by Sarah Sadian
A cloud of dust forms behind the car as we pass the little houses, mostly covered with Makuti – coconut leaves. The road is stony and so tiny that I’m afraid the car will touch the walls of the houses on both sides. Left, right, across a tiny piece of lawn…
“Where is Mama Saida’s house,” I ask a shop keeper next to my window.
“Just here,” he says, pointing with his finger to an arch-like entrance in a strong wall, a few meters ahead.
I park the car under a tree next to a few lines, on which laundry in shining colors is drying, hardly stirring in the hot humid air – all Kangas, the most popular fabric worn by women here. We get out of the car and walk through the arch. A short narrow corridor, not longer than two meters, leads into a yard. A woman in a shining red dress steps out of the entrance of a crumbling gray building, her home, on our right, her head covered with a red Kanga.
“Karibu,” she says, which means ‘welcome’ in Swahili, and shakes first my hand, then my friend’s. A dead plucked chicken is hanging from the ceiling of the room opposite, where a young girl, whom she briefly introduces as her daughter, is hastily moving a Jamvi fan above a charcoal fire. An old pot, rather out of shape from the many meals that have been cooked in it, is standing next to her on the ground, probably ready to take another turn on the fire.
Mama Saida asks us to join her to the left into another little crumbling hut, to which a curtain forms the entrance, and to take a seat. Jamvi mats, made of wild date leaves, are spread on the dusty floor along the walls and around the corners, and a few pillows on them offer more comfort for the patient who comes to take advice and medicine. The scent of incense fills the room. Opposite the entrance there are simple shelves, filled with all kinds of powders and bottles, and fabric in white, red, and black – one color for each type of Jinni. The Jinnis are well and alive in Zanzibar, and I don’t think that there is any Zanzibari, even the most educated one, who doesn’t believe in their existence.
Mama Saida sits down opposite me on a pillow, which is slightly higher than mine. She looks majestic in her red dress, and the stick she holds, pointed at the ground, on which she rests her hand, makes her look like a matriarchal ruler of ancient times. A fire is burning in a small clay container placed on a plate of clay on the ground. Mama Saida adds some incense to it.
“No, no, not here,” she suddenly shouts as my friend wants to sit down. “The spirits will not be favorable on this side…”
He instantly changes direction and quietly sits down next to me.
“So you suffer from love…,” she says in a voice that sounds provocative and amused at the same time. Then she grasps a small amount of black powder from a sachet I had not yet paid attention to, and throws it into the fire. The flame shoots high up.
“She loves you, you see,” she exclaims. A lively spark seems to be dancing in her eyes.
She searches with her hand on the shelf next to her, at last grasping a piece of paper. From far away I can see that something in Arabic is written on it, and assume that it is a Sura, verses from the Holy Koran.
She does not seem to read what is written, yet it sounds like she knows it by heart. She is chanting the verses in a strange, entrancing voice that mixes with the scent of the incense into a mysterious atmosphere.
At last, she returns the paper to its place.
“Okay, you can go now,” Mama Saida says with a smile, getting up.
“Do you really believe that this kind of thing will work,” my friends says to me as we go out.
I have already reached the door of my car. “You never know,” I say. I actually want to continue to talk to him about the improbability of such magic having any effect. But at this moment, his mobile phone rings. His face brightens up. With a big smile he shows me the screen with the number on it…