Category: East Africa

The following oped was published on Huffington Post Canada on Sept. 4, 2015.

When I was three, the same age as Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who washed up on a Turkish beach this week, I became a refugee.

But my family did not face the choices his family faced. My story had a different ending, a happy ending. It did because the government of Canada responded to a humanitarian crisis by putting human beings — and their need for shelter and safety and comfort — above everything else.

My story had a happy ending because Canada chose to treat desperate people in desperate need with honour, with a conviction that these people could and would benefit Canada.

It was 1972 and Ugandan dictator Idi Amin conducted an ethnic cleansing. Ugandans of South Asian origins, including me and my family, had 90 days to leave or face unimaginable consequences.

In that moment, everything changed. Homes, businesses, cars, possessions were to be handed over. Bank accounts would be frozen. Law-abiding, gainfully employed people — with houses and mortgages and so many plans — were homeless, stateless, adrift.

The majority of 80,000 Ugandan Asians held British travel documents, one of colonialism’s many messy legacies. The United Kingdom was faced suddenly with tens of thousands of Asians descending on their tiny island with its big unemployment problem. Chanting slogans such as “Keep Britain white!” Britons took to the streets to protest. The media joined in, penning editorials explaining why the Asian horde must not be allowed to overrun the country. The Town Council of Leicester published an advertisement in the Uganda Argus newspaper, telling Ugandan Asians to stay away from their town.

Britain appealed to Canada to help alleviate their burden.

It was August 1972. The Liberal government under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was preparing for an October election, and unemployment was high.

Yet Canada acted quickly, announcing an initial admission of 3,000 Ugandan Asians and the immediate dispatch of a diplomatic team to Kampala. “This step will enable us to form a clearer impression of the numbers involved and of the extent to which exceptional measures may have to be taken to deal urgently with those who would not normally qualify for admission,” Trudeau explained.

An ad hoc diplomatic office was set up in Kampala by Sept. 6, leaving precisely 63 days to process the visa applications of thousands of people in a country with a highly unreliable telephone system and rapidly deteriorating security, and to airlift them out of the country before Amin’s Nov. 8 deadline.

The Canadian team going at full tilt — six days a week, 10 hours a day — was efficient, exhausted and, by all accounts, compassionate.

On Sept. 27, 1972, the first plane-load of Ugandan Asians arrived at CFB Longue Pointe in Quebec, where a welcoming centre had been set up. There, arrivals were given warm outer wear for the sudden shift in climate and, because someone had the forethought to train Canadian army cooks in preparing Indian food, they were given something familiar to eat.

According to the Canadian Immigration Historical Society, Canada handed out 6,175 visas over the 63 days. Thirty-one chartered flights carried 4,420 people to Canada. Another 1,725 travelled on commercial flights. More would follow over the next few years.

Idi Amin continued his atrocities in Uganda, where up to half a million Ugandans died before he was ousted by Tanzanian forces in 1979.

When Trudeau announced to the Canadian public his intention to admit fleeing Ugandans, he set the tone for the entire undertaking.

“For our part, we are prepared to offer an honourable place in Canadian life to those Ugandan Asians who came to Canada under this program. Asian immigrants have already added to the cultural richness and variety of our country and, I am sure that those from Uganda will, by their abilities and industry, make an equally important contribution to Canadian society.”

The Ugandan crisis of 1972 is not the Syrian crisis of 2015. According to the UNHCR, since 2011 fully half of Syria’s 22.5 million population has fled, been displaced or died because of the conflict. These numbers are staggering.

But staggering numbers have not stopped Canada before. The Ugandan Asian immigration movement and the successful integration into Canadian society of those who came under it would bolster Canada to take on the massive Indochina refugee program, which in 1979 and 1980 alone brought 60,000 people safely into Canada. From 1975 to 1999, 130,000 refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos would settle in Canada through this program.

Life was kinder to Alan than the world was. It set that child, still more baby than boy, gently on a beach as though he were a porcelain doll, and brought into focus the human plight of a refugee crisis that is shaking Europe and the world. So that when we look at him in all his unspoiled beauty, his humanity and our own is not lost in a sea of overwhelming statistics and unstoppable brutality.

To give of yourself to alleviate the suffering of another is a privilege, its rewards incalculable. When we deny Alan and so many others like him, we deny ourselves.

