions on their faces radiating an unimpressed mien. Between him and his destination, a crazed sea of white and black and green and blue kanzus stretches the mosque’s capacity to its choking point. Kofia-donned heads literally turn as the man of the day passes by, dragging his wedding gear, from the over-size black robe laced with gold trimmings and the blunt ceremonial wooden sword tucked in his belt, to the massive turban on his head that precariously flirts with the physical principles of balance and gravity.

 

He deposits himself immediately opposite the imam and nods to his future father-in-law who is either too distracted by the groom’s excessive decorations or unhappy at his wanton disregard for punctuality, since he doesn’t nod back. The imam begins the ceremony with a short lecture about the highs and lows of marriage and quotes a few verses from the Quran.

 

Then he holds the groom’s right hand and asks him to repeat what seems, to the groom at least, like the recitation of a full twenty-page chapter of the Quran in a single breath. The groom’s heart does the tachycardia thing, a hamster racing a hamster wheel off its hinges. He mumbles and stutters. The imam sighs and repeats, enunciating each word carefully like a nursery school teacher. The groom does better this time, but only just.

 

“I…Matano bin Mashaka…accept…” a year-long pause, “…to marry…” a decade flits by, “…Zubeda.”

“Zulekha.” The imam corrects.

“Zulekha…bin…”

“Bint!” The imam corrects again.

“Bint…uh…” What was the father’s name again? He can’t for the love of everything lovable remember it and the fuming dragon that sits where future father-in-law was a minute ago doesn’t make matters easier either. A century has passed by, by the time the groom finishes his vow. The relieved imam does the Islamic rendition of the “By the powers vested in me…” bit and prays for everlasting blessings to be bestowed on the budding marriage. The father-in-law is now smiling broadly. It’s a smile that could mean anything, “I’ll kill you the next time you forget my name” or “Thank you for reducing the number of stubborn bubbleheads living in my house to fifteen. Now scram both of you, and don’t bring her back!”

 

Then its cheers all round as plates of halwa arrive. After that, the crowd of a thousand or so bludgeon the poor groom with affectionate embraces. His family is big. Half the city’s population is surely crammed within this tiny mosque and since his memory serves him well when recalling names of people who began revolutions or destroyed civilizations ages ago but fails him dramatically when trying the same with the people he called friends and family, the groom is meeting his extended relatives and friends for the first time all over again. Cousin Muhammad is actually cousin Mahmoud and uncle Ali is in fact uncle Alwi. In the end the groom resorts to the only nomenclature he’s always been comfortable with as he thanks Cousin 453 and his father, Uncle 78 as they smother him with musty-odor-sheathed bear hugs.

 

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A motorcade outside whisks the groom and his entourage away to his bride’s home. They arrive to what can only be described as a razzle dazzle peacock fashion show. It’s almost dizzying how many different colors the bride’s relatives have managed to cram into their dresses individually. But now the groom faces a tougher challenge than acclimatizing his eyes to the bewildering scene.

 

The tradition at this point goes so: the bride, having recited her own vow earlier that night, is ‘locked away’ in a room somewhere within the house and one of her relatives stands guard. The groom is presented with two options. He and his lackeys can either try to force their way in, or if he is of a more diplomatic persuasion the groom can bride the guard.

 

Today’s is the case where the groom’s only option is surely diplomacy, for the simple reason that his entourage is locked outside and that the bride’s aunt who has taken up guard duty makes the room’s door look small in comparison. She grins widely as he slips two thousand-shilling notes into her welcoming hand. The deal is officially sealed. He is allowed admission.

 

Inside, the bride sits at the edge of the room’s only bed, white dress pouring out all around her, her face and arms buried under layers of make-up and hinna tattoos, but if you are to believe the groom’s account, she is actually “bathed in delicate radiant light that would shame the sun on any summer’s day and an ethereal fragrance that would push roses and carnations into fits of suicidal fantasies”. He whispers a dua to her as per the norm, their first intimate moment, and wishes they could jump out the window if only to escape the photo session that awaits them outside the door.

