Madiba magic pulls heart strings – even from afar
“EXCUSE me, I think the baby’s about to...” My colleague, Mark, is interrupted by an ear-splitting wail. “Cry, is what I was about to say,” smiles Mark nervously.
Eight-month-old Yaqeen’s tears are the culmination of a five-minute stare-down of poor Mark, who is trying to watch his Australian countrymen take on England in the second Ashes test.
Unlike his brother and sister, whose first few years saw them surrounded by family and friends in Cape Town, Yaqeen’s social network is slightly less extensive at this stage. Hence his successful attempts at making Mark squirm.
But if Yaqeen isn’t used to seeing strange faces, he will be before the night is over. I’ve invited my colleagues over for Iftar, as most of them are single and would probably welcome a home-cooked meal in a family environment. Although I’m sure that after a few hours of being pelted by balls thrown by Aqeel, danced into a sweat by Saabirah, and stared into submission by Yaqeen, they’ll be only happy to go back to their quiet, kid-free flats.
The doorbell rings. The cavalry has arrived to rescue Mark. Or at least the nine-strong English contingent, which means that while Mark won’t have to handle Yaqeen alone, he will probably be verbally abused while watching the Ashes.
They have barely entered when the doorbell rings again.
In walk four Egyptians, two Scots, an Indian, a Canadian, and a South African. I introduce them to my wife. “Oh, so you’re Gerhard from South Africa,” says Shihaam. “I must remember not to skinner tonight!”
“Ek sal saam skinner,” laughs Gerhard.
Sunset fast approaches and soon we hear the athaan (call to prayer), signalling the end of the fasting day. Shihaam and her mom, under my supervision, have prepared a number of traditional Cape Town treats for our guests, including samoosas, dhaltjies and falooda to wash everything down. And that’s, literally, just for starters.
“Wow, this is delicious,” says Silvia, our Canadian photographer, tucking into a chicken samoosa. “Compliments to the chef.”
Shihaam, her mouth full of falooda, points to her mom, who is checking on what needs refilling. “She’s not showing any signs of taking a rest,” says Silvia.
“Well,” I chip in loudly, “even mother-in-laws have to earn their keep.”
Once the pain in my side from Shihaam’s elbow has subsided, I start talking soccer with James, or football as he calls it. He recently joined our publishing company’s Qatar office from Leeds, where he worked in the communications department of Leeds United.
It’s not long before the conversation turns to former Bafana Bafana captain Lucas Radebe, who captained Leeds and played his way into the folklore of the club. “Lucas is a legend,” gushes James. “Leeds were lucky to have him.” My heart swells.
Later in the evening, I find the Egyptians on the couch in deep discussion. They’re speaking Arabic, but I don’t need a translator to tell me what they’re talking about. For the past few weeks, the protests in their homeland, culminating in the removal of Mohamed Mursi as president, have dominated their thoughts.
The interesting thing is that, among my Egyptian colleagues, two are Muslim Brotherhood (Mursi’s party) supporters, and the other two support his removal.
Yet, they have never come to blows or even raised their voices in debate. Despite their different ideological approaches, they are united in their love for their country and desire to see it move forward.
Seeing me approach, they switch to English. Mahmoud, who has been in Qatar for almost two years, but whose fiancée and family are still in Egypt, turns to me and says: “Ridwaan, right now, Egypt is divided. To bring us together, we need to find our own Mandela.”
I want to tell Mahmoud and the others that Mandela is unique, that there will never be another like him. Instead, I smile and agree, and say that Egypt will hopefully find their own great nation builder. One who, like Mandela did, understands that in the aftermath of a revolution, there needs to be a country to govern.
“Today is his birthday, and he is in hospital,” says Mahmoud. “How old is he?”
“He is 95,” I reply, feeling my eyes well up at the thought of Tata Madiba on his hospital bed. Unlike Yaqeen earlier tonight, I manage to stave off the tears.
I can’t stop the feelings of pride washing over me, though. If my heart swelled when talking about Radebe, it now threatens to burst clear out of my chest. Follow Bawa on Twitter