God of Hunger by John Coutouvidis - HTML preview
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.
A year after his expulsion from school Theo received a letter from a school friend. A Perso- Iraqi by the name of Nooshin, ‘Noosh’. He too had attended Kongwa European School. The son of Dr. Faramdoula, the physician to the First Minister, he was not considered a racial anomaly by the school authorities but from the first day he was vilified as a wog by his schoolmates. He withstood the taunts with annoying stoicism such that a mastiff of a boy called Randy Milner challenged him to a fight. No one had ever prevailed against this edifice of thick bone and muscle. So when, at break, news got around of the impending fight all the boys who formed the circle with which such contests took place bayed for the obvious outcome; the only thrill came from being there to witness the damage done. “I’ll kill you you bloody chut,” from Milner was taken up in a chorus of “Go on Randy, kill the bloody chut.”
As was the custom, blazers were given to seconds. Noosh looked around but no boy dared to do the honours for him. All except one. ‘Here, give it to me’, said Theo. And with that the fight started. Randy Milner’s face broke into a sneer of contempt as, fists up, he approached the boy.
Noosh, kept his arms by his side. “Come on you funk. Put them up so I can smash you to kingdom come.” Nothing. Noosh just circled around the brute of a human pachyderm. It was galling to Milner to find his first punch, which would have felled a tree, fly into the air making him look stupid. He became properly angry. All anger hitherto was just for show. He rushed at Noosh expecting to collide. Still nothing. Milner tripped into an empty space and fell like a sack of flour onto the red gritty earth which sandpapered his arms, thighs and nose. He looked monstrously funny as he got back onto his trunk like legs. Saliva spilt out of a corner of his mouth, forcing him to lisp, ‘Yous suckin ssit’.
A group of juniors could not contain their shock and amusement at the sight of their sweating, swearing, snivelling hero now screaming: I’ll get yous for this yous sucking ssit. Noosh smiled and parried yet another thunderous punch with a side step, making Milner swivel around the Perso- Iraqi boy’s right leg which stood rooted to the ground. Down went the big white boy. Again and again until he lay on the ground hoping his tears of exhausted frustration would be taken for sweat. No one was fooled. The game was up. The world had changed. And Theo had sensed it first. He walked back to class with Noosh. The two became friends and remained friends for life.
After both had left school Theo was not surprised to receive a letter from Noosh who invited him to Dar-es-salaam where Dr. Faramdoula had his practice and where the family lived in airy comfort under palms in a large thatched bungalow raised off the ground on chest high posts. Up short stairs onto the verandah, Theo was greeted by a tall slim lady, her young daughter Yasmin, youngest son Fadhal and the pomegranate of her eye, Nooshin.
“Welcome to our home Theo. Noosh has told us much about you.”
The eyes of the two friends met, one showing concern in his eyes by what may have been said and the other returning a reassuring look suggesting that nothing but good had been imparted. Come and sit down. You must be tired after your journey. Would you care for tea? Care for tea! Such language. Such civility. Such serenity. All new to Theo. There was nothing like this at home. When foreign guests came and a party was hosted the situation was far from civil or serene. Throughout the proceedings the Xenee would be smiled at while in Greek Theo’s mother would provide a running commentary. E, morre. Pesane sto faghee sa ghourounia. Ma aftee ee kokeenokoleeee then trone sta speetia tous. Erhonte s’emas kai mia kai kalo. Vre papse gheeneka. Ase tous na fane. Tee se niazee? Tee meee nyazee. Oreeste. Tee me nyazee. Pote tha feeghoune. Na eeseehasoume (Well I never. They are in the trough like pigs. These red-arses do not eat at home. They come to us and shovel it in. Shut up woman. Let them eat. What is your problem? Well I never. What is my problem? When will they leave? To give us peace and quiet.) And so it went on. A nerve wracking undercurrent of criticism punctuating the occasional. ‘Yes. Welcome. Please. Have more. Help yourself. Of course ..’
Life in the Kokopoulos household was hardly ever harmonious. Conversation was unusual. Communication within the family was hardly ever conducted at normal decibel levels. It was either shouts and screams or long brooding silence; followed by shouts and screams. Peace settled on the house in the afternoon when mother read her romances Romantzo and Theesavros sent out from Athens as journals printed on cheap paper. Stories of the heart interspersed with cartoons of Zacharias and Ee Hondree, his fat wife, cookery and embroidery read to the accompaniment of sounds from the roof caused by the expansion of corrugated iron being pounded by the midday sun. Father would be at the workshops stripping down a tractor, shouting at his son for a spanner whose size was never specified. There was sadism in the hot, oily air. And peace again at night as KK listened to the BBC World Service and Theo serviced the guns. In times between it was shouts and screams or silences like a distant volcano between explosions.
