Dar-es-Salaam (I)

The first part of this post will be a personal reflection of my visit whilst the second will be a review of the city. 

Dar-es-salaam literally translates to “city of peace” and yet everything we had heard about the place before travelling was almost completely the opposite.

“They cut off your hands and steal your purses.”

Just about sums up everybody’s impression of this small exotic city in the east of Africa. If it wasn’t chatter about thieves and gangs it was worry about the risks of yellow fever.

“Have you got your yellow fever vaccination done?”, “No, have you?”

It was only day 2 after having found out we were going and I was already sick of hearing any kind of story related to Dar-es-Salaam. I just wanted to get out there and experience things for myself before deciding whether it was really that dangerous. If there’s anything I’ve learnt from my travels it’s that, it’s important to be wary but no so much so that you’re always fearing for your life.

The purpose of my visit to Tanzania was as good as pilgrimage. As a practising Dawoodi Bohra, I’ve been lucky enough to attend Ashura congregations (The mourning of Imam Hussein’s (AS) martyrdom) with his holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin (TUS) a second time -the first being in Houston, Texas and the second Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania. The one thing I pride myself in is being faithful, not only do I have strong faith in my God but I am a strong and an unbreakable believer in the faith that I follow. Every year I feel that faith grow stronger and more resolute than before…Even when I think it’s not possible, it somehow just happens.

So when my faith is as strong as it is, things like thieves and gangs seem to worry me less than others around me because I know I am protected and no matter what happens I have someone to look to for help. 30,000+ Dawoodi Bohras attended Ashura this year (1438H/2016) and from those you’ll probably find a large number of people who have decided to blog their experiences, some of the city, some of what they’ve learnt and taken away. For me this trip in its essence was life-changing and so for the first time I feel like sharing something, although a little, about myself.

This past year has been a busy one to say the least. I have been so involved in various activities and projects that I’ve very much been living in the present. The future has never been an issue for me because I take things as they come – that was until things got messy along the way and I was left questioning where exactly it was I planning to head. It’s all good and well to live in the moment, enjoy things as they are but to have no direction poses a problem, especially when the end of university is so near for me.

Before I left for Tanzania, I had hoped with all my might that the trip would hold something special for me, something that would make my future look more promising and something to ensure that I have direction. Of course these are high expectations to have for a seventeen day trip and yet I had them anyway. During the ten days of Ashura, His Holiness (TUS) delivers sermons during which the first half teaches of the Islamic shari’at and the second retells the happenings of Karbala almost fourteen hundred years ago. Naively I had hoped something from these sermons, or just being in Dar-es-Salaam in general, would strike a chord in me. Ironically something one of my lecturers told us comes to mind,

“It’s unrealistic to expect your dream career to quite literally just appear to you in a dream. You have to be actively searching for it.”

My issue was that I had been doing so many things over the year that I already had an idea of my likes and dislikes, this left me trapped. I was too selective. Nothing seemed to fit my needs or likes. Luckily enough when you travel to another country everything you’ve left behind matters less and less. My ‘live in the moment’ behaviour came out again and I couldn’t care less about my future.

Everything changed after the sermons.

On the first day something Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin (TUS) had said suddenly gave me an idea. An idea of what my life could look like -just a possibility. The idea started off as a small seed in my gut, something felt right and ensuring about it, it was snug and warm and I would keep that idea safe for future use. The next day arrived and the second sermon seemed to speak directly to me, to that seed in my stomach – like it was lightly being showered with water to grow. Everything seemed related to it and in the most positive way. By the third day the seed was now a healthy green spout which I knew would only grow larger and more firm. I was becoming more and more sure that this idea was possible and that it was not only what was good for me but what was meant for me.

I have to admit that if I rewind a few years back, a lot of the teachings that were mentioned in these sermons  were lost on me. They were too advanced for my level of understanding and I would only really pick up on things I already knew or had heard before. This year everything was crystal clear. It would be sensible to assume that the reason behind this is age and maturity but I also am a big believer in “everything has it’s time” and this was most likely mine.

So I say, Dar-es-Salaam was quite literally a ‘life-changing’ experience for me and it’s fitting that I found peace with myself in a city whose names denotes peace.

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