 

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An hour or a day or a week later, they escape the incessant paparazzi and the motorcade whisks them away to the groom’s residence. It’s drizzling again outside. Well, no it’s actually pouring dreadfully now. Their driver, the groom’s older brother, focused on the now increasingly treacherous road, accountant and history teacher turn to each other. The groom had prepared a ton of poems for this moment, until the rose-shaming fragrance had wiped his memory clean, but twenty or so years of watching the occasional chick-flick movie have him covered…maybe. He blurts out, “I love you…sweet pump…kin”

 

She’s calm despite the excitement of the occasion as she stifles a laugh and replies in a cool voice, “Well, sweet potato, I love you more.”

 

The groom’s found his courage and confidence again but not the rehearsed poems, so he chides, “Really? How much more?”

 

Then the conversation picks up and they’re soon gone. They’re lost in their own world. The real world around them dissolves away and if the bus and truck ahead of them collided and burst into a million pieces in a shower of burning flames and human screams, they won’t be able to recount it to anyone tomorrow or ever. They’re so lost, they don’t even notice when the car finally pulls up to the groom’s home.

 

“Well I love you a gazillion multiplied by a gatrillion times more.” The groom smirks, impressed by his own ability to remember a very big number, fake or not.

 

She replies with the same calm voice, “And I love you Mugabellion to the power of Musevenillion times more.” In other words, infinity to the power of immortal forever. She’s good with numbers. The groom is stumped and sulks for a second after losing his first contest with his wife.

 

“And I would love it if this awkward conversation continued another time.” Their driver, an unwilling passive third-party to the exchange interrupts.“We’re here.” He announces unceremoniously.

 

Outside stands the groom’s family’s home. Two massive tents on either side, one for the men, the other for the ladies. And people. People everywhere you turn. The couple notice them for the first time and feel dizzy. Hundreds, maybe thousands have come to the wedding, to marvel at and envy the newlyweds.

 

The bride is chauffeured away to a temporary wooden stage under the ladies’ tent, where a thousand phosphorent lights and garlands of flowers festoon across the face of the makeshift stage. Then the ululations pick up and morph into a wedding song as the groom’s mother and aunts serenade their newest family member. There’s a phrase around this part of the world, “Bibi harusi wetu.” Our bride. She’s married a family, not just a husband.

 

The forgotten groom is paraded into the house by his brother who shouts to no one in particular, “Someone feed this oaf, he needs his energy up to prepare for his big performance.” The older men and teenagers hanging around laugh like maniacs.

 

With the groom inside and the bride on the other pole of the house, calm falls on the men’s tent. The topics of conversations that follow dart from football and politics and at some point the death of the groom’s younger brother a few months ago comes up. It’s inherently taboo to talk about funerals at weddings but for these people today, having been shocked by the nature and timing of the groom’s brother’s death, talking about it here is almost therapeutic.

 

The teenagers in attendance joke about marriage and other weddings they’ve attended. One of them waxes nostalgic to the click around him about a different wedding he went to where state-of-the-art amplifiers and 20-feet high speakers blasted the music of Ali Kiba and Diamond into the night sky. “What a dump of a wedding this is.” He complains. That it had stopped drizzling minutes ago doesn’t seem to improve the teenager’s mood.

 

The saving grace of any Swahili wedding, however, no matter how dislikeable to those invited, is of course the feast, or feasts.Tonight’s feast even has a name, Kombe la Bwanaharusi, the groom’s cup or something like that. You know Swahili people love food when they give fancy names to feasts. When the sinias (big plates) arrive and the guests behold their contents, all inhibitions and doubts and ill-will simply melt away.

 

Tonight, the guests are treated to a surprise. Upon inspection of the plates, they discover they’ve been served six different types of foods, from viazi vya nazi (potatoes of coconut), samaki wa kupaka(painted fish), nyama ya kukaanga (fried meat…?),mahamri (I doubt there’s an English equivalent word), kaimati (some round pastry thingy coated in sugar), mitai (another pastry thingy coated in sugar) and tambi (sugary noodles). Seven types it turns out, not six! But wait, upon further inspection, the guests realize the plates come in pairs. There are seven other different types of food in the accompanying plates, mikate ya tambi(sugary-noodle bread), katlesi (cut-less with each bite), viazi vitamu (sweet potatoes!), sambusa(samosas), mkate wa mayai (bread of the egg),mkate wa sinia (bread of the plate) and viazi karai(fried potatoes) You could call it the centenary gladiator match of the calories, a cholesterol and sugars bloodbath. The Swahili people won’t heed you, they’ll continue calling it Kombe La Bwanaharusi.