Canada can do better. We have done better.

The following essay was published in Chatelaine’s April 2015 issue.

tasneen-jamal-tanzania

A number of years ago I came to believe — I suspect after a period of binge-reading self-help books — that if you follow your heart, you cannot go wrong. That if you pursue your true passion, unseen, benevolent forces will propel you toward your goal, all the while holding you up on impossibly solid, puffy clouds.

So, in early 2009, my husband, Craig, and I gave up secure and well-paying jobs as Globe and Mail editors, sold our Hamilton, Ont., house (which we had spent three years and a lot of money renovating), stored its contents and moved to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. We intended to honour our respective pent-up passions:  his to work as a full-time pilot, mine to write a long-planned novel.

This was not a carefully considered, calculated risk — it was the kind of risk that takes your breath away. We had no jobs waiting for us, no medical insurance, no relatives who would meet us at the airport and nowhere to live. Holding our daughters, Mia, 3, and Lily, 9 months, in our arms, we closed our eyes and leapt.

Almost immediately we were in free fall.

In late 2008, a few months before we set off on this journey, the global economy took a nosedive. The Tanzania-based safari outfits where my husband planned to work were hit hard, and he had little prospect of finding a job with them. But I had already taken a buyout package from the Globe and Mail; Craig had spent more than a year upgrading his pilot’s licence; our house was on the market. We felt powerless to stop the momentum.

Upon arrival we found an affordable hotel (which, in less charitable moods, I refer to as a dive) in a broken-down suburb of Dar es Salaam called Kariako. Mia, homesick and bored, graced us with three temper tantrums a day, and Lily woke four times a night, every night. My husband and I were exhausted and constantly snapping at each other. And we were hemorrhaging money.

Three weeks later, just as we were contemplating heading home, Craig found a job co-piloting a plane for a group of executives based in Dar es Salaam. It paid very, very little, but we were prepared to live on our savings so that Craig could accumulate hours as a pilot.

Within a few days we moved into a furnished two-bedroom apartment in Masaki, a suburb popular among expats. We rented a car and bought a desk and a crib from a roadside carpenter. The railing on one side of the crib folded down so that you could reach in to lift out the baby easily. A small latch held the railing in place. To my untrained eyes, the crib was well built, if not exactly CSA-approved.

A week later, Craig flew his bosses to Zambia. For the first time since moving to Africa, I was alone with the girls. As it does every evening in Dar es Salaam, the sun set shortly after 6 p.m. Lily was in the crib, standing against the railing. Mia asked to join her. I lifted her in and went to use the bathroom. I could see the girls through the open door. I turned my back to wash my hands. They were out of my sight for 15 seconds.

I heard a smack and emerged from the bathroom to see Lily lying face down on the concrete floor, screaming. I picked her up, frantically searching her face for signs of injury. The moment I noticed her forehead beginning to swell, she threw up.

“What happened?” I demanded, noticing for the first time that the crib railing was folded down.

“I opened it,” Mia said, pointing to the latch.

“Why?” I screamed. Lily’s forehead and right eyelid were rapidly changing colour. “Why would you do that?”

I didn’t know if there was a 911 service. I was not yet comfortable driving on the left side of the road and had never driven at night.

“Why?” I shouted again and again. I didn’t stop, even as Lily, wailing, threw up a second time, covering both of us in vomit, and Mia picked up her beloved stuffed monkey from the floor. “What were you thinking? How could you?”

I paused to catch my breath.

“I wanted to get Monkey,” Mia said softly, clutching him against her chest. A reasonable response, as though it were something I deserved. As though I weren’t insane.

I apologized to Mia. I explained I was frightened, that Lily’s fall wasn’t her fault. But I will never be able to take back my initial rage. And I’ll always wonder which version of her mother she believed.

The blame was not directed at her, anyway. It was, as blame tends to be in these instances, intended for me.

What have I done? What was I thinking?

I watched as Lily became listless and her eye swelled shut. I packed the girls into their car seats and drove into the night in search of a hospital I was vaguely certain I’d seen in the daytime. I knew, from earlier research, that the hospitals in Dar es Salaam had no facilities to handle neurosurgery. If Lily had a brain injury, we would have to medevac her out of the country, to Nairobi or Johannesburg. Both destinations were perilously far. This, too, I knew.

