I had not been living long in Nzega and as yet I had few friends there. One friend however was an Arab called Saidi. He was a younger member of an extremely wealthy and important family; everyone knew his family and, subsequently, virtually everyone knew Saidi. We shared two particular interests – my motorcycle and my music collection.

This particular story begins one weekend after I had been down to Tabora. By the time I returned Saidi had gotten himself married, been severely beaten by his father and subsequently divorced! All of this was completely out of the blue. Of course, this being Tanzania, the story was far more complicated than that. Not only had Saidi been desperate enough to have stolen the money for the required dowry from his father, but the woman Saidi had married had something of a reputation as a rather vicious social climber. She also had a reputation for witchcraft.

Saidi’s ex-wife had in fact been married into the family before to a direct uncle of Saidi, his father’s true brother, who had also divorced her. Not only that. She had then subsequently been the mistress of another of Saidi‚Äôs uncles before this uncle too had tired of her. This was her third attempt to break into this important Nzega family.

By now it was mid-week. Saidi had been divorced for two or three days when I began to hear some strange rumours. He had apparently lost the use of his legs and everyone swore that it was not due to the beating that his father had given him.

I went to see him at his house – a typical Arab dwelling hidden off the dusty main road by a small twisting alley way. It had open courtyards where the household chores would be performed and the various rooms of the house surrounded these.

When I found Saidi, sure enough he was incapable of using his legs. There was no obvious damage but he simply could not bear to put any weight on them and could not walk. His family took him to the local district hospital but the doctors there could not find anything wrong. They took him to the nearest Swedish mission hospital (of spotless reputation) but they too could find nothing wrong.

By now the general consensus was that he was under the spell of a curse, obviously perpetrated by his ex-wife as an act of revenge. The family therefore took the best course of action available – they went to Bagamoyo on the coast and brought back a couple of powerful Muslim holy men.

Soon after that I went again to visit Saidi. His room was dark and dingy with various members of the family and friends squatting around his bed with the holy men. Saidi sat with his legs hanging over the side of the bed and complained to me about his situation. As my eyes gradually became accustomed to the dark I realized that there was something unusual about those two limbs. I peered closer and, to my surprise, I found that they were entirely encircled and inscribed from toe to upper thigh with extremely fine Islamic script drawn in black ink. The inking was perfect in all respects.

I turned to stare at one of the Muslim Imams, who returned my stare with shy interest, seemingly completely oblivious to the alien feelings that I was then experiencing. By now I had expressed my condolences to Saidi and his mother and since I was feeling so out of place I felt that I should leave.

A few days later I was hailed in the street. I turned and saw Saidi and his usual gang all striding confidently towards me. “So you’re better” says I. “Of course” replies he and he stamped around and around in the dust of the road by way of demonstration.
Michael Ball

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