At the Faramdoulas tranquillity was the norm. Speech was soft and none softer than in the mouth of the father who returned home after surgery to greet his house guest. Howw arrre youu? Gladd tooo meeet youu. And your famileee? Theo heard speech as soft as the breeze from the overhead fan. And he liked it. As he liked the house. And its contents. Each room panelled in delicate embroidery or fine weave. The Faramdoulas, he came to learn, were dedicated collectors of Persian art: ‘This one is from Isfahan. That from Ter’an. Tiles from Quom.’ Edged with a script Theo had not seen before. More beautiful than Greek in its flow and flourish. ‘What did it say?’ ‘Ah, quotations from the Holy Quoran. Come let us eat.’
They sat on large well filled cushions around a low scented table. Theo was heard to inhale and the Doctor said ‘Camphor wood. It was given to us by a close friend from Oman who now lives on the island. As you know Zanzibar was long held by the Sultan of Oman. First he lived in Moscat and then chose to build a new palace for himself and his family in Zanzibar town. Theo did not know but he nodded his head in pretence that he did. And so it went on into the night. Between courses ‘we thought would remind you of your mother’s Anatolian cuisine: Tomatoes and Peppers stuffed with saffron rice, raisins, currants, walnuts and almonds. Bamias and Meliganes too. And, last at table, pomegranates, a fruit from Persia which arrived from its deserts in carefully packed gift boxes; gifts from the family at home.
Theo looked at the side table. ‘As you can see illustrated on this set of ivories is the story of a wonderful picnic between the Prince and his chosen one.’ Then coffee on the verandah. ‘In the Greek style. Just how we drink it. At last Theo found himself with the familiar and asked authoritatively Arabica? Yes, from Yemen. We call it Mocca. The talk of coffee led to questions about how things were up country, about the farms and about the mood of the farmers. ‘How did the doctor know we had two farms and that one was coffee?’ thought Theo, on his guard for the first time that evening. So he asked. And obtained a direct answer. The Bulsaras know your father and his family. They are close friends of ours. They all stayed with us last week.
‘Yes I know them too. In fact my aunt works with Mrs. Bulsara at the curio shop. She has a grandson. I played with him from time to time. He tried to teach me the guitar; he is very musical. I have not got the patience so it did not last long. …’
Theo said more than he had expected to say, but he found that talking once again relaxed him.
Of the mood of the farmers he spoke about the formation of the European Union but said little of his father’s role in it. The old man and he had not spoken since the expulsion; there was shouting but no speaking.
‘What about you young Mr. Kokopoulos? A man at the start of adult life. How do you see your future? I am interested to know because the same question I put to Nooshin and Fadhal.’
It was a question no one at home had ever asked him and one he never gave an answer to beyond the confines of his skull. He loved the wilderness, the porini and was glad to have the farm at Ndareda even though it was short of water. It was a place he could hide away from his father and if the rains came he was sure to produce enough to live on. He would like a new car. A Chevrolet Impala. Convertible. That was the baby. The girls in Arusha would go out with him then. Take a chick to the flicks and then they would sit in the car. And look at the stars. And listen to the radio. Then he would drive her back home. Open the door for her. Nice and easy. Show the parents he cared. He would respect her. Next day he would ask permission to take her for a milk shake at Subzali’s new Milk Bar. He could even check out the new white walled tyres at the garage next door.
As to politics, Theo had given little thought. But on one point he was clear: when asked ‘would you join the European Union?’ he said ‘no way!’
The last thing he wanted was to be with his father. The Doctor was taken aback at the force of the reply and desisted questioning his guest any further. Mrs. Faramdoula intervened with the suggestion that Theo be allowed to settle into the guest suite.
At daybreak Theo woke up to the sound of a call he had not heard before. He listened: Mwa-l -aakbaa . Mwaaalakba. Several times. One joining into the other; louder in the breeze when it strengthened; less so when it dropped. Then he heard the ring neck doves whose coo-coo’s took over completely and were themselves replaced by the sounds of the house. By the time he got out of bed, washed and got dressed it was no longer a golden dawn but a silver morning. He walked out of his rooms onto the verandah and saw Noosh, Fadhl and their father walking back through the grounds of the house, the sand paths neatly swept by the gardeners already at work.
‘Good morning, Sir,’ he said to the doctor. Then, ‘Hiya Noosh. Hiya Fad.’
They returned the greeting all together, asking about his rest and what he wanted for breakfast. A question taken up again by the mother who repeated the morning’s first exchange of words. At the breakfast table set out on the verandah, the doctor said: “Nooshin tells me you were very interested about the trenches on Kilimanjaro. I am too. Although, as you know, I am a doctor, I also dabble in history; each week I give a talk to a group of people at the mosque where we prayed this morning. You saw us returning. Perhaps the call to prayer woke you? This evening in fact I give a talk. Come along.”
“With Noosh and Fadhal?”
Theo was not sure. But why not? And so they went to the mosque after a day at the reef snorkelling and harpooning.