In Canada, I lived minutes from world-class hospitals.

What have I done? What was I thinking?

Africa is important to me. Like my father before me, I was born in a small town in southwestern Uganda. I took my first steps on its red earth and spoke my first words in its languages. In 1972, when I was three, dictator Idi Amin conducted an ethnic cleansing. South Asians, many of us from families that had lived there for generations, were given 90 days to leave Uganda. We had our homes confiscated, our bank accounts frozen.

I grew up, a seemingly ordinary child in southern Ontario, with a sense not merely that something had been lost but that something had been stolen from me. Unlike my parents and older relatives, I didn’t even have memories to cherish. I ached, for things tangible and intangible.

A writer by calling, I decided I would connect to a purloined past by writing a novel about it. I would create my own memories. I would write my own history.

So, in my 30s, and after many false starts, I organized my life to support my writing. I lived in a compact apartment in downtown Toronto, armed with a master’s degree in English literature, a writing nook and an evening job as a copy editor to pay the bills. But everything I produced in that writing nook rang false. It was as though I were an extraterrestrial trying to guess what humans felt. I dumped hundreds of thousands of words into my computer’s trash and began to taste a bitterness that poisoned more and more of my life. I needed to write this novel and I had no idea how to do it.

The births of my first and then my second child did nothing to temper the bitterness. Instead, my precious daughters introduced fear and desperation into my work. I could feel myself consumed by their constant needs. East Africa came to represent the missing piece of my life.

For Craig, East Africa afforded the opportunity to build flying hours with safari companies, all of whom use small planes. Uganda wasn’t an option because it has relatively few large safari outfits. But Tanzania, and the vast Serengeti Plain, offered many.

I could work on my novel and find myself while Craig flew airplanes over the savannah. The life I pictured was beautiful and absurdly romanticized. It was somewhere between Out of Africa and The English Patient: literary, poignant and sort of sepia-toned.

The reality, I would quickly learn, was messy and terrifying and bruising.

I found a hospital the night Lily fell. It was clean but looked more like a low-end office building than a medical facility. Nevertheless, after paying a fee of approximately $7, Lily and I were ushered in to see a doctor. He was young, African, his English impeccable. He explained that Lily appeared to have hit her forehead (fortunately, a well-protected part of her head) and that she likely vomited from the emotional distress. He told me to keep a lookout for signs of serious injury, but he strongly suspected she was all right.

She was. By the time Craig returned home five days later, Lily’s eye had opened again and the dark-purple skin had become pale yellow. The following week she showed no signs of having experienced any injury.

But I felt beaten up. Life wasn’t becoming easier. We had no friends or family for emotional support. Our bank account was emptying at an alarming rate. Everything — from buying groceries to fighting the overwhelming and chaotic traffic — was a challenge that left us physically and emotionally drained.

Despite the challenges, I forged a rhythm to the days. We enrolled Mia in a nursery school and hired a housekeeper to watch Lily. For four hours each morning in a roadside café, where I could plug in my laptop and drink spiced tea, I wrote.

Not long after Lily’s accident, Craig was riding his motorcycle home from the airplane hangar and was hit by a bus. He phoned to tell me about the accident and to assure me he was okay. A few hours later, I stood at the window and watched him negotiate the steps to our building, my chest heaving at the sight of his heavily bandaged foot, his crutches. It was a minor injury, but like Lily’s, it reminded me we didn’t have to be here. It didn’t have to be this hard.

One night, Craig and I had a terrible argument. I don’t know why I was directing my anger at him; he was doing the best he could. I walked out the door, down three flights of stairs and sat outside. I didn’t know what else to do. The night guard, standing at his post next to the gate, unabashedly watched me cry.

When I went back upstairs I offered my husband platitudes. I was so disgusted with myself that I could give him nothing more. I was now a lousy wife as well as a lousy mother.

The next day, though exhausted from the argument, I did what I did every morning: I wrote my novel. My life’s disorienting chaos had cracked something open inside me. Freed from a fear of failure because I had failed by every imaginable measure, I wrote with a power and authenticity I never had before. The story was flowing, the characters  as real to me as I was to myself.

