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Welcome Home

by | Sep 13, 2019

Journal » Welcome Home

" Dar-es-Salaam, his birthplace, had also once been a charming harbour town set on the coast of East Africa. Only a chance sojourn in Dubai and an advert in the Gulf News offering a three-day excursion had had the power to spur him to return.

In his youth, the only compensation for studying in England had been to be able to return home to Africa at every chance. He would land at the ancient airport - a lonely hangar set amid a field of purple bougainvillea overlooking the sea. Customs and immigration were all manned by friends and family, who would personally greet him at the plane, take a moment to stamp his passport, and then one of them would drive him home.

The day of his return, Emirates Flight 725 ( a brand spanking new Boeing 777-300) landed him at 3 p.m. on a Friday at the 'new' Dar-es-Salaam International Airport. The bougainvillea had disappeared. Nothing but auburn sand danced in the wind from pockets of earth lodged between the concrete runways. Within minutes of landing, the crew disappeared as if they, too, had been a figment of his imagination. They had no time to chat with him on the plane, gallantly striving to serve 300 passengers instead of the intimate coterie of 50 he'd flown with in those earlier years. Despite its newness, as in the old days, you still had to disembark down a mobile stairway, then walk the route to the terminal. The black tarmac seemed to melt beneath his feet. The former sweet smell of jasmine had been usurped by the rancid sweaty odour of airport personnel running in and out of the passenger line to unload luggage and clean out the plane. The taste of dry dust filled his mouth. there were no covered skyways to shelter under and worse, no uncles to greet him, only an amorphous mob of onlookers waving from the visitor's balcony.

Who was going to guide him out of here ? Who was going to drive him home ? Where was his home ?

He joined the line of incumbents waiting to have their passports stamped. Half of them, including himself, languished on the tarmac under the blazing sun. Inside, it was just as hot, and windowless to boot. There wasn't even a hint of air conditioning.

Once through security, where he was photographed- an added precaution, he was told, since the recent Al Qaeda bombing, he was finally free to go.

Outside, a throbbing populace swept past him. Trolleys bumped into him, as did little children escaping the clutches of their parents. Against their ebony skin, dresses and shirts - kitenge in the local tongue - pulsated in vibrant colours : splashes of fiery red, azurlite blue and golden yellow. After a brief onrush of attention from porters dressed in hand-me-downs, and his curt refusal of their services, he was immediately forgotten and treated as mere flotsam and jetsam bobbing up and down in the crowd : a stranger in his own land."

- Extract from Chasing Aphrodite.

I had remembered my home - Dar-es-Salaam ( Arabic for 'Haven of Peace')- as clean, peaceful and beautiful with large avenues sheltered under the canopy of trees lined along them.

To witness the dust and the dirt and the smell demoralized me at first on my return. The population when I left in 1960 as a boy of five had ballooned tenfold. There was no structured transportation just maverick minibuses and illegal motorbike taxis. Garbage mounted every street.

Coming back to Canada, and years later attempting to convert my impressions into stories, the dust, dirt and chaos took a back seat. What came to the fore was the unbreakable and pulsating spirit of optimism that engulfed anyone under thirty.

Despite the horrendous shortfalls in basic needs of its citizenry, there was no sign of self pity but an inspirational energy if a visitor like me could put away the past and a longing for a bygone age where all power and privilege had been torn out of the black African's hands .

I say black because there still survived and blossomed East Indians and Arabs who professed themselves Africans, but could never be as they had never experienced the degradation their ancestors had meted out to the black indigenes under the auspices of European colonizers.

I look back at these citizens with great hope of a rapid change for the better for their welfare and future despite their current leaders.

Keeper of Stories

Tyrion Lannister suggested people were not bound together by banners, castles or mighty kings but by stories of their heritage held by “The Keeper of Stories”.

Bag in Hand

Wherever I travel , I pick up “Harrods” bags and always ask for extras,. These I carry round with me daily. They store my bills to pay, a diary and some cash. Today, I am sporting a forest green bag with gold lettering from Hatchards of Piccadilly , booksellers since 1797 , bearing the royal crests of The Queen, Prince Philip and the Prince of Wales.

Lost in Translation

He had met Laura in Calgary. At first he had found her reserved and introverted. Gradually, she opened up as she gained more and more trust in him. But she kept her conversation with others to the barest minimum. Eventually, the penny dropped. He began to understand her reticence towards speaking to others.