‘This evening we have a special guest. Our guest, Theo. The son of Mr. Kokopoulos an important man in the north. Theo is interested in history. As we are. Tonight, because he knows of the history of the Germans and the British, I thought I would begin by distributing a table of events as an aid to discussion about the war of 1914-1918. This table will be the basis of discussion tomorrow evening and from there we will move on slowly looking at the problems which then arose and which affect us all today. So if you would take one and pass it on I would be very grateful.
Tonight, however, I will begin our class by considering how our political masters, the British, came to control such vast parts of the world in a process we referred to last week as Imperialism.’
‘When dealing with the British Empire at its height at the beginning of the century it is, firstly, important to realise that India held a key role in its construction. She financed over 40% of Britain's total deficits and produced nearly one fifth of Britain's income from overseas investments. The English were imperialists on a tight budget and their policy and strategy reflected this. Throughout the formative period, between 1815-1880, Indian frontiers were deliberately extended, largely to keep secure their investments, and it is not surprising that threats - real or imaginary - to the security of the sub-continent were a major pre-occupation of successive British Governments for the whole of the 19th century and into the next and India remained the key to British foreign policy at the turn of the century, especially in relation to Imperialism in Africa.
Indeed, British control of Egypt, the Sudan and Uganda ( he pointed to a large map on the wall) which thus coloured the map of Africa red, as you can see, from Cape to Cairo) may be explained strategically; the route to India via the Suez Canal, opened to shipping in 1869, had to be secured.’
Theo, who found sitting cross-legged on the floor rather uncomfortable, adjusted his posture at this point in the lecture familiar to him; many Greeks owed their origins in East Africa to the Suez Canal. They were employed by de Lesseps on its construction and soon after by the Germans on their railway projects in Tanganyika. Everyone in Arusha knew that the richest man in town, Platanyiotis had made his first million as a building contractor on the line from Dar-es-Salaam to Moshi. Was he not called Bwana Kokoto (Mr. Gravel) by Africans? And did he not have a gorgeous pouting daughter who was being courted by Stamatis the son of the baker from Usa River? The Elvis look-alike who drew a knife to Platanyiotis’s throat when he announced that Lola was to be married off in Athens? What a stir it caused at the Club …!
The Doctor droned on:
‘In the period between the mid 1880's and 1912, European powers extended their influence (or Empire) over Africa in what is commonly known, as I have already pointed out to you, as the "scramble for Africa". This term is in many ways misleading. …’
Theo’s mind was scrambling to find an exit and found it by following the maze in the pattern of the rug on which he sat.
He came to again at the mention of Tanganyika:
‘On the 24th of April 1884, Bismarck, the German Chancellor, ordered the annexation of Luderitz's settlement at Angra Pequena in South West Africa. The rest of the German Colonial Empire or rather the formulation of Germany's theoretical claims to African Empire followed in quick succession. German South West Africa was established in 1884. German East Africa, between 1885 and 1890. This was of course our future country, Tanganyika.’
‘These possessions marked a radical change in German attitude - even as late as the 1860's there was little sign of interest in or aspirations toward overseas gains. To quote from a speech by Fredrich List in 1850:
"... But why turn one's eyes to lands overseas, when on our south eastern frontier we find immense stretches of country towards which we could easily direct our surplus population and capital ...”
At this Theo sat up. The Doctor’s talk was vaguely falling into place behind Misha’s words; the concern over living space, lebensomething … lebenroom… lebensraum. That was it. He drifted in and out of a dwall; a reverie. Memories of far off days returned. Sounds familiar to that time which resonated with Lebensraum: Larobungotonye. Ero. Sobai. Larobungotonye. Words from his childhood. Taught to him by his Warusha nanny, Yeyo. Only much latter did he realize that she greeted him with a swear word of the highest order. It was after he had ambushed her on the path back from the market, yelling Takwenya Yeyo (Hello Yeyo) at the top of his voice. From on high up a mapera (guava) tree which grew along the path to the market.
He would hide in its branches chewing on its fruit. From his hideaway he would observe life below. Best thing was when a Yeyo or Ndito (Masai or Warusha for females: Yeyo, a woman, Ndito a girl; Ero meant man.) decided to have a pee. They would simply stand legs apart and water the ground under their skirt. And that is what gave their leather skirts the quality sought after exclusively by German tourists who would sniff the skirts on sale in the curio shop in Arusha. No smell, no sale. Which led Theo to buy up fresh skirts and get the men in the labour camp to pee all over them at ten cents a skirt which he sold onto the shop where his aunt worked. He made ten shillings a skirt which she sold for a hundred to seekers after the real thing. It was good business. But not enough to make him rich. That was his ambition …
The Doctor continued: “Why the change in the direction of outlook? An explanation for the outburst of German colonial activity may be given as the rising enthusiasm amongst Europeans for colonies; colonization was fast becoming the new political mode amongst the big powers and naturally Germany had to emulate France and Britain, both of whom had vast empire in Africa; so Germany took control of our country.”
