Chimsewu is the last minibus terminal of Blantyre’s most populous Ndirande Township, from Limbe. Driving or boarding one from Blantyre’s Central business district via Wenela, one turns at HHI Junction into Makata Road. A few metres away from the junction, your left turn leads you to the famous township of not only Blantyre, but Malawi.
Chimsewu is at less than a kilometer off the Makata Road, and the commotion you get here is your assertiveness that you are in Ndixville, a nickname proudly embraced by the inhabitants.
There are a number of areas surrounding Makata among which, is a place known as Zambia, not the neighbouring country, but a slummy area in Ndirande. In one of the slums through the meanders and filth into the heart of this place, stays Fatima Rajab. Her axioms could irresistibly not hold tears of even the most hardhearted among the children of Adam. The emotive narrations of her life are the compelling factors of this memoir; Fatima Rajab THE GUARDIAN ANGEL, story of faith.
At only 17, Fatima was not only a guardian angel, but also a mother. A role she assumed not because she had known any man or she had gone through the pangs of delivery. She had become a mother not because she admired those that carried their babies wrapped in beautiful shawls. Fatima neither stole a baby nor chose to be a mother. At this teen age when she was supposed to enjoy the climax of her juvenility, Fatima became a mother because of love, fate and faith.
Everyone knows where the shoe pinches, goes the adage, hence the think tanks also said that everyone thinks his burden the heaviest. But if we were to just peep into someone’s experiences, we would learn to appreciate how far much better we are, then we would become grateful creatures to the giver of life, Allah, instead of pitying ourselves for every little problem.
Introduced into this world on 23 December 1989, Fatima was born in a family of two, with her elder sister, Halima. Her father, Mr. Abdul Rajab, hailed from Kalimanjira village, T/A Malingachanzi, in Malawi’s lakeshore district of Nkhotakota. They all lived at Juma village T/A Mpama in Chiradzulu, a home to her mother, Mrs Rajab. This is all Fatima remembers about her parentage.
Until the age of 10 when she could be able to interpret and relate things on her own, what Fatima knew and believed was that her parents were abroad pursuing some studies, according to her sister, Halima. Every time she came back from school, Fatima thought she would find her parents back home.
Visualizing their smiling faces which were slowly diminishing in her eyes, the faces which she had last seen in years, believing that they would one day return to her, Fatima imagined how she would open her arms running for a missing embrace.
She couldn’t wait to see what sort of items her parents would buy for her from abroad, what range of stories from abroad they would tell her and how she would narrate to them about events back home. She imagined how she would jovially jump-run to her friends to disclose the good news of her parents return.
Just like every child who misses her parents, this is how little Fatima felt day in day out. Despite all this hope, all she saw there in front of the quarter door as she returned from school or play ground, was Halima her sister. At times, she could only find a plate of food which her sister kept for her. And life had to continue until she reached the age of ten. This entire long, Fatima and her sister were renting a quarter in Nyambadwe. Forsaken and abandoned by their Chiradzulu relatives who had grabbed all the properties including an under construction house.
At this, Fatima wondered and quizzed her sister about their parents. Every time, she got the same answers which she then believed as lies because she was growing and she could interpret and narrate things on her own. The more frequent she asked, the more dolls and confectioneries her sister bought for her just to make her forget. Fatima knew something was wrong and she kept on firing her sister with the whereabouts of their parents. Halima knew she couldn’t hide the secret any longer. On the other hand, she couldn’t bear the devastation on her younger sister upon learning the truth. However, the horns of dilemma couldn’t give her peace.
Moreover, sooner or later, Fatima would know. Letting the cat out of the bag, Halima narrated to her sister how tragic their parents died in a car accident when Fatima was just 7 years. Because she was just a kid then, she believed the lies that her parents had gone abroad for studies. Until the time of their demise, they were staying in Chiradzulu, their mother’s home where the father was also constructing a house.
The parting of the parents was just the beginning of a life of miseries for the two girls as more was yet to happen. The parents died as Muslims and so the children were. That was the religion Halima and Fatima knew and followed not knowing that the death of their parents would mean them denouncing their faith. All the relations from Chiradzulu where their late mother came from were Christians. They took an upper hand of the fate to order the bereaved siblings to quit Islam. Fatima was only a kid and Halima being the elder, refused to fall into prey.
