July 24, 2007

Out of Africa

July 24, 2007
    The book, "40 Days and 1001 Nights" is done and being printed as I write this. It will be released on August 10, at the film showing at Atlanta's Southern Fusion Fest, then available on my websites soon after: www.tamalyndallal.com and www.40daysand1001nights.com.  
   All went well with the instruments headed for Zanzibar. I ended up going alone, with double the weight allowance, headed to Zanzibar. When the manager at Kenya Airlines saw the instruments, and realized that my request for additional weight that had been approved when I bought my ticket was not logged onto the computer, he actually gave me another ten kilos for free and an extra seat to strap the oud in for takeoff.
    The Ikhwani Safaa band was grateful and invited me to hear them play at the club house, presenting me with gifts of traditional carved wood for myself and the donor who made the instruments possible, and made us both honorary members of the musical club. 
    In addition to the donation for instruments, I had many more donations in hand, mostly from people who heard about my project. Those went to help with repairs to the crumbling club house so that the top floor apartment will be in good enough condition for the band's elder teacher and mentor, Mawalim Edie to be able to move in and work with his musicians again instead of being so far away across town and unable to get to the club. Also, the "1001 Nights Fund" sponsored one young man in his studies to learn website design, a field that is rare and sorely needed in that part of the world.
     I stayed in the home of Emerson, an American man who was involved in most arts organizations in Zanzibar; including the ZIFF Film Festival, Dhow Academy music school, Busara Music Festival, and an initiative for crippled people to have work, driving tiny three wheeled "tuk tuks" as taxis through the tiny streets of Zanzibar. Unfortunately, he has been ill and in the hospital in New York for multiple surgeries. He generously allowed me to stay in a beautiful apartment in the former palace where he lives.
     I met amazing people, such as the lady behind Ikhwani Safaa's 100th Anniversary celebration, Maryam Hamdan, and her wonderful singer- husband Mohammed, who is the current artistic director of Ikhwani Safaa. His other taarab group, "Twinkling Stars" are about to record a CD with a German producer. Another amazing person was Hamisi, a creative and innovative artist who now designs the CD covers for many local musicians, and makes them out of paper he recycles himself.
     The next adventure was Kenya. I didn't go on safari, as one would expect. Rather, I stayed along the coast, in Mombasa, where I visited one of the people who figures highly in the Zanzibar section of my book. He is written about under the name of Taariq, and is currently in recovery from heroin addiction. He has been drug free for the past 15 months. Heroin addiction is prevelant in Zanzibar, affecting nearly every family on the island. Unfortunately, there are no facilities for rehabilitation in Zanzibar, and neither the police or government do anything to curb the flow of drugs on their way from Pakistan to Europe via Zanzibar, coastal Kenya and Tanzania. Instead, many pockets are lined with the profits, at the expense of local society.
     The "1001 Nights Fund" was able to help fund the treatment of another man who did not have family to help him, as well as buying small items for the MEWA Rehabilitation Center, such as a hose so they don't have to water the garden with a bucket, a soccer ball, door mats made of rubber instead of rotting twine, a clock, and a whole car load of other items that the director deemed neccesary. It is amazing what a small shopping trip, like the trips we make to Target on any weekend to get little things for our homes, can mean to a small group of men living on the fringes of society. One of the men in recovery who is now a counselor told me "One time someone from the American Embassy brought us five chickens. We ate them and three hours later they were gone. Now, we have things that will last us for years."
    The "1001 Nights Fund" began with $2110 and now has $410 remaining. The $1700 that was spent affected dozens of lives in small ways, via direct aid. I have gained a lot by beginning to learn about what is needed.... Really, only scratching the surface. In Africa, there are needs every day, everywhere you turn. The most important thing is for the money to go where it will help people grow and put in their own efforts and not foster dependancies.      
    In Mombasa, I learned three ways to make the famous Swahili dish, "Pulao", and went to an elephant reserve where giant African elephants dwarfed our car, in their natural habitat by the side of the road. If one of the animals had chosen to get mad, I wouldn't be here to write about it.
    I visited the beautiful island of Lamu, where there is only one car and no roads wide enough to accomodate it. The Magistrate goes the one block stretch from his home to office along the waterfront in this car. Otherwise, the streets are plied by donkeys, and the waters by traditional "dhows", a style of boat that has travesed the Indian Ocean for hundreds of years. These are made by hand of mangrove wood.
    The donkeys of Lamu are so gentle and cute! They don't hee haw or kick, and roam the streets as free as people do. They know to go to their owners at feeding time. The town is small, so when someone needs their donkey for transport, they just ask the neighbors "Have you seen my donkey?". Streets are so narrow that only two people can walk side by side, and all is made of ancient stones. Women wear their black bui buis and often cover their faces for more anonimity, but at home, when they dance, they do incredible hip movements. They love Swahili music, Reggae, Indian Bollywood songs, and Arabic belly dance music.
     Now, I am back in Cairo, trying to digest all of my experiences over a cup of Turkish coffee, whose grinds assure me that there are many roads ahead.
Tamalyn Dallal