Theo emerged dazed from the meeting room of the mosque. The warm evening air blanketed his thoughts and it was only on the Doctor’s verandah, shuttered and cooled by fans, that he began to talk.
He expressed an interest in the choices facing Berlin in the scramble for Africa and he said how close the history of imperialism seemed to him given the fact that ‘here we are in former German East Africa.’ an entity he was only dimly aware of. He admitted to developing a taste for history and said, rather weakly, that he looked forward to the next talks.
The Doctor was quick to attempt to lift the boy’s sagging interest.
‘Its not so much history that is my objective, Theo. It is how we are to respond to that history which has left a legacy of doubt in the minds of the African majority about our motives for being here; you and I. On whose side are we? Were we? We are to be governed by people who have been on the receiving end of history. That is why I am holding these classes. I want young people like yourself to have a deep sense of the past for only then will you be able to understand the present and influence the future. History, dear Theo has caught up with us who must now empathise with the victims of that history.’
‘Admittedly, here in Tanganyika we have seen gentler politics than is the norm in the rest of colonial Africa. But even here we have had brutality. We are very lucky not to have had another Maji Maji rising when the Wahehe of Iringa rose up against the Germans. Under the British, Africans understood that colonialism was temporary. The First Minister had never to threaten the Government with violence as experienced in Kenya. Allah has blest us and we must repay Him by becoming good citizens.”
‘What about the Mau Mau?’ asked Theo. ‘Why did you not mention them? They came onto Mount Meru, behind our house. I was just too young to join, but those above twenty one became Special Constables. There was a parade at the Greek Club before they left for the mountain. Omiros (Homer) came back with a bullet graze to his cheek. He was declared a hero and my father asked the Greek Consul in Dar-es-Salaam to arrange a medal ceremony. But it did not come to anything. Perhaps it was because Athens learnt of his telling our Patriarch on a visit from Alexandria to go to hell? Instead Omiros got a letter from the Governor with which Omeeros said he would wipe his rear; you must surely understand how very much we resent the British for their actions over Cyprus.”
The Doctor winced and said nothing more political as drinks were brought out onto the verandah.
Next evening Theo went to the mosque in a lighter frame of mind. He was now determined to learn the history which the Doctor taught in a context so much more interesting than the Beaker People A&B he had been told of at Arusha School. Even at Kongwa it was all about a lot of Henrys who seemed an irrelevance.
In the meeting room of the mosque, the Doctor announced:
“This evening we shall have some refreshments. There are Coca Colas and Fantas and Seven Ups. Also crisps. And samoozas made for us by Nooshin’s and Fadhl’s mother. Thank you so much.”
The young men congregated around the buffet table. All eyed Theo with suspicion until Noosh and Fadhl recounted stories about Theo at Kongwa. How he sided with Nooshin in his fight with the bully and how the Perso-Arab and Greek remained friends in the face of much criticism from other boys. But what most impressed the gathering was the story of the caning and his skill in sabotaging the teacher’s car. This was heroic stuff. Theo was in.
After refreshments the Doctor, sensing what had passed around the buffet table said, “I just want to tell Theo what all the rest of our group already knows. We are here to think about the future of our country. How to shape it. The brightest in our community have been chosen. And I am proud to lead the course at the request of our Imam. Theo, you are our guest. You are free to come and go as you please. Nooshin will escort you should you so wish. But it is my, no, it is our great hope that you will stay to join our discussion. It is very rare for us to have someone like you. Someone who will be of great influence in our country, following in the footsteps of your illustrious father who is most concerned about the future.’
‘Our aim is simply stated. It is to seek out a way of living in harmony. A harmony we share in our community. A harmonious life we want to share with all the people in our country. To do so we need to understand, Dunia, the world. How it worked and works and how it may be improved. Bear with us, our brother. You, who told me of visiting the war-fields on Kilimanjaro, have the makings not only of a historian but a statesman. A warrior. A man who has no fear of life least of all of his fellow men. I recounted to the community how you befriended my sons at your school. At the European school you gave your hand to strangers unaccepted by the rest of the children. It was a brave thing to do. And your name is honoured because of your brave and kind act. It shall always be so within our group. Let us show you our appreciation.’
The group clapped their hands and the doctor shook hands with Theo who reddened a little, but said nothing. Inside himself he felt a new pride. But for the rest of that evening he could not quite understand his inner feelings. He had not thought of himself as having been good. Yet it made him feel good and he felt he should allow himself to go along with what had been said and stay. ‘Stay the course’ which was the motto of his house at Kongwa School, even though he had been expelled. Perhaps because of that he would stay in Dar-es-Salaam. Here he felt valued.
The doctor took the lead again: ‘We know. Theo knows that the world is not simply Europe. Nor is it Amrica. When at school you are taught of The Great War. And when we see the examination papers you take, the Overseas School Certificates from Cambridge, the question is always about The Western Front. It is as though nothing happened to others but only to these two: Europeans and Amreecans.’
