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Part 6 – Arabian Svengali in Africa

19 August 2018

In Part 5 of my story I relayed how my childhood ‘molestation’ experience had shaped my school years and influenced my narrative. In fact, rather than hooking my reactions onto the experience, it seems more appropriate to anchor them on the choices of a child who had been taught the labels and experiences of her culture. I had learned society’s ideas of what was good and bad, holy and unholy, and other judgements about people and things. When something socially unacceptable happened to me, I used these labels to define myself and apportioned blame to myself in almost every situation. My narrative became “I am bad” “The world is bad”. I tried to protect myself by donning a cloak of aggression and being ‘bad’ to everyone before they could be bad to me. I chose the illusion of control and domination. I navigated my teen years with usual angst in the midst of family upheavals brought upon by my parents’ divorce, my father’s involvement in the underworld, the judgement of our community and my survival in high school as a gang member. I cannot talk about my parents, out of utter love and respect for their efforts and struggles parenting me and my siblings. They, like all other parents with no manual, raised us through trial and error, adversity and joy, togetherness and separation. Unappreciative of this quest, for a long time I blamed them for much of my predicaments in life, failing to take responsibility for my own actions or acknowledging the script that I had written and enacted in oblivion of my ultimate choices at every juncture. Nonetheless, at some point I had become determined to find independence and set my sights on an education. All the while I was driven by the thought that I did not ever want to be controlled or dependent on a man. In my mind, men were always dominating, bullying, thinking of me as a sexual object. They had the upper hand. Ironically, I always found myself captured by the very thoughts I tried to run away from. My warped view of life may have been the catalyst for the experiences I was drawn to. I later understood that perhaps through our choices we create our own tests, our own calamities. The pain we feel is meant to alert us to what ails our minds and taints our souls. Pain in the body is merely the indicator that there is something wrong in the body that needs healing and care to repair itself. Was pain in the heart not the indicator that something is wrong with the self that also needs care and healing. This I understood as the language of God beyond His words. Instead of heeding the messages which He allows us to send to ourselves, we blame Him for all that goes wrong with ourselves and the world, completely ignoring the role that we play in creating the mayhem around us. I held onto my belief in Him through the years but felt alone, ever ignoring the messages that were coming to me through my life experiences.

I proceeded to university and thought I was escaping my past, by starting a new chapter, finding my love and getting married. The misconceptions of my first marriage as described earlier in my story, led me to a period of seeking a different path. My father, who was living with me and providing me the cover I sorely needed after my divorce, had grown into his path of wisdom. Everyone had sneered at the thought of his turn towards Sufism, having leveraged judgement on him about his activities in the past. No-one understood his path or his choices and when he started a Sufi school and started assisting people with an array of spiritual matters, he was regarded with scepticism and disdain by many. For my part he had taught me the most valuable lessons that stood me in good stead for the rest of my life. He never imposed any rules on me, allowing me the freedom to discover myself and my path to my beloved Creator. I had lost my connection with prayer and instead of imposing it on me, he gently re-introduced me to connection with my God, allowing me to find my way towards Him in my own way.