That afternoon, Mia cheered as Lily took her first, unsteady steps on the red, forgiving earth.

After 10 months, our money was mostly gone. I had written the book I wanted to write. It was time to return home. Back in Canada, I sold my manuscript. Where the Air Is Sweet was published last summer. Craig has returned to journalism, while flying part-time. The girls are settled in school. I am at work on a second novel.

I gave up every safety net I had. I put my family in unnecessary danger. I placed my marriage in a crucible. Yet despite falling and failing, I didn’t crash. I didn’t break into pieces.

I learned in those 10 months that falling is okay. And that failing is merely a matter of opinion. I noticed that in the space between my Hollywood-movie fantasies and my terror of hitting the ground, I was living.

Craig flew us in his company’s plane from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi once. About halfway through the flight, my pilot husband looked back at me and pointed to the window. Directly outside was Mount Kilimanjaro. From my seat in the clouds, I could see its summit.

I had a wonderful conversation earlier today with Mike Molloy, senior fellow, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa, and former Director General, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and former Ambassador of Canada to Jordan.

In the early 1970s Mike was a junior immigration officer at the Embassy in Beirut, which was responsible for immigration from East Africa. In August 1972, when Idi Amin expelled Asians from Uganda, Mike was integral to coordinating the Canadian effort to secure shelter for these Asians.

In a makeshift diplomatic office in downtown Kampala, Mike and the Canadian team processed more than 6,000 refugees in 60 days.

His lecture on this extraordinary effort provides an excellent overview of the context of the central event in my novel – the Asian expulsion – and tells the fascinating story of the Canadian diplomatic efforts that followed.

Highly recommended viewing!

Ugandan president Milton Obote sits with His Highness Karim Aga Khan in Kampala in 1966.

Ugandan president Milton Obote sits with Karim Aga Khan in Kampala in 1966.

The central characters in Where the Air Is Sweet are Ismaili Muslims. Here is a bit of background on Ismailis.

Who are Ismailis?
Ismaili Muslims are a community of ethnically and culturally diverse peoples united in their allegiance to Karim Aga Khan (known to Ismailis as Mawlana Hazar Imam) as the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) and direct descendant of Prophet Mohammed.

Ismaili Islam is an offshoot of the Shia branch of Islam (the smaller of the two branches of Islam). Never in their history, in any country on earth, have Ismailis been in the majority. Even within Islam itself, they’ve had to struggle to survive as a distinct group.

Why have Ismailis faced persecution?
For centuries, Ismailis have been persecuted within the Islamic world mainly because they competed for the leadership of the Muslim community. Ismailis hold that their imam, the Aga Khan, who is a direct descendant of Mohammed, should be leader of the Muslim ummah, or community.

The Muslim ummah split at the time of the Prophet’s death over the issue of his successor. When the Prophet Mohammed died, a crisis ensued over who would succeed him as leader and ensure the Muslim community remained united. A minority group held that only a member of Mohammed’s family could possess the divine wisdom required to interpret the hidden meaning of the Quran and proposed that Ali, Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law succeed the Prophet. This group came to be known as Shia’t Ali, the party of Ali, and eventually Shia. The Sunni, the largest branch of Islam in the world today, maintained that elected leaders should lead the community.

Ismailis emerged as a distinct group within Shia Islam in the eighth century after another succession crisis.

How many Ismailis are there in the world? Where do they live?
There are about 15 million Ismailis in the world, scattered over more than 25 countries (with the majority in South Asia and Central Asia).

How many Ismailis were expelled from Uganda?
About 80,000 South Asians were expelled from Uganda in 1972. Of these, approximately 24,000 were Ismailis.

Where did they go?
After the expulsion, Ismailis settled primarily in Canada, the UK, the US and continental Europe.

Why are so many Ismailis of South Asian origin?
As Ismailis continued to struggle to install their imam as leader of the growing Muslim world, they gradually moved eastward from Arabia. By the early 19th century, the 46th Imam, who had been given the honorary title of Aga Khan – which translates as “master ruler” from the Shah of Persia – moved his seat to India, where Indian missionaries had been active for hundreds of years.

