Bringing the Cows Home: by Ally Abdallah Baharoon

Issa was warned that convincing potential in-laws on the island was not easy, especially if one was mbara, a mainlander. Still, he proceeded by jumping onto his jet and making a quick trip across the 75km stretch of water separating insolent residents of Dar es Salaam and the polite poets of Zanzibar.

The questions would be predictable, he imagined. “Family name?” “Muslim?” “Type of work?” Issa was ready. He had been prepared for a long time, ever since he made up his mind about not marrying his cousin. Issa decided to follow his Bedouin instincts and venture out into uncharted territory: girls who did not share his surname.

The Arabs in the mainland were indeed a strange group of people. They were overly generous, loud, and preferred cousin marriages to limit the number of aliens into their families. A juvenile level of competition pervaded between them as they vied to see who could amass the most number of gold-encrusted Rolex watches, frequently travel in fully furnished private jets, and build grand palatial houses, without relying on academically inclined books.

This was why he was making this trip. He had planned to marry Nayla, a pretty girl whom he had met at one of his stores three weeks ago. He was supervising the unloading of newly sealed cartons that had come straight from the milking parlour, when he was enchanted by the sweet voice of an islander’s dialect. Now that he had arrived, a similar accent asked the questions:

Have you considered that my daughter here is a soon-to-be pharmacist?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Have you considered that she is now completing her bachelor’s in pharmacy and will proceed to do her MPhil in the UK?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Have you considered, young man, what kind of future you, an unschooled farmer, will have with her?’

‘Y—es, s—ir,’ Issa stuttered. It’s not that he was unsure about his response but rather how it would be understood by his potential father-in-law. He was afraid he would sound brash to say that he had in fact considered what future he would have with his medicine wife-to-be. It would be a better future than the one she would have without him. He foresaw all the loving ways he would build a home with her in the mainland. The father could come and live with them too.

It was all so strange for Issa to be proving his worth to someone who lived in humbling conditions with four other people, who he assumed were loosely related to Nayla. Issa turned to Nayla, who was seated just behind her father’s big head. Issa knew that head was big for a reason. It was filled with all those big English words he had avoided when he left school after the seventh grade to join the family business, where he only needed to know basic concepts such as ‘cow’, ‘milk’, ‘sell’, and ‘get money’.

He now had to accept the father’s lack of blessings and leave.


Ally Abdallah Baharoon (@venturally ‏) is an intergalactic journalist from Tanzania who writes and lives for cleansing moments of joy. His creative work often investigates compassion and absurdity.

This story was published as a finalist of the  AFREADA x Africa Writes Competition. Writers had to produce a 500-word story from a dialogue in Chigozie Obioma’s latest novel, An Orchestra of Minorities. 

Read all the final stories here, and you can vote for your favourite stories here. Deadline to vote is Wednesday, 19 June.

Related country: Tanzania

All rights to this story remain with the author. Please do not repost or reproduce this material without permission.