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Signal Hill - 9 September 2010

Every year the night before Eid and after sighting of the new moon that signals the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, the Muslim community in Cape Town gather in the suburb of Rylands to give their time and effort to provide food for the disadvantaged in the area.  This event is called Nakhlistan (a Persian word for Oasis) and it was started 26 years ago by Mohammed Shukoor Mowzer, the late Dawood Parker, Shaikh Sa’dullah Khan and a few friends.  What started out with 2 pots in 1984 has today reached a total of 145, each pot having the capacity to feed over 300 people.

Nakhlistan, Rylands - September 2010

I got a chance to meet Mr Mowzer and he was a rather unassuming man, dressed in a track top over his kurta on a rather cold Spring night in September.  His reason for doing this was for the simple pleasure of seeing the joy in other people who would normally not be able to afford a meal.  This is however not a once a year endeavor as he later told me that they run feeding schemes every Tuesday and Thursday (albeit on a much smaller scale), all of which is funded by the Muslim community in the Western Cape.

Sighting of the new moon, Signal Hill - September 9, 2010

How I ended up in Rylands is yet another event in itself.  It all started when my friend suggested we take a drive up to Signal Hill to go spot the new moon.  It was 17h50 when we got to the top and it was cold, cloudy and misty with no moon to be found.  Cape Town weather is temperamental like that.  Just that afternoon it was sunshine and clear skies.  Nonetheless, we stuck around until 18h31 which was apparently the official time that fast is broken and quite possibly the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.  Wandering aimlessly whilst the people started to gather for their prayers, a girl (Amirah) and her brother approached us.  They told us about what goes on on the day of Eid, where to go and subsequently even invited us to break fast with them and proceeded to invite us to Eid lunch the next day which is usually a family event (to which we had to gratefully decline).

Men praying on Signal Hill - September 9, 2010

Somewhat taken aback by her forthrightness and generosity, I thought to myself, this is what a society should emulate.  I’ve said it once before during my walkabout in Bo Kaap and here I am, experiencing it again in Cape Town (which is also known to be quite cliquey) the warmth of the community.  She asked for our number and my friend promptly handed over my card but we thought nothing of it and proceeded to get back in the car to thaw out our noses and ears.  Later that night sure enough I got a call from her which in retrospect I’m quite grateful for otherwise I wouldn’t have known about this Nakhlistan in Rylands:

Nakhlistan, Rylands - September 9, 2010

Rylands is about 20 minutes from where I stay in the city (yes, everywhere in Cape Town is 20 minutes).  I never go down to the Southern Suburbs because firstly, the city bowl is an enclave of its own.  Going into the North and the South, it’s a different setting altogether and besides, Rylands is on the way to Gugulethu so I wasn’t keen on getting mugged or shot that much.  But those were the stories I had heard via the grapevine.  Feeling a bit trepidatious, I decided to take a drive down to an area I was unfamiliar with at 21h30 nonetheless.  My reasoning was, if it’s dodgy, I can always choose to NOT get out the car and drive back to the safety of the Atlantic Seaboard.

Rylands - September 9, 2010

Minor setback:  I got to the place and excited at the sight of the myriad of burning pots, I jumped out the car and locked my keys in.  Feeling like having made the ultimate FAIL, I went up to two gentlemen who were casually smoking their cigarettes in the driveway of the house outside which I had parked and asked them for help.  After 30 minutes of trying with just a coat hanger and a screwdriver, my door was finally opened!  (All thanks to Mr Abdullah and Mr Mukhtar and their ingenious coat hanger trick).

Feeling a huge sense of relief at having my keys in my hand again, I proceeded to the site, took my camera out and clicked… nothing.  I looked at the screen and all it said was “No CF Card” to my horror.  I had taken it out at home whilst downloading the pictures I had taken from earlier that day.  So finally after driving back home to get that card and coming back for a second time that evening to Rylands, I finally got my shots and it was all worth it.

Sighting the Moon, Signal Hill - September 9, 2010

I’m still amazed at how friendly everyone was in there, randomly striking up a conversation, telling me about the history and the feeling of warmth both from the pots and from the conversations I had with them.  And although I didn’t find my moon tonight, what I found was much more beautiful and getting increasingly rarer – the random kindness from two men trying to find a way to help me, a person they hardly knew think of ways to open up my car again to the girl who invited two strangers over for a family lunch.

This is Cape Town and that’s why I love it.