The theme of the discussion was again imperialism and the Doctor was to take his group “through the history of the last fifty years, my time, the time of your fathers, so that you may understand your immediate past in preparing for your future. For I see before me our future leaders. You must have wisdom to lead our community forward.”
‘Our continent of Africa first, and I am following up in more detail our previous meeting and a very interesting discussion I had with Theo …”
After a break for refreshments, the Doctor continued:
‘I want now to discuss, in more detail, Western Asia, alias the Near East, or the Middle East.”
Theo’s mind buzzed in concert with the tube lighting which threw a white fog across the blue ceiling and green walls. He shifted his weight on the floor by finding support in his arms rather than his crossed legs. He was well practiced at sitting still. And listening. And what he heard captured his imagination. The only lesson he had ever enjoyed in patches at school was history; the only subject that had any connection with his father’s interests. But where was the Doctor leading?
‘The Middle East. This term was invented by Europe and has no conceptual validity, either on geographical or ethno-cultural grounds; hence, the use by me of 'Western Asia'. To us, the Islamic Heartland of Western Asia: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Palestine in the centre; Turkey and the Turkic nations in the North; Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Moscat the Nile states, Egypt and Sudan in the South and Afghanistan and Pakistan in the East; Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco to the West.’
‘Pan-Islamism, my dear students. That is the aim. The dream, which started with that self same war we have introduced into our minds tonight.’
‘In 1914, the Ottoman government called upon its subjects to engage in jihad against the Imperialists: France and Britain. The Ottoman army was very successful until 1916. With Arab support, the Turks mounted attacks on Egypt, stopped the British advance north of Basra and inflicted a major blow upon the British in the Dardanelles. The call also created the Khalifate movement in India. All this from the war.’
‘The Arab revolt, too, was launched in 1914. It was orchestrated by Hussayn, the Sharif of Makkah and leader of the Hashemites of the Hijaz, and supported by Britain, the southern revolt aimed to liberate the Arab lands from the Turk and to establish an independent state with Husayn as Khalifa of the world of Sunni Islam.’
‘The Arab armies reached Damascus. But their dreams of an Arab Kingdom were shattered by the British and the French who partitioned the Arab lands of the empire in the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 and with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which provided the Zionists with a clear option for a homeland in Palestine. All this before the war had ended.’
‘The so-called peace-makers in Paris began their work in January 1919 and from the start they were besieged: Armenians, Greeks, Zionists, Iranians, Arabs and Turks were all engaged in lobbying their particular cause in the process of peacemaking.
The Turks rejected the peace treaty and sought help, like the Iranians, from the new Bolshevik government in Russia. Here was support for our cause!’
‘Lenin had called upon Muslims everywhere to rise against their European rulers. But to the West, it was of great importance to show that this would not occur. None must try and emulate the Ottomans. Pan-Islamism was to be stopped by the destruction of the Ottoman Empire. How? By invoking the principle of Nationalism. By the creation of small national states which could provide a basis for continued influence of the European powers because these states could hardly stand alone. Divide and rule!'
‘We witness riots, strikes, demonstrations, rural revolts. Inter-communal violence was widespread throughout the former Ottoman Empire from 1918 to 1920. In Turkey proper, the military leadership of Ataturk and the help of the USSR secured Turkish state interests against Greeks and Armenians and Kurds. In Egypt there followed serious revolts in the urban and rural areas in 1919-20, which resulted in the British surrender of the protectorate over Egypt.’
‘In the north, the division of Greater Syria between the French and the British served to produce revolts in Syria and in Palestine, in which Christians and Jews were targets, as well as the Europeans, and the arrival of a southern Arab army in Transjordan, led by Abdallah, son of the Sharif of Makkah served to increase such tensions.
These crises in Greater Syria coincided with revolts in Iraq in 1920.
While these were being violently suppressed - as were those in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine - the British secured the position of King for Faysal in Iraq and for Abdallah in Transjordan. This greatly distressed Husayn in the Hijaz who regarded himself as the ruler of both states - until the Hijaz was invaded by the Saudis in 1924-25.The Saudis now controlled Makkah and Medinah after 1926 and gave their name to Saudi Arabia in 1932.’
‘The point I am making is that despite promises of a united Arab kingdom with its capital in Damascus, the policies of divide and rule by the British, French served only to advance their oil interests in the area; in 1929, the Iraq Petroleum Co. was formed and it incorporated the existing British oil interests in Iraq, which supplied most of British oil exports from the Middle East by 1939.
During this time attention focused on Palestine a declaration was made that Palestine would remain an Arab state and Jewish immigration would be restricted and eventually terminated. Why was this said? Because of the war. What was now required was Muslim loyalty and Muslim soldiers.’
