Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 15, Tuesday November 15, 2005




My Memorable Years Spent In Africa ...

I can't forget an incident, which still haunts me whenever it flashes through my mind. Andrew, my Scottish neighbour's little boy used to spend almost the whole day with us, because my little daughter was of the same age as him. That day I was in the vegetable garden at the backyard with one of my Indian friends called Rekha Badkar. We were gathering green and ripe red chilies and Andrew was beside me singing and jumping gleefully. Once he asked me whether the red chilies were all sweet to taste. I was chatting with Rekha and at the same time picking the chilies so I just replied absentmindedly, “Oh! Yes, yes, go on.” And then forgot about him. Suddenly I heard a loud scream and turned around and saw Andrew with his mouth wide open, a red face, tears rolling down his face and saliva dripping all over his lips. I saw him running fast climbing over the fence and run straight into their kitchen. I heard from Dorris (Andrews mother) later on, that, right then, Andrew gulped down almost 1litre of cold milk from the fridge and then he felt better. Dorris just asked me,” What happened Suraiya?” I told her it was all because of my negligence that the poor child suffered so much. Instead of getting angry or the slightest bit annoyed Dorris just said, “Oh! Never mind children are always children and things like that do happen every now and then with them.” I just thanked Allah that it happened with such a nice person like Dorris.

Then in the morning of 30th September which is Botswana's 'Independence Day' I accompanied my husband to President Masere's palace. When we entered through the huge gate, as much as I can remember we went on our foot as we all had to park the cars outside the palace. I felt I was walking over a huge green soft carpet and around me there were beautiful flower plants in small bushes all over the whole garden . Then I saw people of different nationalities scattered here and there in groups chatting and drinking. Food and drinks were served in separate decorative tables in one corner of the giant garden but no one was that much interested in food as they all were busy getting to know each other. It was sort of a cocktail get together. Then a few minutes later president Masire and his wife came out in the garden to greet and meet the guests. They both walked and went to each and every single guest and shook hands and inquired about the nationality, health, well beings of the family etc. I felt, they were very simple and soft natured people and never give you a feeling that showcased the fact that they were the top brass of that country.

Next day I received a phone call from one of the senior professor in English of the Department of English of Botswana University. He asked me to see him after my class at the polytechnic to discuss a few things regarding the exam papers that he was rechecking as my Moderator.

We both went through each and every answer script and he told me how delighted he was to see the comments I wrote on answer scripts. After we finished he came with me to the parking space and said goodbye. I still remember his sophisticated gesture and polite behaviour very distinctly.

In the meantime one day, our neighbour (from the opposite side of the front road) Malcom, a British citizen came to see us and invited us to attend his wedding ceremony with his African maid cum girlfriend. We went and sat outside in the lawn with all other guests most of whom were the bride's relatives. All the African ladies were dancing wearing their traditional dresses and a few of them were cooking African beef 'sesowa' . Malcom and his friends were helping some young boys in doing the ' braai'. Somehow I felt out of place.

Christmas was approaching, and we were receiving cartons full of varieties of wine, liquor from different companies, organizations etc. I never dared to taste any of those as I am a bit religious minded and I always thought that there are so many things in the world to eat so, why should I crave for wine? I don't try every food that comes my way? But my husband used to tease me always and he kept on saying '” one sip will not make you die of fear.” I never gave in whatever other people said to me. Most of the wine boxes I distributed among my Indian ,Chinese, and other Christian friends. A few days before and after Christmas time I was busy marking exam papers of my students and most often stayed at home while the children had fabulous time to pass. They visited Mickles, Milkylane, OK Bazar, Woolworth, Pick & Pay etc and bought goods at 50% discount along with some free gifts too. Now whenever I recollect those moments I begin comparing our Eid shopping system with those discounted Christmas sales. Those people sell every thing at half price to help people enjoy the big festival in a year but here it's the opposite…prices of all goods including basics go up to make people struggle instead of bringing a smile to their face. I feel, when are we going to change to keep pace with the outside world? When are we going to raise our tolerance level up to bring peace in the country?

To be continued………..

By Suraiya Zafar


Fun facts on Rickshaw

A Bangladeshi who has yet to ride on a rickshaw is quite difficult to find. For this reason, or that, every single person has had the experience at least once. I mean this dumb, slow-moving inanimate object has practically blended into our culture. It is us, we are it. It is invincible- somewhat like the AIDS back in the 80s.

From an “inexperienced” point of view, it seems pretty simple. The metal structure resembles an overgrown tricycle, with a passenger seat. A plastic convertible hood goes over the top, and ta da- we have a rickshaw. Yet, it is beautiful in its own ways. Who can forget the flashy, manually painted movie signboards that are pinned to its back. They are painted in dazzling hues of red, yellow, green and blue. I always kind of wondered why the actors' faces are coloured piggy-pink- but who cares as long as it is catchy? That is supposed to be the point anyway. I do not exactly know about the others, but I seriously consider them unsung aesthetic masterpieces. Every rickshaw reflects the meticulous work, the artistic freedom of the artists and the “designers.” Well, the “billboards” are not the only attractive aspects of a rickshaw. The seats are usually crimson or some friendly shade of blue. Silver

and golden streamers dangle from the hood like some intricate bridal ornament. Often the wheel spokes are wrapped with colorful plastic ropes.

However, there is no specific design- the artists have complete creative liberty. They are free to express themselves through their work. Not only does a rickshaw look good, it also has many advantages. It is extremely flexible, reaching places where cars and buses cannot. It can conquer the narrowest and the most dilapidated of roads. There is this particular road in Rajarbaag, which, without any doubt, must be the narrowest in the country. The walls seem to close in on you from both the sides. What is worse, the road is uneven like the surface of the Appalachians. Obviously, nothing can access it- well, apart from rickshaws.

What I do not understand is why the government is desperate to ban this important mode of transport. At least the transport minister did have the sense enough to remove them from the main roads, instead of calling a total ban. Look at the bright side. The fares are generously low. I mean, ANY ONE can afford a ride. If we look from another perspective…. Think about all the rickshaw-pullers with no jobs and many mouths to feed. I do not want to be hysterical and include emotional rubbish, but face it- it is the fact.

Moving on to the most exiting part, let us discuss the part where we actually ride the rickshaw. The ride itself is heart lifting. Many prefer to go without the hood. But there are two kinds of people who do not. On one hand, are the ladies who are excessively beauty conscious and believe sun burn will draw the end of human civilization. On the other, we have the lovebirds whom, ahem, like a little privacy. I, myself, am a believer in no-hoods, not even in the rain. I like to enjoy the views of life the ride provides. Plus, I can not help but feel slightly claustrophobic in such forms of confinement.

While riding, the body basically does nothing. It is just like sitting on a chair. This is the time when the mind comes into play. It harbours the weirdest of ideas and thoughts. Frankly, it even stimulates me to search for the meaning of my existence. However intellectual and pompous that might sound, there is no stopping it. It occurs naturally. There are also simple questions like “what should I buy Ma for her birthday?” or “should I build a miniature solar car for my science project?”

If you are more of an observer than a thinker, the experience can still be enriching. Take a look round and you will find so many different people, doing so many different things. Teenagers hanging out, slum children playing, quarrelling policemen. I have even passed by a group of pre-teens “doping.” Once you are in a rickshaw, there is no limit to what you can see. Some activities are quite educational; this is one of them. It helped me understand how others live, their eccentric behaviour, and to some extent showed me where I fit in.

To know about rickshaw, you do not need to read this article. Everyone has had his or her own experiences. By the way, if you did not, just hop in today and say, “Cholen, Bhai.” Bon voyage…

By Saadi


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