 

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It’s growing late, the tell-tale signs of the approaching morning begin to show. The groom is tired and sleepy and growing increasingly irritated. He chucks modesty down the drain, rushes up the makeshift stage while the songs and ululations crescendo to a climax, and before anyone can realize what’s happening scoops up the bride, who looks equal parts amused and relieved but not necessarily shocked, and takes off at a canter like a deranged kangaroo, the turban falling off his head. His mother finally jumps to her feet and gives chase shouting, ‘Bring our bride back,’ her singing partners flocking her sides and ululating without let-up.

 

“My bride, mine…” the groom shouts back, head growing giddy from his defiant shenanigans. He makes for one of the parked cars whose passenger door is thankfully held open by his brother, gently sets his wife down on the seat, jumps over the bonnet american-movie-cops-like, fishtails the car out of the parking spot and zooms off, executing a perfect drift around the corner that would send James Bond running for the bank. Cheers and whoops from the men’s side and ululations from women’s side and the groom’s mother’s child-like tantrum sing them off into the night.

 

“Wow,” the accountant laughs, “I didn’t know your family was so…”

 

“Clingy?” The history teacher says.

 

“Affectionate.” She finishes.

 

“They’re clingy. My family’s clingy. I should have warned you.” The dreamer reflects. There’s a long pause and then he adds, “We have might have to relocate to Russia or China or Antarctica where they can’t find us and shove chocolate cakes down your throat every morning and dress you up like Disney princesses every weekend.”

 

The realist wraps her arms around her husband’s free hand and rests her head on his shoulder as she thinks of the long tiring hours she spends at work every day.

 

“I don’t know,” she whispers with a broad smile, “I think am actually looking forward to being treated like a queen.”

 

For more of Imran’s articles log on to: mylitcorner.wordpress.com

IS BEING COOL THE ONLY COOLEST THING TO BE IN MOMBASA? Part 1

By Lubnah Abdulhalim

Photo Courtesy: Salem_Beliegraphy

Well since Mombasa is an amazing island with blue oceans and beautiful scenaries, the immediate first instinct of any person would be ‘if Mombasa is not the place to be cool then where else?’ but my ‘cool’ that i mean here is the extended kind which to some would be termed as laziness and irresponsibility. I am a resident of Mombasa myself; of course i wouldn’t want to talk ill of our people but truth be said; youth and even some of the elders are misusing the word ‘cool’ and how to be it.

In a research on community resilience against violent extremism that I participated in four different areas in Mombasa, there was this common factor among all the four places, which is the behaviour of the youth of Mombasa. It’s nice to be cool and to feel nice about oneself but that is totally a different case when a person decides they are too cool to do a certain thing.

So the typical scenario of a Mombasa youth is that of: I wake up at nine or ten in the morning, I go to the table and my lovely mum has already left some good breakfast for me on the table. After eating I will go out and do totally NOTHING sensible but when I come back home at lunch hour, my lovely mum has already covered some food for me. I may be 24 or even above that, I am jobless and probably so is my dad but there is nothing to worry, because this lovely woman in the house will always find a way to provide good food or at least some food on the table even when we don’t know how or where she gets the money from. So where is the coolness I am talking about here? You may find that this young man has been offered several jobs but his ego won’t allow him to go sweep in the streets or carry cement. come on that is totally not cool right? ‘I mean, what if pretty girls come by and see me in shaggy clothes sweating under the hot scorching sun, carrying cement?!’ Isn’t that the mentality that most youth have? So what they would rather do is wear their lowered torn jeans revealing their inner wear, have a funny ‘cool’ haircut sit at a maskan, chew miraa and smoke bhang, walk with some swag and have the ‘you-cant-tell-me-a-thing’ attitude. The best any of these young men can do is wait at the maskan for an attractive classic matatu with banging music so that they can ask for a one round of reckless driving like in ‘fast and furious’, because to them, that is what is ‘cool’.

