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In the maws of mugamma* – Poems, Pictures & Prose by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

In the maws of mugamma*

The go-to captain slash commissioner of oaths slash instrument for the Will of God was so bad-ass, he smoked right under the sticker telling him he couldn’t. You don’t argue with the dude with the stars on his shoulders and who looked like Azad Essa; only older, taller and part of the system.

Waiting right next to us was Salvador Dali­. While it was not his best incarnation, he did pull the ends of his moustache with proud pincered fingers while Joe Jaml looked over the tired identity documents and told him to get in step with the kafka-conga.

While bumbling about we learnt that “South African” is not the correct answer to fill in for “Original Nationality” on the visa renewal form as it is important for the ministry to know that our great-grandparents came from India.

It was stranger than that dream I had about a swimming pool filled with empty condoms and people’s failed aspirations. And it pretty much topped the one where we paid R100 for David Hasselhoff’s autograph.

I only wish I’d been asleep. We head back there tomorrow.


*the paperworkery one is at the mercy of for all sorts of officialese, and where we have to go to get our tourist visa extended.


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I am a writer and photographer (look up my work on based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have an MA in Creative Writing from the university currently known as Rhodes. My writing accolades include winning the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize and the 2020 Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize for my debut collection, Zikr.

2 thoughts on “In the maws of mugamma*”

  1. I sympathise.
    I’ve many encounters recently. We’re so used to it back home, that it’s something we never really think of back in SA.

    Me: ‘I am South African’
    American Official: ‘But you don’t look South African’
    Me: *nudges husband in anticipation for saying something in return, whilst hoping they don’t send us back to SA*

    Random American: ‘Where are you from?’
    Me: ‘South Africa’
    American: ‘No, really, where are you from?’

    Actual Indian: ‘Can you speak Hindi?’
    Me: ‘No’
    Indian: ‘Guji? Urdu?’
    Me: ‘Not really’
    Indian: *silence*

    Iranian: ‘Are you from Iran?’
    Me: ‘No South Africa’
    Iranian: ‘Oh, but you’re not Black, and you’re not Iranian…then?’
    Me: *deep sigh*

    Mexico: ‘¿Hablas espanol?’
    Me: ‘Ingles por favor!’

    I get really really lost in translation 🙂
    It makes for funny scenario’s 🙂

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