Game changer. Builder. Great sense of humour. Kind. Jolly. Resourceful. Creative. Hard worker. Smart. People person. Go to Guy. A pillar.
Those are the words people used to describe my dad. The last time I saw my dad was when I was 20. He was 50. Two years later, he passed away and I went to his funeral. On Christmas Day, I went back to Moshi, my home town, after 32 years. It was an emotional and exhilarating visit.
Everything in Moshi was the same and different. What struck me most about Moshi was its cleanliness. And then I found out that Moshi is indeed the cleanest city in all of Tanzania. A few years ago, the officials in Moshi imposed a 50,000 shilling ($30) fine on anyone who littered the street, including spitting in the streets, and it is obviously working.
Much as I tried, I could not find my bearings and it took Shafiq Didarali, a friend and a native of Moshi, to drive me through town and patiently show me around. I visited my old school where I went from Standard 1 to 7. And suddenly random memories emerged of how I fell on the grounds while playing rounders, and I felt the scar on my knee from that incident. We drove to the Post Office and again I remembered our P.O. Box numbers – 48 and 479. We went to the library where I spent many hours every week. As I peered through the doors, I noticed that everything – the furnishings, the colours, the layout – was exactly as it was 32 years before. I saw Mawenzi hospital where I physically ran away from a dental procedure, with my mom running after me to try and catch me. I saw the hill that the driving instructor took me to do my driving test to see how well I could navigate a standard shift car.
We went to the Moshi Jamatkhana in the evening. It was beautiful – exactly as I remembered it. The only difference is that it used to be filled with hundreds of people; today there were only 15. I sang at the mosque and remembered the first time I recited – when I was 7 years old. I sat on the bench that I used to sit at, and every insecurity I felt as a teenager came back to me. I remembered being a moody kid with long pigtails, feeling misunderstood and alone. I remembered how I never felt good enough, never pretty enough, never smart enough. I wish I had the wisdom of my future self who could tell my 15 year old self that everything would be okay.
At Jamatkhana, I met people I had not seen in three decades. Every conversation inevitably turned to my dad. . They talked about his brown “Kaunda” suit that he wore to mosque every evening. They talked about how he would drive his beloved white Peugeot 504, which sadly I cannot recall. They remembered the jokes he would tell and the pranks he would play. They talked about his innovative business practices, his determination and his persistence. And every person I met had at least one story about how my dad had personally helped them. And each one of them wiped tears from their eyes as they remembered him and lamented his loss. These stories helped me understand my dad in a way that I never did before. He was very beloved and certainly left a beautiful legacy. We found our way to the cemetery to pay our respects, except we could not find his tombstone. It appears that someone stole the tombstone for money, which is common practice. Again fate intervened and we met Abdullah, the caretaker. He remembered working in our bakery for my dad and led us to his now unmarked grave.
And then we went to my old home. As luck would have it, we met the current owner, Mr. Nurdin Fakirudin, who welcomed us into the home. The home was almost the same from 32 years ago, with some renovations and extensions. I mentioned the Grandfather Clock we had in the dining room. Much to my surprise, the owner pointed to my Grandfather Clock, which they had moved to the living room. The best part of the trip for me was sharing the experience with my family. It was like my past and present coming together in a surreal, crazy fashion.
We went to the different businesses our family owned in Moshi, including the bakery, the Pepsi Cola factory, the Sweet factory and the Agip Gas Station. As we drove through town, my friend introduced me as “Mamdu’s daughter”‘ and everyone remembered my dad fondly and told me that Moshi had lost a good man. As luck would have it, the current owner of the bakery, Mr. Suresh Jethwa, was in the premises and, when he found out who I was, insisted that I go into the building to check it out. It was one of the most difficult things I did. The bakery, without my dad, did not feel right to me. My friend recounted the story of being right alongside my father the day he got burned in the fire at the bakery. It was a horrible tragedy and something I had tucked in the recesses of my mind without dealing with it. Now I was forced to confront my feelings and the tears that I had held in check for 32 years came pouring down.
They say you can never go home. I needed to go home to finally bring closure and say goodbye to my dad. When he was alive, I don’t remember my dad ever telling me that he loved me, nor I telling him that I loved him. 32 years later, I am finally able to tell him how very proud I am of him and to be Mamdu’s daughter.