Before you start checking your dictionary let me start by explaining that tsaraba is not an English word. It simply means a present or a gift brought by a person from a journey. In Hausa culture, as with many other cultures, the family looks forward to the tsaraba the head of the family or any adult will bring after a journey. It strengthens relationship among the family; it teaches the younger ones the value of generosity. It also provides an opportunity to have a taste of the valuables produced by other cultures.
As usual, and as a journalist, I have to prepare tsaraba for my readers starting with this account of my journey. My trip this time is closer home. I am on my way to Dakar, the capital of Senegal in West Africa. I have heard so much about this country, but this is the first time I I’m having an opportunity to set my foot in this beautiful African nation with lots of history behind it.
During a lecture in 2000 by the renowned African scholar, Professor Ali Mazrui, at the Bayero University, Kano, he categorized African countries into two, the coup-prone, and coup-proof countries. The former referring to countries that are regularly prone to military coups and the latter referring to the countries that had neither experienced military coups and are unlikely to experience one as far as historical evidence is concerned. One country he mentioned among the coup-proof countries is Senegal, one of the few African countries to survive military intervention in politics.
My first glimpse of the country during this journey started at Dubai international airport. As I sat in the lounge waiting for the passengers to be called, two tall passengers dressed in Tazarce (the long traditional dress which became popular during Abacha’s reign), sat next to me. “Comment Ca Va”, one of the gentlemen said in French, “Ca Va”, I replied, the gentleman continued, unknown to him that is where my French ends. Even at home, I struggle when my daughter asks for my help in her French assignments.
Don’t you speak English? I asked. “Of course I do,” the gentleman replied. This is where I admire fellow brothers from French speaking African countries, a reasonable percentage of them are bilingual, combining French and English, and some of them with the addition of Arabic. And in this age, especially if you want to work for international organisations, speaking multiple languages is an asset that will always work in your favour.
This is also where Anglo-speaking Africa struggles, because many think it suffices to speak English alone.
It is a ten to eleven hours journey from Dubai to Dakar with a short stop-over in Guinea Conakry. So you sleep, you wake up, you read, you eat, and still the journey is on. As the plane begins to descend you get the feeling that Africa is still a natural environment.
I must admit that I am really proud to be African, in fact a West African, and above all a Nigerian. If you travel around with a green passport you will understand what I mean. Since Senegal is a fellow ECOWAS country, I do not need a visa. What a relief. So it is my turn to watch my colleagues going through the grilling of immigration officers, while we enjoy the luxury of smoothly passing through the queue.
As we come out of the airport and our travel agents receive us with a warm African smile, they direct us to the vehicle that will convey us to the hotel. Here comes the big surprise. It is a kiyakiya, but certainly not like the one that uses a screw driver as a gear-handle. This one is in a better shape.
The following day as I arrive the hotel lobby on my way to the small office our team will be using to facilitate the event that brought us to Dakar, another surprise confronts me: one of my wife’s friends who works for the United Nations has just finished a meeting and was on her way to the airport. Assalamu Alaikum, I said, Wa alaikumsussalam, “Ina wuni” (Good evening)…
“Great to see you, I have just collected my clothes from a very good tailor here in Dakar, in fact here is her number, you should ask her to make some for your wife”, she says, immediately after the greeting. I nod in agreement, afterall courtesy demands that I bring tsaraba on my return.
To be continued…
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