The Star (Nairobi)

9 February 2013

Kenya: Day in the Life - I Pride Myself in Calling People to Prayer At the Masjid Hussein Mosque

"Salah is better than sleep," a lone voice rings out in the sleepy Bamburi streets at 4.15 am. This is the first muezzin (Muslim call to prayer). The voice belongs to Saidi Chombo, a mosque caretaker at Masjid Hussein in Bamburi.

Saidi wakes up at 4am or earlier, because he needs to wake up the entire Muslim community for the Fajr Salah. He has to cleanse himself and be ready for prayers, this means taking a cold shower at the crack of dawn. He engages himself in worship before calling the second muezzin at 5.11am.

"After prayers, usually at around 5.30am, I might go back to sleep if I'm a bit tired or start doing my daily rounds," says Saidi.

He has been a caretaker at the mosque for four years. There are two caretakers at the mosque and their job is to guard the mosque, clean and call worshippers to prayer.

By 7am, Saidi and his colleague are indulging in a Coastal breakfast of tea, chapatti and maharagwe ya nazi (beans made with coconut milk). Saidi then embarks on his mosque duties. Sometimes, his colleague will be out of the mosque on official matters so he is left to guard the mosque on his own. He has to be around to call the lunchtime muezzin at 1 pm. Then, he steps aside for a teacher or imam to lead the prayers.

"When the madrasa classes are on, I have to be constantly vigilant as children could get into mischief. Sometimes I let them call the muezzin if they ask me to," he says.

After prayers, Saidi cooks his lunch in the mosque's compound.

However, taking care of the mosque and calling worshippers to prayer are not the only things Saidi is up to. The 27-year-old is also a student. He is studying electrical engineering at the Kisauni Mahad (Islamic university) under the Iqra foundation. On days where he has classes, he is out of the mosque for the entire day and leaves his colleague in charge.

By 4pm Saidi is back on the microphone calling out to the neighbouring Muslim community to prayer. Sometimes he runs errands for the head imam of the mosque after the evening prayers. At around 6.40pm, Saidi has to call the muezzin again. After these prayers, he walks to a restaurant to watch 7pm news to catch up on current affairs.

At 7.30pm, he is back at the mosque preparing himself to call the last prayer called Azan at 7.45pm. After these prayers Saidi waits for people to leave then locks all doors and gates of the mosque. He then consults with his colleague on what they should have for dinner. Sometimes they cook at the mosque and on some days, they take another stroll to the shops to eat rice and stew and a nearby restaurant.

At 10pm, Saidi calls it a day but he has to wake up a few times at night to look around and ensure everything is okay.

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