FATUMA: The rock that rolls down doors!
By Valentine Marc Nkwame
Remember Ali Baba? That old hero from the Arabian nights tales, who once fought and managed to defeat a gang of 40 armed robbers .... Hello?
Well, it happened like this. Ali Baba had just finished his supper and was relaxing in his living room, watching BBC’s late night news on Television.
It seems like he heard noises outside, therefore peeping through the window, Ali Baba saw a total of forty robbery suspects, armed with guns, pistols, swords and machetes.
Unperturbed, Ali Baba summoned Fatuma, his house maid and sent her out to combat the forty scary robbers.
The maid, whose name was Fatuma, left the dishes she was doing in the kitchen and went out. She returned a few minutes later, having killed 39 of the suspects. Somehow, one had managed to escape.
Okay, something like that anyway! Mind you, prior to the incident, Ali Baba himself had invaded the robbers den and even managed to enter the vaults where stolen loots were being kept.
To enter the treasure vaults, Ali Baba had to discover and actually use, the robbers’ secret Password, which used to go like this: "Open sesame!" or something.
So, all Ali Baba had to do, is simply shout: "Open Sesame!" and, hey presto, the vaults doors would swing open for Ali Baba to enter and take the loots.
That was thousands of years ago, in the Middle East. However, today the same two formulas are still being used here in Arusha, but with opposite drastic effects.
"Fatuma", the name of the former Ali Baba, weight lifting, house maid, has now been given to that huge, heavy rock being used by local robbers, to smash doors during their nightly treasure hunts.
To give the name, "Fatuma" an "Open Sesame" effect, the local 40 robbers, would take the rock, cover it in some tough sisal sack material, then swing it back and forth, in front of the targeted door and ....!
.... On the third swing, the gang usually shout in unison: "Fatuma Fungua Mlango!" (Fatuma, Open the Door!) before aiming the rock onto the door, smashing it with a deafening bang!
The rock, usually rolls the door (any door) down, and before you can say: "Open Sesame," the robbers would have already entered the house, heading for the TV stand.
"Fatuma" is a disposable robbery equipment. Don’t expect the thugs to pick it up after they are through with their midnight, property tax collection.
Now that "Fatuma" is on their side, even if it’s just in the form of a rock, local robbers, be it 40 or less, are somehow proving to be very invincible .... Aks any policeman.
Besides, they no longer need the "Open Sesame" Password either, because modern Arusha robbers have no vaults to hide their loots .... Their modus operandi is a simple one. Rob a TV set, sell it five hours later at one eighth of the original price then rob again.
See? No need for vaults, but in case one needs them after a robbery incident, then they are always welcome to try the new Mount Meru hospital, mortuary vaults.
These vaults are about 40, the standard number of members in a modest local criminal gang, who in most cases end up in the mortuary, after gun fight episodes with the Police.
Either that, or maybe 40 victims of the town’s robbery incidents (Including the night patrol police) will have to be housed in the mortuary vaults .... After the robbers have had their own way.
Other than that, Fatuma still remains a Swahili name normally given to girls or women around here. So, next time you are shopping around for a new house maid ....! (Hint! Hint!)
I would like to take this space in paying tribute to one of the most outstanding, East African writer, Wahome Mutahi, who passed away in Nairobi this week, after a long illness. The late Mutahi though his regular columns for; The Daily and Sunday Nation, Novels and Stage plays, has been a reliable source of inspiration to most of us.
July 25, 2003.