During this time, an Arab friend of my father, whom he had met some years before, surfaced again. I didn’t know much about him, save that he was a doctor of sorts who also had esoteric Sufi knowledge, albeit different from my father’s. He was short, dark with a rounded belly and stocky strong physique. He was apparently an ex-soldier involved in war-fare in and around the middle east. Being a few years older than me, he expressed an interest in me and spoke to my dad about it. Having been on a roller coaster of bad experiences since my divorce, this seemed like an opportunity to get out of it all and go away with this man to a better more wholesome life. I was persuaded by my father and I agreed to marry him. I was determined to turn a new page and convinced myself that being a dutiful wife was the answer. I would find respectability this way and who knows, I could see the world with this man. After all my dad trusted him. I placed all my trust in him, listened to every word he said and followed him religiously. There was one thing that disturbed me though. He would often make questionable statements about my dad and implied that I was too influenced by him. I brushed it aside. He even asked me to get rid of a picture of my father, which I refused to do. He didn’t push the matter. I was working as an attorney at the time and he asked me to put a deposit on an apartment, but that in the meantime I was to stay with my dad. The alarm bells should have gone off then. Why was I paying for an apartment, which I was not even living in? Soon after he asked me to buy a car on higher purchase which I did, trusting all the while that he knew what he was doing. By this time my father had become decidedly annoyed and tried reasoning with me about the decisions I was making. I refused to listen to him, thinking that he was just trying to interfere in my life. At one time he screamed at me banging his fists on the kitchen table. “You will lose a lot of with this man!” he screamed “and I will be unable to help you”. I scoffed at the thought of my father’s attitude especially since he was the one who recommended I marry this man. Now he was suddenly changing his tune. I promptly told him that this was my husband and that I would follow him. Before I knew it, I had left my job and was driving off to Zambia and Kenya with him. The road was long and tedious and between Botswana and Zambia, there were only pit toilets and isolated general dealer stores with only tin food and crumbly bread. We ate uncooked canned pilchards, which had never tasted so nice with my empty tummy. Having crossed the Zambesi river on a ferry into Zambia, we stayed at a very hospitable lady’s house in Zambia. Someone he knew and who welcomed us and fed us heartily. There was a street in Zambia, called Katanga Road, on which one could trade in almost anything, from foreign currency, to contraband. Many years later I remember reading an article about human organs being traded on that very road. The people in Zambia were extremely warm and friendly. Always greeting and smiling. I had learned that you always needed something to appease officials at random check-points north of our borders. My husband, collected the drinks from the mini-bars at hotels for this purpose, and it got us out of some potentially sticky situations. I remember the colonial air that still hovered in Zambia in the early 90s. The Victorian hats and Anglo-African sub-culture fascinated me. It wasn’t long before we trekked to Kenya where we booked into an apartment. Kenya had different charms. Nairobi had the black cabs (London style) a colonial throw-back no doubt. They were charming nonetheless. I recall an amazing warehouse that housed the most incredible fresh fruit. It was marred by the smell of a public toilet nearby, but I tried to overlook the odour and walked to the far end of the market that was unaffected by the latrine. The mopane worms sold on the pavements was not as overwhelming as a meat market I encountered, where meat was sold in the Kenyan heat with no refrigeration or infrastructure, except for the tables set in stalls in open market. Mounds of flesh chopped and sold over the counter in less than hygienic conditions. Imagine my surprise when I saw pigs hanging on hooks in an unrefrigerated stall in that heat. I wondered how the locals survived. We were fortunate to find a butcher-shop that was halaal, no less, with Kenya still having a 5% Muslim population at the time.

My husband had meetings with Kenyans and seemed to have various deals going but I wasn’t too involved in those matters. After a while, I started noticing the chinks in the armour. The things he was telling me were not quite gelling. He criticised the way I dressed. He mentioned the women that he thought presented themselves well and they were oddly unfeminine with very short hair and austere dispositions. It was almost as if he wanted me to become like that. I had passed my tomboy phase way back in my teens. He also mentioned that he understood why some men preferred other men as partners because women were so manipulative. He intimated that he didn’t trust me and that I would be like all the other women. I remembered an anonymous letter I received just before I married him. I had dismissed it at the time as nonsense. The letter had made many allegations about him molesting boys, being involved in heinous crimes including murder. It seemed so preposterous that I gave it no credence at the time. His clandestine activities and his expressions of sexual preference jolted my thoughts back to the letter. Perhaps there was some truth to it after all. I began to pay attention to him in a different way. Looking more closely at this man, examining everything he was saying and doing with circumspection. It was almost as if I woke up. I started recognising lies and inconsistencies in his speech and actions. It was probably always there but I chose to ignore it, because I convinced myself that this was good for me. He told me a deliberate lie one night in the hotel we were staying in, after a telephone call he had made. I called him out on it and he denied it. I was sitting up in the bed and he was sitting across the room from me on one of the chairs near the coffee table which was towards the middle of the room. I sat up in the bed looked at him and said, “Don’t ever lie to me”. I then turned around and lay in the bed, not sure what would happen next. I can’t remember how the lights went out. Either I had turned off the bedside lamp or he had turned off the lights, but the room was in complete darkness as I lay there for what seemed like an eternity. He didn’t move. There was a deathly silence. Suddenly there was a loud bang. I jumped up and saw his silhouette in the dark room to which my eyes had become accustomed by now. He had broken the wooden coffee table and with a part of the broken table in his hands raised above his head he menaced towards me and stopped in front of me with the broken table raised above his head ready to smash it against me. I was frozen to the spot. I thought that this could be my last moments on earth. My life did not flash before me, but images of my death did. My family would never know what happened to me and I would probably end up in a shallow grave in Nairobi. I was terrified. Despite my terror, I refused to let him take my life, my power and my self-respect. If I was going to die, it would be with dignity. I would not cower and submit to the will and tyranny of my oppressor. My only salvation lay with my Creator. I yielded unto Him in that instant and submitted to my fate. If it was my time to die, then I submit. If It was not, He would take me out of it. “I’m not afraid of you!” I blurted, “If you kill me I’ll tell Him that YOU sent me there and cut my life short”. He obviously didn’t kill me, or this would be an epic tale of “ghost writing”. I will never know what stopped him, but he stood in front of me with the table raised above his head shaking and angry and slowly retreated. This was the first incident.

More next time God-willing

Always with love
Radia 💙