The reality is that this kind of young men are untouchable in these times because the kind of power and command they put even in their actions has created fear within us. Right now we are having very young boys below 16 walking in gangs, carrying pangas and murdering people and scaring us out like hell because we know they are no joke; that once they raise their pangas up then there is no way that they will let the panga fall down without touching blood. Another not surprising factor that emerges is that most of these young gangs start with a fight over a girl. Then a boy from a certain place is beaten up to death and the others come to revenge and it goes on like that till the gangs become organized groups with full leadership. And this to them is so cool because it is giving them the recognition they want. They want people to talk about them in every corner and be scared when they hear their names and well, they have succeeded in that. Yet when you see them, you would never think that such a young boy can fight you to death.

It is only in Mombasa where you will hear a person saying, ‘come on I am learned, how do you expect me to sell water’ or such kind of a thing. It is also only in Mombasa where you will hear a youth demanding that their parents give them the freedom they want yet they can’t take responsibility of their lives. They want to be left alone so they do evil and harm people yet they still want to come back home and find food ready on the table. And this where we have to admit that the upcountry fellows are doing a pretty good job in raising their children because at a very young age, they teach their children to take responsibility and how to take control of their lives. Whereas for us, that is where we have failed terribly. Our parents have shown us clearly; ‘My son, for better for worse I will provide for you even when you have a wife and children, I will cover up your mistakes for you, even if you are murdering and attacking people aimlessly. I will give you the money you need, even when i know you will use it in buying drugs.’ And that is the attitude most of Mombasa youth grow up with in these times.

Then we complain when our upcountry brothers come to Mombasa and lead us. But we have no right to complain! These fellows come from wherever they are from, they start from the very bottom; sweeping streets, cleaning toilets, making tea but give them just two years and you will see the same guy already a secretary in the organization. Give him five more years and he will be the manager. Then the Mombasa lad will come to the same organization and be given the sweeping task and he will say, ‘I am more educated than the manager. I completed form four while he dropped out of class eight. I can’t accept such a job.’ Ask him why he will tell you because it is unfair. But they never put into consideration where this manager started from. I have a neighbour from upcountry who is a graduate from pharmacy course yet she opened her own saloon when she didn’t get a job. Then try asking a Mombasa educated lady to do the same and you will hear the response, ‘That’s not my kind of job.’ And this where the difference comes from; our fellows have a focus while we don’t! We are always comparing our journey with someone else’s! “He has a Subaru while I have a probox or, I have nothing that can’t be!” We give the lame excuses of ‘upcountry people run the country that’s why they advance in life’ yet we all know that they are not coddled and that’s why they never lose neither their cool nor their focus. As for us, we just want the short cut. We want to get employed in an office that will make me the boss from the first day. A job we can brag about and get recognition. When you ask why the response will be, “because it is cool isn’t it? to be the boss, to own a nice car, to come in the time you want. If not that then i’d rather sit at the maskan and have a good time.” And it is this mentality that has made most of the youth remain jobless, because they want heaven without struggle. They therefore create their own ‘heaven’ by being in gangs smoking bhang and other hard drugs, harm people, maintain some swag and well, life goes on!

Yet another sad truth is that, even when parents know their children are causing harm, they would do all they can to release their children when they are arrested; even if it means selling their houses and property. Well, understandably, parents will still be parents especially the mothers. In the end of the day, they still want them to be fine and be with them. They will always be protective, but the question is, are they doing any good favour to their children by bailing them out always yet they will still continue to murder and beat up people? Till when will the parents keep pampering grown up youths instead of toughening them up to be responsible youth?

It is at this time where no one should even talk about the children of others. It’s scary. Really scary. Today you may be pointing fingers of how lost the neighbour’s children are, yet you don’t know what surprises your own might bring you tomorrow. We just have to ask for God’s mercy and protection; even for ourselves as youth. As the Swahili methali says, ‘Ukiona mwenzako anyolewa, chako kitie maji.’