Indeed, it was a great test of faith. She had to stand up for the truth that she knew all along. The truth that she held in a close embrace. She wouldn’t allow the relatives narcissism to kill a belief that she nurtured with utmost dearness. She and her sibling, so dispelling, would not repudiate the religion of their parents. They knew the incongruity between theirs and what they were being called into as they saw truth standing out clearly from falsehood.
Embarrassed and unable to bear the resentment of the girls’ resistance, the relatives resolved to disown the poor girls and told them that they would not get any assistance from them. Furthermore, they grabbed the deceased properties including the house which was under construction. All this endurance, because they refused to quit Islam.
Steadfast to their faith, Halima took her sister and left for the city, Blantyre, where she rented a quarter belonging to a Mrs. Harawa in Nyambadwe. She used some of the money saved by her late father to start a small business. Halima ventured into selling goods which she was buying from Malawi’s northern city of Mzuzu. This is what kept them going. She managed her business properly and the profits were enough to cater for their needs, until Halima reached secondary school.
Misfortunes seldom come singly; Halima fell in love with one Jafali Imran from Mangochi. She thought she had found her dream man with whom she would spend the rest of her life as lawful husband and wife. She loved him so much until she got pregnant. The land lady, who treated them like her own children, sent for the guy and advised them to organize an engagement (Chinkhoswe), which they did at the land lady’s place. Things seemed to be moving in the right direction as plans for Nikah started.
Six months of Halima’s pregnancy, the guy told her that he wanted to bring his relatives from Mangochi for the big occasion and promised to be back in three days. Halima was over the moon at these developments.
Three days passed, Jafali did not return. The anxious bride to be exercised some patience. Days turned into weeks, and then weeks into months, Jafali was nowhere to be seen. Halima’s patience had run out and she decided to look for who she believed were Jafali’s relatives who were in town. She asked them Jafali’s whereabouts but Halima couldn’t believe her ears. They told her that he was never their relative and that they were just hired to represent him as his relations during the engagement.
Worse still, Halima learnt with shock that Jafali had a wife in South Africa where he had travelled back to and that he just came to renew his passport.
How could Halima have reacted to this truth she could never imagine? How could she believe that the man she loved, trusted and gave her body, used and betrayed her? How could she bear the fact of being pregnant of a man who she will never see again? How could she swallow this metal pill, considering that the baby she was carrying in her womb would not have a father?
That time, the pregnancy was eight months and she found coping with life incredibly difficult.
Halima developed hypertension and she was admitted at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. All this drama was happening while Fatima watched in disbelief of the calamities that befell on her sister which she became the victim as she was the only guardian. Then, Fatima was expecting to sit for her form four examinations at a private school where she was learning.
A month in a hospital sick bed, and then to the maternity ward, Halima delivered a baby boy who they named Yaseen Rajab. The delivery was through operation and she lost a lot of blood. Three months on, it didn’t rain but poured for Fatima as another tragedy was to occur, Halima passed away on 3 October 2007, leaving behind an infant.
Indeed, life could seem cruel at times. What could this lonely school going girl do with a three months baby? Fatima was then 17. She missed her final examinations because she spent most of her time at the hospital. She took the custody of the baby and decided to quit school to take care of her nephew.
From the hospital, she was given some Lactogen Formula as a starter for the baby. On how to maintain the provision, she never knew. Back to the quarter at Nyambadwe, Fatima wondered how she would trace people who bought goods on loan from her late sister’s business.
Most of them ceased the opportunity of her sister’s illness and death and were at large, they never paid. Fatima recalls that only one good hearted person had come to pay through the land lady while she was in hospital. He paid K10 000.00 which she used to settle rent (K3, 000.00) and bought milk for the baby.
Now Fatima did not only become a guardian, but also a mother. She had to do anything to make sure that the baby had food and clothes, including herself. She also had to pay the bills. This was the new life of Fatima. As for the relatives in Chiradzulu, she was history to them because she resisted denouncing Islam. Her faith was as firm as her late sister’s.
Always clad in full Islamic attire (Hijab), Fatima went flat out asking for rescue from well wishers. Through Chiradzulu district commission office, Fatima was introduced to Muslims mother body, Muslim Association of Malawi, whose offices are in Blantyre.
There, through the welfare department, she was assisted after she explained her ordeal. She used to go there to collect money for rent and other necessities. At times, faithful Muslims who used to come at the Quran house for daily prayers would contribute some money and gave to her.
However, at times, financial constraints also had to rock the Muslim body and it couldn’t sustain the assistance. Moreover, the provision wasn’t sufficient and Fatima had to go around town, begging from Muslims. She could travel on foot carrying her baby on the back, up to as far as Limbe from Nyambadwe.