‘The war over, in April 1947, Britain handed Palestine to the UNO, whose decision to partition the area intensified Arab-Jewish violence, as the British withdrew. And on May 14, 1948 the state of Israel declared its existence. It spelt disaster for the Arabs because the declaration of an independent Israel was recognized not only by the USA but also by the USSR. War followed between Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and the new state of Israel. It continues, in one order of battle or another, to this day.’
The question and answer session which followed revealed to Theo the most popular concern in the minds of the majority of the audience. The young especially kept asking about Palestine and how to right the wrongs wrought upon their brethren by Israel and its sponsors.
Theo felt clearly that this history was not his.
Drawn to these people by their friendliness, their gentle animation and well argued thinking, Theo nevertheless realized that his cause was different. That evening he excused himself and left the meeting heading for the Greek club in central Dar-es-Salaam.
As he walked back to the Faramdoulas’ house, Theo contrasted the light banter and easy laughter of his compatriots with the weightier intellectual arousal the Doctor had stimulated in him through his Islamic perspective on history. The Doctor’s talks made him want to know more. But not their more. His more. He too wanted a cause. But what was it to be?
Education at school had been a comparatively arid affair. He now wanted to travel. To meet more people, from different walks of life, from different countries, different religions. He wanted to watch and to listen. To make up his own mind. To draw on a deep well of knowledge, just like the Doctor. To connect and interconnect and develop his own arguments. He wanted tonight’s elation to last and last, for the ricochet of ideas in his mind to never end.
What was it he had overheard at the door of the committee room at the Club on the way to the toilet? Something about the need to form a new political party. That was the telling shot as he lay down to sleep.
The next morning the Doctor did not go to work. His appointment with the First Minister, or rather, the First Minister’s appointment with his physician, had in any event been cancelled in favour of one the following week.
Instead he waited for his guest on the verandah. Theo eventually emerged from his room. He said a gruff ‘Good Morning.’ No point in being too polite. He felt he had stayed too long.
‘My friend. I am sorry. I thought that you, as a budding historian and statesman would be interested in what I was saying last evening. Tell me why you are not. Please sit and tell me while the Mpishi makes you breakfast.’
Theo was wary of speaking. Was he to share his very new feelings? He sat and looked his host in the eye taking a stab towards the truth. “It is all too different for me and I do not agree with much of what you are saying. And why you are saying it? I am an admirer of America. Where would we be without them? And what harm have the British really done that we should be critical of them?’
The Doctor smiled. Paused to answer. Stood up and walked into the house with an excuse me to his guest and returned with four slender volumes.
‘Theo. Just listen to these few words: Imperialism is, was, a long term poison. My aim is to find an antidote. I want us to move forward with new ways of living together. Just look at this set of readings. They are from books I have collected over time. The readings illustrate the greatest of all evils in relations between peoples of different colours and cultures. It is the poison called prejudice; racial prejudice.’
‘From the late 19C. To this day, racial prejudice is much in evidence in European perceptions of non-Europeans, identified as Black, Brown or Yellow, especially in relations between Europeans and non-Europeans in the imperial and colonial context. The following selection of quotations is taken from British authors’ perceptions of Africa and Africans. They range chronologically from the mid nineteenth century to the nineteen fifties. Please cast an eye over the portions I have identified with bookmarks.”
Theo looked up at the Doctor and said, “Okay. I intend to clear my mind by going for a swim. I will read what you have given me on the beach.
True to his word he found the passages:
‘Looking back for a moment over this great Central African city, it is quite impossible to divest one's mind of the history of the past - and so, one pauses. How different is the Uganda of to-day to that of thirty years ago! The bitter controversies and the savage persecutions of those early days have almost faded away and are now scarcely remembered, while all visible trace of them has vanished; for Uganda has passed through its fiery ordeal and has come out safely on the other side. The dark days are behind, and those who remember them prefer not to dwell upon their horrors, but to look forward to the bright prospects ahead, with ever-increasing eagerness - for the dawn has come.
We are thankful for the government by which laws are made, based upon purity and uprightness, and that tend to uplift the greatest of Central African people; and for the wise administration which not only helps the Uganda native to work honestly for his living, but also keeps the country at rest from wars and strife that hitherto have made Africa so dark. But best of all, we are thankful for the British flag that flutters over every outpost in the country, ensuring the blessings of peace, prosperity and religious liberty to all under its sway.’
‘I have performed a most unpleasant duty today. I made a night march to the village at the edge of forest where the white settler had been so brutally murdered the day before yesterday. Though the war drums were sounding throughout the night we reached the village without incident and surrounded it. By the light of fires we could see savages dancing in the village, and our guides assured me that they were dancing round the mutilated body of the white man.
I gave orders that every living thing except children should be killed without mercy. I hated the work and was anxious to get through with it. So soon as we could see to shoot we closed in. Several of the men tried to break out but were immediately shot. I then assaulted the place before any defence could be prepared. Every soul was either shot or bayoneted, and I am happy to say that no children were in the village. They, with the younger women, had already been removed by the villagers to the forest. We burned all the huts and razed the banana plantations to the ground.