How did they end up in East Africa?
Late in the 19th century the British Empire began recruiting labour from the Indian subcontinent to construct a railway connecting the Indian Ocean with the East African interior. Large numbers of Ismailis, along with other South Asians, travelled to East Africa. Once the railway was completed, many stayed on, and many of these opened shops. They quickly distinguished themselves as a sizable merchant class in much of Africa.

Who is the Aga Khan?
Aga Khan IV is the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. He is the Founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, a group of non-denominational development agencies with mandates that include the environment, health, education, architecture, culture, microfinance, rural development, disaster reduction, the promotion of private-sector enterprise and the revitalization of historic cities.

Watch a recent interview with Peter Mansbridge and the Aga Khan on the CBC dated Feb. 27, 2014. This is the unedited version.

More information:

Aga Khan Development Network

Official Website of the Ismaili Muslim Community

Institute of Ismaili Studies

Leap and the net will appear. The thing is, the net is always there.

It took me a very long time to learn this. I didn’t believe it was there while we were in Dar for that year or even when we returned home, safe, healthy, an almost-completed manuscript in hand. I know now it’s our awareness that’s the issue, not the existence of the net.

My husband secured a job flying a plane for some executives. It paid very little, which was expected. Low-hour pilots aren’t paid well anywhere, and Dar was no exception. But we were prepared to lose money in this venture. The point was to gain experience. So, we found an apartment and settled in.

Now, I could start writing.

I resisted. I had so much to do: get Mia into a school, figure out how to buy reasonably priced groceries, learn how to drive on the “other side” and in the chaotic traffic.

In about three weeks or so, we found a school for Mia and I learned to drive our rental car, though I kept turning on the wipers when I meant to hit the indicator. And more than once, while making a left turn I went into the wrong lane. But I was beginning to feel more and more comfortable in the chaos.

Still, I resisted writing. There was always so much to do.

My husband called me on it one night. “You have to just write,” he said. “There will always be something else to do.”

Simple, irrefutable logic.

Finally, one morning in June 2009, I sat at my new desk, purchased on the side of the road from a local African furniture-maker. It was still sticky with newly applied varnish.

I stared at a blank Word document and pictured my grandfather as a young man. He left his village of Malia, in Gujarat, when he was in his early 20s to make a go of it in East Africa. He went alone with very little money and no knowledge of where he was going. Having taken off the way we had, with no plan and with so much unknown before us, I suddenly felt a kinship with him. In my mind, he was not the old man dying of cancer that I recall from my childhood. He was tall and strong and aching for something. I had visited Malia about 14 years earlier. It was dusty and dry. I remembered pale sand. Like a beach with no sea. With those words, with those images, I started writing.

My husband and I kept a blog while we were in Dar from 2009 until early 2010. I’ve included some of blog posts from that time. The are categorized under Dar es Salaam and 2009.

When my husband and I decided to quit our secure and well-paying jobs as newspaper editors and take off to live in East Africa where I intended to write my novel and he intended to pursue his dream of being a full-time pilot, I bought him a card.

It had one of those calming, Zen-ish images on the front (I can’t actually recall the precise image, but probably a similar depiction of the Buddha as seen below). Inside the words read: “Leap and the net will appear.”

buddha

I loved this idea of the net because, well, we were we leaping and I was scared shitless.

We had given up careers, excellent benefits, sold our house (that we spent three years and a lot of money renovating), stored its contents and moved across the world with no jobs waiting for us. Oh, and we had our 3-year-old and 9-month old daughters in tow.

Four weeks after I watched him take the card out of its envelope, we were staying in a suburb of Dar es Salaam called Kariako at a dive of a hotel where our 3-year-old had a temper tantrum about three times a day and our now 10-month-old baby woke three or four times a night. Meals were always a challenge. These kids had to eat when they needed to eat and the restaurant in the hotel was limited — to put it mildly. We were frazzled, fried and snapping at each other with regularity. This was a few months after the global economy had taken a nosedive (in October 2008). The Arusha-based safari outfits where my husband planned to work were hit hard. So, he had no job or real prospect of a job and we were hemorrhaging money.

This plan of ours was 18 months in the making. Craig had left job almost two years previously to complete his IFR training. And now we were here. Could we quit? Should we?