Most of the times, she did this on empty stomach but made sure that the baby had something to eat. In the course of looking for assistance, Fatima suffered all sorts of humiliation, insults and ridicule. They accused her of being an imposter saying the child was her own and that she was lying. She moved from one Islamic office to another, including in Indian shops. Fatima recalls that one Indian gave her Celtel (now Airtel) cell phone units which were equivalent to K140.00 so that she could sell and use the money. Some Malawian Muslims would promise her help if she allowed their sexual advances.
“How nasty life could sometimes be,” said Fatima while wiping tears from her eyes.
Days passed, and months followed, then years. The Nyambadwe landlady whom she described as kind, moved out to Mzuzu. The house and the quarter were occupied by her children and other people. She had to look for another house, this time down in Ndirande.
There, the landlord was not kind. After learning that Fatima was just a destitute girl who never had any livelihood, he started claiming that she was abusing electricity, just to throw her out. She looked for a cheaper house and found one in Zambia, Ndirande which she pays K3, 000.00 every month.
When Yaseen was over 2 years, Fatima decided to go back to school so that she could write her MSCE exams. She explained her intentions to officials at Muslim Association of Malawi who gave her a nod. In 2009, she started her form four at Namalimwe CDSS in Ndirande while dropping Yaseen at Holy Angels Day Care and Nursery School.
Yaseen spends the day at the day care where Fatima would pick him every evening. She struggled to get fees for her tuition every term but Alhamdulillah,she managed to finish. After writing her examinations in 2009, she passed, though she is not happy with the grades.
The fluent English speaking Fatima complains that she would have done better if she had time to concentrate on her studies, but she had to think about how and where to get her monthly rent and provide for Yaseen and herself. However, Fatima is grateful to Allah that she made it because most of her friends who have homes, parents and time, failed the examinations.
The other time, Fatima was featured in a programme at Radio Islam. Upon hearing part of her story, one kind Muslim Brother sought her contacts and started giving her money which she used to square her daily needs. Later, the brother could not afford to sustain his kind gesture and now she depends on any probable well wisher.
This month of May 2011, Yaseen turns four years. Fatima is the mother that he knows. In her, he gets all the love and care that every child needs from a mother.
When sick, Yaseen gets all the attention and tenderness. Thanks to Fatima’s new acquired landlords in the slummy Zambia whose attitude to her is a good one, perhaps because they are also Muslims.
However, Fatima has kept her situation as a secret. The landlord and all the neighbours are not aware of anything about her. Every morning, she has to drop Yaseen at school, and then leave home as if she goes to some kind of work.
This is how she is perceived by the people. They believe that Yaseen is her own child. Fatima loves Yaseen so much that she doesn’t want people destroy the bond between her and the kid. She is all Yaseen has and he is Fatima’s blessing and treasure. Through hardships and tribulation, she has nursed him since birth and she has seen him grow. His face has become the only comfort to her bad memories of life.
A smile on Yaseen’s face drives away sorrow and brings relief from the suffering and grief. He is the consolation and price of her sacrifice. When Yaseen inquires about his father, Fatima tells him that he will come soon after he finishes his work.
Indeed, Yaseen believes that he has a father who will come for him one day. He can proudly exclaim to his fellow nursery school friends that his father would buy him a toy car and plane when he returns. Fatima has to keep this entire secret because she feels she deserves respect from people. She doesn’t want her story to be the subject of public mockery and her to become an object of pity.
Fatima promises to take care of Yaseen and never to disclose anything to him. He is her boy and she is his mother. This is they life they have lived since 2007.
Nevertheless, Fatima is not a lazy girl who would depend on handouts and live on people’s grace and mercy. She wishes if people could assist her with money so that she could restart her late sister’s business because she had learnt a lot from her when she was alive.
Through the business, Fatima hopes to save some money for her to pursue a course in town and get employment. She says what she needs is a decent life and be respected as an independent young Muslim lady. Fatima says she is patiently waiting for what she believes Allah has intentionally kept for her and her child. All she believes is perseverance and hard work.
What she hates is begging. To her, Allah is sufficient, Islam is her way of life and Muslims are her people. Flipping out her praying mart on the floor in her humble hurt, Fatima never forgets to stand for salat (prayer), sits and raises her arms in supplication to the Almighty Allah.
This is not a fiction; it is a real experience of one Fatima, a girl, guardian angel and a mother. A girl who has proved that fate cannot shake her faith. It is a story of faith.