In the open space in the centre of the village was a sight which horrified me - a naked white man pegged out on his back, mutilated and disembowelled, his body used as a latrine by all and sundry who passed by. We washed his corpse in a stream and buried him just outside the village. The whole of this affair took so short a time that the sun was barely up before we beat a retreat to our main camp.
My drastic action on this occasion haunted me for many years, and even now I am not sure whether I was right. My reason for killing all adults, including women, was that the latter had been the main instigators of not only the murder but the method of death, and it was the women who had befouled the corpse after death....’
‘My opinion of him, the East African native is that as long as he is ignorant he makes a good servant. I mean ignorant from the point of view of book learning. He, the Swahili native, very quickly learns to wash clothes, iron, make beds and clean boots. He is clean in his habits and looks A.1. in his long, white kanzu and white cap, as contrasted with his shiny, black face. But if once you joke with him, or allow him the slightest liberty, he is ruined; he will steal and lie and generally be only fit for his discharge...I wish you could see a battalion of King's African Rifles, they are magnificent, all strapping great niggers with European officers.”
“He introduced himself as Captain MacTavish, and took me along to the officers' mess tent, where an African was busy laying the table for lunch. As he was the first of my own Africans that I met, I examined the specimen closely.
He was very black. That was the first thing I noticed. And very healthy-looking and shiny. He had a fat, rather jolly face and looked intelligent.
But the main impression remaining in my mind was one of extreme blackness. I felt surprised as I saw him putting the white cloth on the table that the black of his hands did not transfer itself to the material. I must freely admit that his blackness oppressed me. It seemed to make him different. Africans have told me since that the first white man they meet affects them in much the same way. They feel that there is something unwholesome and unnatural about the pinky-yellow-whiteness of his skin. So far as I was concerned the unfavourable reaction to blackness lasted a very short time. Later on the blackness or brownness came to seem as good and proper as the shades of white, pink, yellow and purple affected by Europeans. In fact, at one time, when for a period I mixed very little with white men, it began to seem to me when I went to Cairo for a visit that it was the white man who looked a queer colour.
This first African, however, looked very black to me. I still simply could not visualize the forming of any bonds of sympathy with such as he, and without bonds of sympathy the relationship of any army officer with his men is as unsatisfactory as any other human relationship.”
“Yes. Okay,” thought Theo. On the farms the old man called many an African Sura la Weeno (Ink Face) and he used the phrase himself. So what? As for the Kenya episode, stuff like that also happened during Mau Mau. Okay, this stuff chimed in with what Misha had said to him … but what exactly was Dr. Faramdoula getting at?’
The answer soon came when Theo returned from the sea to the house. After dinner he told the Doctor that he found the passages not at all shocking. That is how things were.
The Doctor looked startled. ‘How can you say such a thing? Young man, our country is heading for self-rule with a great burden of illness. An illness of the mind. Of the European mind. We must cure it or else the future looks bleak. You are here as our guest because we think that you will go far in this new world. Certainly your father will. He is a good man, a force for cohesion. To us he is a hero. We know of his writing to Colonel Nasser upon the victory of Suez. And to do so in the purest Arabic! My dear Theo he is a wonderful asset. You must follow in his footsteps. I want you to influence his thinking further by what I am attempting to teach. Let me repeat to you the most important points.”
“No really. My mind is full to bursting point.”
“Theo please. Please. You are free to go, of course. But for the sake of our friendship hear me out.”
Flames still danced in Theo’s mind. He could hardly refuse this kind and civilized dispenser of generous hospitality. He was leaving them. An hour or so would not hurt. So he sat back in the chair and smiled.
“Thank you Theo. This, I promise, is my last parable for you. … The Doctor paused to collect his thoughts and said:
‘Our faith is strong. And one day we shall prevail. Not only through jihad. But mainly through our peaceful principles.
Theo, I will reveal to you something about me that only my wife knows. The faith into which I was born is not Islam but Bahai. In public I am a Muslim. More than that. We are a family that, in public, attempts, by example, to straddle the Islamic divide between Shia and Sunni. But in private I am a Bahai. It is a belief in universal peace and harmony; nothing more, nothing less. But my private faith lacks the political power of Islam; that is why, in public, I am a Muslim. It has enormous power; there is no greater force for unity in the world than that of Islam; no other faith is as powerful. And what are its forces?’