I remember one night sitting on the floor with a baby resting in my arms. I had that blank stare of the mentally deranged. And then something caused me to focus my attention: a dead insect lying upside down under a table (hotel staff would come into our room each evening to “spray” at which point we would clear out for an hour or so). Our hotel room was small with two beds that were somewhere between a double and a single in size (one adult one child shared a bed). That pathetic dead insect provoked a thought: We were in free fall and there was absolutely no sign of a net.

Crap.

DarZanzibar1Last month we went to Zanzibar for the long Eid weekend. We were supposed to go on a camping safari with some friends. But one of the friends became ill (turned out to be pneumonia, poor woman) and we had to cancel. So we were bummed and had four days of holiday ahead of us. So, at the last minute, Craig found a reasonably priced resort called Coral Rock on the east coast of Zanzibar and off we set. The ferry boat was fine, a bit crowded and a bit hot but Mia (thanks to a hit of gravol) slept the whole way. Lily slept about half the 2.75 hour trip.

However when we arrived we hit a hitch. We hadn’t brought our passports since our travel agent said we didn’t need them. (Craig happened to have his passport with him but the kids and I did not.) It struck us as reasonable not to bring them since Zanzibar is part of Tanzania. However the government calls itself the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar and so it has some autonomy — I don’t know how real or imagined the autonomy is. But you need a passport when entering from Dar. I was especially irritated by this and snapped at the customs official that it is absurd to require a passport when travelling within national borders. Well, that got his back up and his ego took a huge hit. Craig meanwhile was (as he later told me), so amused by my self-righteous ire, that he joined in. So we both talked down our noses to this fellow for about ten minutes and thoroughly annoyed him. I have to admit, it was quite enjoyable. (I particularly relished telling the customs guy that yes, in fact, in Canada you cross the ocean to another province and do NOT require a passport) However, it was clear if we wanted to stay in Zanzibar we were going to have to change our tack. After much grovelling and apologizing they let us in. We had to spell out in a letter exactly what the deal was, where we were staying etc. But amazingly they took no money. They just wanted to hear how right they were and how wrong and sorry we were. We figured kissing the ground at their feet was worth it. We did not want to take those now exhausted, whiny children back to Dar on the ferry.

Anyways the resort was very nice. I’ve included some pics. We took Mia to see some real monkeys. She was initially afraid they’d attack her monkey, then she was bored (see pic). Kids. geez.

DarZanzibar3The beach was stunning. The water is actually turquoise. And there was a little pool where the kids enjoyed swimming. Lily had a bit of a tough weekend. Her molars were coming in and she spent a lot of the trip feeling terrible.

We took a trip into Stone Town and had a tour of the jamat khana, which in sections is 138 years old. Crazy.DarZanzibar2

Coming home was mostly uneventful. The customs agents this time could not have cared less whether we had travel documents and just waved us through (sigh). But the ferry was delayed four hours. Yes, we waited four hours in the Zanzibar sun until our boat came. The kids were fantastic. They hardly complained the whole time and then slept on the trip home. But it meant we left our resort at 9 a.m. and reached our home in Dar about twelve hours later. It was exhausting. But on the whole a good trip.

Bad bad bad us. We haven’t posted in far too long. I’ve been asking myself why and I think apart from being busy it’s because we are settling in more. Everything doesn’t feel like it needs to be reported as strange any more. Which is not to suggest that strange things no longer happen to us. In fact, some quite exciting things have happened. Poor Craig got hit by a a dalla-dalla (a mini bus) while riding his motorcycle about a month ago. He is absolutely fine. He suffered a sprained foot and road burn on his shoulder but otherwise had no physical problems. Emotionally, it was a bit of a wallop. Dar is not an easy place and the incident left him more than irritated with many aspects of the city, not least the insane traffic.

The kids are great. We have somehow managed as a family to get Mia to school for morning assembly, which is at 7:45. For the first three or four months of her school life, we could not get her to school before 8. Now, we all get up between 6 and 6:30 and more importantly we have found a shortcut. It won’t do in the rainy season because it’s not paved. But for now it works. Lily is walking and saying a few words. Her personality is as sweet as ever, though I believe I have seen signs of a temper (not sure where she’d get that!).

Craig and I joined a gym near Mia’s school and after I drop her at school, I go to run on the treadmill and then take my laptop to a cafe and write until it’s time to pick her up at noon. It works much better for me. I get to enjoy some outdoor writing, I get to exercise, and I don’t have to endure the sound of poor Lily banging on my door crying “Mama! Mama!” when I try to write at home.

