A Dar es Salaam bookshop, one that is owned by local folk and not the expatriate community along noisy streets, may often be viewed as a gloomy scene. Dusty shelves, tall foreboding doors, dour staff and poor lighting for a deliberate storeroom effect may even create that tiresome Halloween mood when you least desire it.
Naturally, in the vein of such despondency, sunny book covers and comic tales often threaten to leap out at you with delightful contrast. Picture a Jack-in-the-box imagery or a trampoline jump in mid-air, if you like.
Here then is another little book I once stumbled on by accident in an ancient bookshop. Hawa the Bus Driver is one of a series of 3 ticklish tales written by the engaging Richard S. Mabala who also sketches out stories bearing unsettling social issues for young adults; one on an exploited servant-girl and another, a misunderstood farmer.
In Hawa, the Bus Ddriver, the author presents an animated childlike story with serious adult themes. Hawa is a forward-thinking Tanzanian woman who lives in a rural slum but works as a bus-driver. Here then is the unthinkable in a male chauvanistic society. Her hard work combined with an unexpected physical strength and stern moral responsibility, slowly turns male snobbery into devotion and respect. In solitary fashion, Hawa battles drunkards and thieves on the night shift and thinks nothing of it.
She becomes fairly famous in the village for her tasty cakes sold with diligent duty each dawn. But often just before climbing up a bus and also for her bravery – she once saved a runaway bus from a crash – her husband turns terribly jealous.
Mabala through humorous dialogue, portrays the beleagured husband’s insecurities. Eventually, Hawa and her friends with careful cunning, help her wriggle out of this problem. Mabala deals with real-life issues in jest but does not hide danger in his plots. He clearly believes in happy-ever-after endings but only after tackling everyday problems that any reader could identify with. Through his comedy, he cleverly shrugs off idealism.
There is a touch of the quaint folklore with songs and poems… “Oh Hawa, Hawa the heroine, Don’t play with her, She has arms like baobab trees, she will squeeze you to death… Oh Hawa’s husband, Beware of your wife, Don’t play with her, She might eat you for breakfast… She might squeeze you to death…”
Richard S.Mabala, P.O. Box 15044, Arusha, Tanzania. ISBN: 9976-920-26-1