Thursday, June 12, 2008

Aga Khan Film - Africa Tour. Day 2: Dar es Salaam

I checked out the Kempinski Hotel - the site of the Africa Launch on June 17th - and it is absolutely lovely! And today I became the Embassy expert of Dar es Salaam. I accompanied the host of the film as he dropped off invites to high commissioners/ambassadors of each country with a presence here. If you ever want to know which embassy is here and where it is, call me.

And speaking of phones, my blackberry doesnt work here. I held off getting a blackberry for the longest time and now that I have one, its like I cant live without it. I have to logon to check mail these days - so 1990's :) Plus the internet is quite slow here: it takes 5 mins just to load up Life pace is slower here in general so I think they purposely keep the internet speed turtle-paced to be consistent.

At least I have access to Internet. The people of Zanzibar apparently dont have electricity right now. I havent got a straight answer as to the exact issue but except for those with generators, they are in the dark. (I wonder if the Serena Hotel Zanzibar is adding a fuel surcharge to each guests' bill...)

The dichotomy between rich and poor is in your face here. Yes we all know Africa has struggles and I almost cringe at bringing it up like this. I feel the Western media only covers Africa, and the Muslim world for that matter (which is not mutually exclusive with Africa), when there is strife, war, terrorism, natural disasters, or famine. So not to reinforce this image for too long, I will keep this short: I saw a lot of sadness today. People with missing limbs, begging on the streets hoping someone will be kind enough to give them a few shillings (less than pennies). The guy I was with today has to be one of the most generous people I have ever met and definitely not just because he has bent over backwards in all aspects to make the Africa Launch happen. He would help out so many people we came across who looked like they were in need. It was second nature to him. He feels he has been so fortunate in his life that it is his obligation to help those who havent been as lucky.

And the struggle wasnt just on the street - I felt like I saw it in the jamatkhane, the Ismaili place of worship (comparable to a mosque). I then thought of Dr Arkoun, a Governor on the Institute of Ismaili Studies' Board and a very prominent scholar. We met in 2006 when I was at the development/team building/fund-raising stage of the project. He said this film will be the voice for the many silenced voices in the history of Islam. He was not just referring to Ismailis but to Muslims in general and communities of Muslims whose day-to-day (life) fight could be a little bit easier; whose economic situation, lack of educational opportunities, and lack of employability shouldn't be so stifling; and whose ability to practice their religion could be a bit freer. I am not sure this film is that voice but it is definitely dedicated to these silenced voices: on the streets, in the mosques and everywhere in between.

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