Madiba magic pulls heart strings – even from afar

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

“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

@rid­waan­bawa

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