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HM Books cover of Mama Dudu by Meja Mwangi
HM Productions Intl.                                                       All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2020by
Mama Dudu
320 pgs
Mama Dudu
$ 14.95
By day the border post was just as depressing as it was by night, an old frontier post that
seemed to have no reason anymore to exist and which appeared to have been long ago
abandoned by its creators.
The sun had finally risen, scattering the cold haze and bringing with it an air of irrational
optimism, an unreasonable expectation.
‘You know,’ the giant said, pointing at the barrier with his silver-tipped baton, ‘In the old days this
place was full of strange people.’
He had stepped out of his office at nine o’clock sharp as promised, dressed incongruously in
white shorts and shirt, and his dreadlocks tucked under an official cap with a shiny badge that
identified him as an officer of the customs and exercise department of the Government of
Tanzania.  He had proceeded to raise a tattered flag on a mast in front of his office hut, saluted
smartly and, only then, turned and approached the travellers’ vehicle.
‘Welcome to Mara,’ he had said with unnecessary geniality.
He wore huge Government boots, well-polished and shiny, and olive green puttees with an array
of ballpoint pens tucked in the band of the right one.
His name was Bwana Fadhili, he had told them, but they were free to call him Mister Customs or
Bwana Forodha in Kiswahili as other travellers had before they were all lured away by the new
crossing at Namanga.
‘Many travellers came here in the old days,’ he informed them.  ‘Some going north, some going
south, and some going nowhere; just helping stuff across my border.’  
But no one came this way anymore, he revealed, no one except hardcore smugglers.  Even
those were having second thoughts after he caught two of them sneaking past his post with
gemstones stolen from the diamond mines at Mwadui.
‘They are buried over there,’ he said, pointing to a gnarled tree about two hundred yards away,
‘where they fell trying to dodge my bullets.’
Two piles of rocks marked the smugglers’ final resting place.  He let Ruben contemplate the sight
and consider whether it was worthwhile trying to outwit him.  Then he cleared his throat loudly
and said, officiously, ‘Your passports, please.’
The interlude was over.
Ruben handed him their passports.  He scrutinised them carefully, making sure all the pages
were intact and their photographs had not been tampered with.
‘No visas,’ he observed, inspecting the passports.  ‘No visas, no stamps, nothing.’
‘Don’t need any,’ Ruben informed him.
He smiled slightly, looking from her passport photograph to Kimberly and back.
‘You are very thin now,’ he said to her.
She ignored him.  She stood with her back against the vehicle, her bundle in her  arms, and let
Ruben deal with it as he had offered to do.
‘Bwana Ruben,’ Bwana Forodha said, turning to Ruben.  ‘This does not look like you at all,
Bwana Ruben.’
‘I’m thinner too,’ said Ruben.
‘You also have a bad beard,’ he observed.  ‘Is it, perhaps, a disguise?’
Ruben left him to decide for himself.
‘I like your hat,’ he said, slipping the passports in his breast pocket.
‘Thanks,’ said Ruben.
‘Director,’ he read the logo on Ruben’s cap.  ‘Are you a big boss then?’
‘No,’ said Ruben.
‘You are not a director?’
'I am a director.’
‘Then you are a big boss,’ said Bwana Forodha.  ‘In Tanzania a director is a big man.’
Ruben decided to let him believe what he may.  He looked them both up and down, nodding to
himself all the time, weighing them and wondering.  Finally, he whipped the stick from under his
arm and tapped it on the clipboard in his other hand.
‘And now,’ he said, turning to their luggage.  ‘We shall proceed to pay Government duty.’
Ruben had unpacked the vehicle well before nine to save some time, he had reasoned with
himself, removing everything and arranging their belongings in rows ready for customs
inspection.  Now with clipboard in hand, the customs man went through the luggage, inspecting
the contents and checking them against a list of dutiable items attached to his clipboard.
‘What is in here?’ He brandished his swagger stick like a magic wand at a bagful of tent pegs.
‘Stuff,’ Ruben said too weary for specifics.
‘Camping gear.’
Bwana Forodha searched his list for camping gear.  His register said nothing about camping
gear.  He announced there would be no duty on camping gear today and moved on.  Meanwhile,
the dogs sniffed at the luggage scattered around the vehicle.  He swung his stick at one of them,
kicked another out of the way and yelled, ‘Simba! Go!’
Simba moved grudgingly back to watch from a distance as his master continued poking at the
luggage with his stick.
‘Here?’ he asked of a carton of files.  ‘What is in here?’
‘Stuff,’ said Ruben.
He nodded to himself, as if ‘stuff’ made enough sense, turned and pointed at the wall of his office
‘Long ago, we had a big notice on that wall there,’ he informed.  ‘It was a list of all the goods
permitted to be imported or exported into or out of my country and all the respective duties and
tariffs; so much duty to import a goat, so much to export a cow, a chicken, a radio, a watch, a
bicycle … many, many things.’
He laughed, suddenly and mirthlessly, adding, ‘You know, we had people coming through here all
day long, carrying all manner of goods and things, but no one ever turned up with anything we
had on that board.  Whenever we added something to our list, the item too disappeared from the
travellers’ luggage.  Just like that, no one had anything dutiable anymore.  We had to search
them all.  We had to strip men, women and even children and old women to find the foreign
currency, the illegal diamonds, the ivory and the animal skins, and all the guns and things they
knew very well they were not permitted to carry across the border.’
He looked Ruben in the eye, expecting some reaction, a confession or some sort of an admission
of guilt.
‘The eyes are the windows to the soul,’ his training officer had drilled them.  ‘Look inside their
eyes and you will find the evil that lurks in men’s hearts.’
Bwana Forodha had practised this teaching numerous times on the people who came to cross
his border claiming to be something other than what they really were - liars and cheats, thieves
and smugglers, and even worse.  Through their eyes he had read their hearts, discovered their
dark secrets, their greed and their avarice, their fears and their insecurities.
All he now found in Ruben’s heart, apart from the usual nervous anxiety, were anger, frustration
and an inordinate amount of worry.  He waited for him to break down, to reveal himself in all his
futile duplicity, to confess and explain what he was really doing there.
Ruben was past trying to explain anything.  He just wanted to be done with it and out of there
before worse happened.
When it was clear there would be no confessions, Bwana Forodha continued his inspection.
‘What is in here?’ he asked.
‘Stuff,’ said Ruben.
‘More stuff?’
‘Stuff.’ This was not going to be easy.  ‘Open it,’ he ordered.
Ruben kicked a latch and flipped the lid open.  Bwana Forodha scrutinised the contents of the
case, tapping the case with his stick and trying to understand exactly what it was that he was
looking at.