So, all in all, things are carrying on more or less smoothly.

The power outages are very very frequent these days. We seem to run on generator more often than not. The heat is becoming more oppressive and I swear the fly population has doubled, but we are finding some space to enjoy our lives. There’s nothing like routine. And air conditioners.

There it is, the toughest blog post, the one that gets us back into posting again. And we will, more often. Promise.

Every morning when I drive Mia to school in that insane traffic, I decide this place is intolerable. It took me ONE HOUR to drive my 3-year-old to school yesterday (without traffic a 10-minute drive). And then at one point, as we sped up for mere moments, a military vehicle suddenly put on its sirens and swerved around me (I don’t know how he didn’t hit me), while every other car insantly stopped and pulled over for him. It was crazy. If you have a siren and a gun and are a soldier, you can do anything you want, including almost kill a woman and a child if you don’t want to sit in traffic like everyone else. grrrrrrrrrrr. Stuff like this is really incensing. That’s when I hate it.

And then later, when I am enjoying an afternoon with my kids sitting under a lush tree while a cool breeze blows, having to rush nowhere, I think, I don’t ever want to leave. sigh.

It’s all okay, in the end, circumstances will help me decide where we live.

Writing is going well. I didn’t get to do enough of it in S. Africa, but I enjoyed myself so much there (all those first world joys!), the racial tension notwithstanding.

But home is home. Dar was a relief, oddly enough, when we returned. (The racial tension was clearly more taxing than we realized.) That tropical third world smell — vegetation and traffic fumes — met us at the airport, along with the humidity — which was welcome after the cool, dry air of Pretoria.

Mia’s back into school rhythm after a week. She still says she wants to go to a restaurant every day (as we did in Pretoria), but every once in awhile she says, “It’s nice to be back in Daah (ie Dar).” And Lily is experiencing separation anxiety for the first time. Every time I leave the room she cries and then races (she is a very speedy crawler now) behind me. “Slap slap (sweaty, fat palms on tiled floor), pant pant.” She stands up on occasion, unaided. And she gets into everything. She is an utter, enchanting joy. And Mia is a grown up little miss (most of the time). She only wants to wear dresses or “girly shorts.” And she has been begging me to get her high heels. cripes. Where did this child come from?

All right. I will sign off now. Much to do without my dear husband here. I’m starting to feel like one of those European memsahibs of old colonial east africa, who look after household staffs, send their children to foreign-run schools and endure the absence of their husbands. Clearly, I must get back to writing my fiction…my imagination is running wild.

It’s been awhile since I posted. Lily’s eye is almost perfect again. She’s having her morning nap right now. Mia is home from school with a cold, again (the perils of starting school). Working on my novel is particularly tough with her at home. She’s a bundle of energy even when she’s sick. She just finished mopping her bedroom. I bought her a little mop from a hardware store. In a moment of African resourcefulness, the guy in the store just pulled out a saw and cut down a regular mop when I asked if they had child mops.

Earlier she tossed a balloon back and forth with me for half an hour (did I say she’s sick?) while Lily squealed with delight. I told her if she let me work for a while I would take her for a ride on her new bike. She is at the moment sitting behind me. I can feel her big eyes searing into my back. :)

DarbikeWe bought her a little Chinese-made (read: cheap) tricycle this weekend. It has a little trailer on the back which Craig and I thought would be perfect for Lily. Mia had a different idea. “It has a seat for Monkey!” she declared when she saw it. We convinced her to give Lily a ride now and then. (see pic).

Pint-sized demands aside, I have to say I’ve never had this kind of energy to write. I don’t need to read articles about writing or draw outlines of characters I don’t believe in or do laundry — all things I did when I sat down to write in the past. Now I write. And when I don’t write, I want to. Hence my delay in writing posts here. I’m greedy about my time on the computer, particularly with Craig’s job in a sort of limbo until September or so (when we find out if his salary will increase sufficiently for us to stay here). I know this is precious time to write, so I write.

Funny how life bestows gifts without you realizing it: between the kids and the limbo state we’re in, I’m being shoved right into the present moment, where, after so many years of trying to force it to, the writing is flowing….


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