‘Firstly a belief, as with yourselves, in 'One God, One Book, One Prophet' Your Issa is revered by us too, not as a son of God, but as a Prophet in line behind Ahmed. As stated in the Quran, the Holy Book of the One God as revealed to the last of the Prophets, Muhammad, in 610. …’
‘Secondly we have Sharia; the Islamic Law. Sharia derives from the Quran and from the Life of the Prophet as recorded in Hadith, the traditions, and the Sunna, the customs.’ ‘Acceptance of these has served to identify the Sunni Muslims who form 90% of the Umma. Four 'schools' of Sunni Muslim law are followed and differentiated according to region (Maliki in North and West Africa; Hanifi in the Ottoman and Mughal imperial lands; Shafi here in East Africa, parts of Arabia and South-East Asia; Hanbali in Saudi Arabia.’
‘Thirdly we have the Five Pillars of Islam: the declaration of Faith; the daily prayers; the period of fasting; the payment of alms; the pilgrimage.’
‘Other integrative factors, other things that unite us, include the Arabic language in which your father excels; the elementary and higher educational system; the legal system with its Sharia courts, officials, qadis, and scholars, ulama; the traditions associated with education, pilgrimage and trade served to link Muslim communities.’
‘Theo, I want to start a political movement, here in Dar-es-Salaam, here on the Swahili coast, here amongst the Muslim majority. I shall incorporate what I have said to you about the Umma into a political programme based on the Swahili equivalent of Ujamma: brotherhood, community, caring for our society from within. I have no wish to compete with TANU. Rather I intend that the party incorporate our movement’s ideas. I want your father’s help in achieving this. He is close to the leadership. Please intercede on our behalf. What say you?”
Theo did not want to say anything. He looked across the garden and caught sight of the ocean. He turned to the Doctor: ‘I say I want another swim. And when I return I will give you a reply to your question. Please excuse me.’
“But Theo it is night you must not go to the sea. It is dangerous! You must have heard about the boy, one your school friends, who was taken by a shark?’
‘Dangerous? No. I am not afraid of the sea nor of the night. Yes, I know about the boy.
… Anyway I won’t be long.’ He went directly toward the beach, not bothering to find his costume and towel. Who was bothered any way? The thought of him influencing his father was a joke. He walked into the sea to be pounded into freshness by the rollers. Then hunger over took his thoughts.
He returned to the house to look for a snack. The family had waited up for him. There was concern on their faces but no awkwardness. Theo asked Mrs. Faramdoula if he could have a snack. She immediately went into the kitchen while he went into his room to change out of his damp clothes. When he emerged the Doctor called out to him from the verandah, ‘Ah, young Kokopoulos, come, sit. Drink? Try the Moussaka.’ Theo felt replete and refreshed and after another coffee he took the initiative and asked to speak to the Doctor in private.
‘Doctor, I have been thinking about our discussions and about the things I have heard you say. You have been very kind to me and I want to return that kindness by asking you to define at greater length your ideas on Ujamaa. Set them down on a paper which I will give to my father. But that is all I will do for you. My father and I are not close. Not at all like you and your children. There is no peacefulness in our family. I so appreciated being amongst you all in such calmness. But I must return to my madhouse. At least I have my own place to go to, but my head is in turmoil knowing that at any moment my parents can change my situation. I really must find independence for myself! And maybe I have. While I have been in Dar-es-Salaam I have made contact with my people. I have met many of them at the Greek Club and have been to the homes of one or two. I will tell you, in confidence, because I do trust you not to make trouble for me, we are about to launch a party in opposition to TANU.’
‘We Greeks are men of business. And we want to form a party that will promote business. TANU, as we understand it wants to establish common ownership. This is not how money is made. So our party, to be launched very soon, is dedicated to private enterprise. There is money to be made in Tanganyika and we Greeks are good at making money. Concerns such as yours and my father’s do not really interest us. They interest me as ideas, as history. I am in love with it. But it will not make a living for me. I want to become as wealthy as Arnaoutoglou and co. I have seen their houses and cars and yachts. I have seen how it can be. So. Thank you, Doctor. I cannot be part of what you seek to achieve. Nor of what my father wishes to achieve. But thank you for your kindness. Nooshin and I will remain friends for all time. And now it is time for me to go.’
Theo left the Faramdoula’s house and moved in with the Damaras brothers who offered him a place to stay in Dar-es-Salaam while an alternative future was further plotted.
The new party was announced in the Tanganyika Standard. It was featured inauspiciously on the same inside page which carried news of the conviction for the buggery of minors by a Levantine by the name of John Bohaya; kids in school had long talked of being bohayad. Theo was rather impressed that the link to a real person had finally being made. Another of life’s little mysteries solved. And another seeking resolution: the fate of the United Tanganyika Party, the UTP.
“We stand for a prosperous Tanganyika, the right of private ownership to exploit our nation’s vast resources. All welcome to join.”
For the UTP to stand any chance against TANU in the forthcoming elections it had to enlist mass support. Theo had decided on a course of action hoping to attract attention to his party; if only to distinguish himself from his father. He did not want to return to his farm without something to show for his sojourn in Dar-es-Salaam. It had opened his eyes to a number of possibilities which he hoped to explore further when he returned north where the great mountain stood proud of the plains like some giant’s iced pudding.