My East Indian community had established its roots in East Africa for centuries. Overnight they were forced to flee leaving with barely a suitcase in hand.

Why did this occur? Social and economic  circumstances were blatant – Idi Amin, in Uganda and Sheikh Karume in Zanzibar decided they could have as many wives as they wanted and chose to “wed” East Indian women and bed them ad hoc as their fancy took them.

Government corruption, resulting in diminished aid from abroad, led to financial crises. Ruling (and undemocratic) governments resorted to “nationalize”  East Indian businesses and real estate, looting their cash resources. The governments gambled on deflecting the blame and responsibility of their financial mess to the “greedy ” Asians. These actions escalated when President Amin gave East Indians twenty-four hours to leave the country.

From a place of power and influence they fell to inhabiting hovels in Europe and Canada.

Beyond the blatant, the East Indian community left a legacy of utter contempt for the African native populace whom they treated as servile and ignorant. For centuries the East Indian community, instead of building bridges to the native population, berated them as lazy and thieves.

My life in Africa was surrounded by the natives.

As equals?

No. As servants.

It was not until my teenage years that I made a trip by dhow across the water from the mainland to the island of Zanzibar, living for a fortnight in a home owned and governed by Africans. My whole perception of them was turned upside down.

Here is an extract from Chasing Aphrodite, :

Something wasn’t right. He marched into his uncle’s room.

 

“Uncle Sherali, where do I put my money and passport?’

 

” Beside your bed.”

 

“But there is no lock on the door and we are surrounded by karias (blacks).”

 

His comment didn’t register with Uncle Sherali, who had emptied his suitcase on the bed and spilled its contents across the room, as comfortable as if he were at home.

 

This simply wasn’t done. On the mainland, Africans were servants. You were told they were not to be trusted. They would steal the shirt off your back. They had to be watched constantly. They couldn’t cook – what was he going to eat? Now, here they were completely surrounded, with no locks to protect them, and his uncle couldn’t care less. How could he be so irresponsible? Perhaps his father had been right after all.

 

Lunch was a meal fit for a king. The whole family of twenty were seated at a large round table. All were served where they sat. Considering themselves within their own domain, the women had let go of their black garb. They were now dressed in sumptuous colours. The children jumped on and off their chairs, and the adults scolded them for doing so. In bits and pieces, the gossip of the town was laid bare. Teenagers back for their afternoon siesta from their nearby school gawked at the strangers who had so easily been taken in as part of the family. The boy looked surreptitiously at the girls with their doe-like sleepy eyes, their lashes and eyelids darkened with kohl.

 

He had never experienced this in Dar between their two communities. His Indian family and friends would frown and try to dissuade him from playing soccer with Africans. Yet, he found that once he had joined them , they forgot he was a stranger and took him as one of their own. This acceptance applied wherever he went as a boy, whether playing soccer in England or in Tiger Shark Park in Hong Kong. But his Indian community’s perspective was so different. Years later, peering through a snow-streaked window at the desolate Canadian prairie in mid-winter, he looked back at how his East Indian community had been expunged from Africa, their property and businesses confiscated, and he understood where that perspective had led them and why.

That cataclysmic exodus happened in the early 1970s. Looking back at the horror and heartache of my people, I am reminded of a quote from W.H. Auden :

“I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.”

The poem was called September 1, 1939 – the day World War II was declared. In 1945, Auden omitted the stanza ending in “We must love one another or die.”