The day starts early with a knock on the window @ 3.30am from Ismail, who is the housekeeper of the guest house we’re living it. He prepares a delicious spread for Suhoor which we tuck in to an hour later. Shortly thereafter, Naeem, Brother Rashid’s son pulls up to take us for Fajr. He is a multi-tasking man who makes things happen. There are some bone crushing moments as he showcases his daredevil driving on Makene’s roads which are currently being upgraded. He tells us that the road infrastructure in the area had been precarious for many decades and took a turn for the worse during heavy rains last summer. Thus although a mess currently, residents are generally supportive of the upgrade. They are not oblivous though, that a general election is not far away.
Another Zambian idiosyncracy is the huge gates that surround most houses and the gatemen who mechanically open them on hearing the sound of a persistent hooter. Our guest house looks like an oasis with its tall palm trees and beautiful garden. There is also a borehole which forms the main water supply for this and most other homes in the area.
My early morning crossing to Cii is made from this serene backdrop. Yet it is somewhat deceptive considering the frenzied thoughts that are plaguing my brain. No contact with the Convoy has been made for the past 24 hours and with the hour of their expected entry fast approaching, everybody is worried and frustrated. Have they perhaps been immortalized in the ruins of Zimbabwe, I think.
The Convoy arrives in Lusaka, finally
While we wait, we are given a tour of the Makene Islamic Society. Set on a huge piece of land, the institute encompasses a Masjid, School, hostel, radio station and clinic that offers much needed services to the local population at a nominal cost. Whilst we are there, a local source informs us that the convoy was spotted entering Zambia. We hurry out to catch a glimse of them and much sooner than expected see them emerging out of the Zambian wilderness. They are led by a lone traffic officer riding a motorcycle. Unlike the several high adrenalin escorts police back home had afforded them, this time the officer led the convoy at a morose 80 km/h.
On the stroke of Jummuah, the convoy entered the compounds of the Makene Masjid where students had assembled to welcome them. It was at that stage that we discovered quite pleasantly that one of the people who had turned up to welcome the convoy was Mbinji Mujalo, a professor at the University of Zambia who had been quite visible on facebook asking questions and showing his support for the convoy. He revealed his deep rooted commitment to the Palestinian cause spanning 20 years and offered to assist the convoy whilst in Zambia.
After Jummuah, we accompanied the convoy as it touched base with media houses for awareness interviews. We visited the studios of Muvi TV, a popular Lusaka outlet and Mobi TV, an indigenous language channel. I was pleasantly suprised to discover how easy it was to solicit media coverage in Zambia. Simply pull up with your agent at the reception and request an interview. In no time, reporters are despatched to meet you and the cameras start rolling. You even can request quite demandingly when you would like the interview to be broadcast.
Whilst we are there, a political party marches in also seeking an interview. Shouting slogans, making promises and denouncing opponents-its all too hillarious and animated. More surprising though, despite all the din, the reporter attending to us hardly flinches. Later he tells us that with elections fast approaching, they are just too used to a whole host of colourful characters paying them a visit and seeking exposure.
Iftaar is served up by the community of Makene at the Islamic Centre. The highlight is the game meat on the menu, which the team tear into like wolves. Although I am satiated, it doesn’t stop a local Zambian offering me yet another local speciality-a post Taraweeh T-Bone.
I am also touched by the many offerings of support and well wishes from the local community. Despite being complete strangers, community members embrace us wholeheartedly and attend to our every need, from sim cards to washing. One particularly memorable moment came when a resident of Indian descent spent a few minutes offering me words of encouragements. Despite my poor command of the Urdu language, his parting words which went something along the lines of “Mere Dil Ke Dua,” still find themselves ringing in my ears.
Many people approach me, their curiosity aroused by my Cii jacket. Cii is a household name here and it seems the hottest talking point this Ramadan is our popular drama series-688 INSAAF MANSIONS, for which I play the role of narrator.
Talking about drama, theres another one being played out in the corridors of the Makene Islamic Society. One of the vehicles of the Convoy was not permitted to enter Zambia due to a paperwork technicality. Now frenzied attempts are being made to make arrangements for the vehicle, or at least the passengers to cross the border. Problematically, the border closes in 30 minutes times. Compounding the crises even further, Brother Shakir Baker, currently with us in Lusaka, has his bags left in that vehicle. He is due to fly out of the country in less than 12 hours. Eventually, with help of local brothers, the car manages to cross the border-the Zimbabwean side that is-but just fails to cross the bridge that links in to Zambia in time. Anyway, tomorrow is another day.