Monthly Archives: July 2012

Iftar Flashmob – Nigerian Style

A flash mob (or flashmob) is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression. – Wikipedia

Terms: Ramadan is the fasting month for Muslims. It is a holy month and encourages sharing (among other things); not unlike the un-commercialized values of Christmas. Iftar is the breaking of a day’s fast at dusk.

Background

Ramadan 2008. Miqdad Asaria had an idea. Why don’t Muslims go out and break their fast with the homeless in London; but with love and compassion being the added ingredient.

Typically homeless people in London are fed from “the back of a van” but this new idea involves people bringing what they cooked (to eat for their fast-breaking) and sharing with the homeless.

The homeless people were quite taken aback,” says Asaria. “They’re used to having food thrown out to them from the back of a van, but for us it was about sharing what we had and getting to know those we were eating with.” – The Guardian

Venues for the Flashmob Iftar are made known using social media. So even the Muslims that turn up with food may not know each other; it was a social event for both the sharers and the homeless.

However keeping with the spontaneous spirit of Flashmobs, detailed organization is avoided. Flashmob Iftars have been successful in the UK ever since (during Ramadan). There are youtube videos you can check out.

A Different Situation

Ramadan 2012. Now I want to bring this idea to Nigeria; Abuja for starters. There are three main challenges:

  • Homeless is not equal to Almajiri/Beggars (Almajiri here refers to the pervasive child-beggars)
  • Feasible Public Spaces
  • Ramadan Traditions

First, Nigeria has relatively few “homeless” people as would be compared to the “homeless” in The UK. What we have are beggars/Almajiris and these are different in that these have been institutionalized in Nigeria. It is a defined career path en route a prospective future; especially for the Almajiris. Hence the consistent age range of most Almajiris (mostly kids). And as a result, Almajiris/Nigerian-Beggars lack the depression often associated with homeless of The UK.

Second, most public spaces are either not secured or closed-off at night (Iftar is at dusk). The secure spaces (at night in Abjua) are the public parks that host beer-parlors + prostitutes (+ delicious fish). This is certainly the last place a Muslim would envisage breaking his fast in the holy month of Ramadan. If you are Nigerian you are probably thinking “Mosque!” right about now. That brings us to the third issue.

Third, the Ramadan tradition in Nigeria is that food (for charity) is sent to mosques for Iftar (breaking of fast). Quite an amount of food is sent, hardly any Almajiri (virtually all Muslims) lacks food for Iftar. Any sensible Almajiri knows to go to a nearby mosque at dusk.

So we are left with the option of going to mosques to make food donation; giving in to tradition. The Flashmob element would be lost! Of course we could do that but… this is not simple charity, it is connection, it is compassion, it is surprise, it is engagement through Flashmob. So I had to make a few changes:

From “Flashmob Iftar” to “Iftar Flashmob”

After deliberation “Iftar Flashmob” became born out of “Flashmob Iftar”. Here is how the former differs from the latter.

  • Not Full Iftars: As pointed out in the listed challenges, the lack of feasible public spaces for a full Iftar (proper meal) has led to a snack-Iftar. Snacks will be distributed (packed for easy distribution) to all recipients. Normally Muslims break their fast with a snack (dates, fruits, juice), then pray the dusk prayer before finally sitting down for a meal.
  • Not targeted at homeless people: We have established that “homeless people” are relatively few in Nigeria. The logical choice of recipients are the Beggars/Almajiris, but Nigerian Tradition has provided meal for most of them. The target will be the average worker. Yes you heard me right. The average worker (Muslims and non-Muslims) in Abuja typically doesn’t get home early because of traffic and competition in getting on a bus. The Muslims caught in this situation would wish they could get a snack. The non-Muslims would like a snack too after a long day’s work. This is just one instance; others will be explored in time.
  • May be funded: The UK Flashmob Iftar relies on people cooking and bringing a variety of food to the venue. In our Iftar Flashmob, we may accept contributions from those willing. For the time being, the “Iftar Flashmobsters” will contribute. We will be launching it under the NGO Mus’ab Ibn Umair Foundation (MIUF) which will also contribute.

The FLASHMOB in “Iftar Flashmob”

What remains of the original idea? Well, it is still Iftar (even though a snack-Iftar). More exciting, it is still a Flashmob. There is randomness in the venue to be “Flash-mobbed”. There is briefness; it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to distribute packs of snacks. There is surprise; It will be just a bunch of average-Joes (and Josephines) distributing free snacks one moment and disappearing the next. There is compassion; Ramadan values are at the core of this idea.

PS:

To contact for enquiries please email to iftarflashmob@miufoundation.org.

For all the latest information, check  and like our facebook page.

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Addendum – 29th August 2012

An important development happened a few hours before we went out for the first Iftar Flashmob which was prompted by an incident about a week earlier. We had visited a hospital (with the charity organisation MIUF) and we found out that some patients were not “friendly” towards Muslim-looking helpers. Others were apprehensive to the idea that they were being given charity (when they can afford more than our too-modest offering). By the way they were not charity give-aways but gifts.

That incident warned us on two things: The non Muslim we approach will be very sceptical and some will refuse to collect our snack-packs if they perceive it as charity.

Some ours before rolling out, we came up with an idea: we sell our snack packs (in stead of simply giving it out) BUT for FREE. If that is confusing, here this: we sell the snack packs for Zero Naira. Yea, the paradox of that statement is precisely what make the public receive us well. They probably now call us “Those weirdos selling snacks for free”.

It might interest you to know that we have started a catalog of Iftar Flashmob snack-packs. So far we have only one, I call it Capridate (Caprisonne and Dates). More are coming.

A Capridate on the roadside

Two Baskets of Capridates at Iftar Flashmob site

Watch a video of an Iftar Flashmob here.

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[Spoken Word] A Game I Miss A Game You Mistake

This was written quiet a while ago (over a year) but only recently recorded. Its still kinda relevant.

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Airline Services – Post Dana Plane Crash

Safe Flights, Safe Flights, Safe Flights

Phewww! One trip done, one more to go. The trip from Abuja to Lagos four days ago went relatively smooth because they only delayed the flight for an hour. It wasn’t so bad that two of us were assigned the same seat; I was able to find an empty one.

Today, 3rd July 2012, the last trip awaits me, my return journey to Abuja. The ticket says 15:45 so I got a taxi from Ikeja (in Lagos) at 13:00. It would take me an hour, worst case two if the traffic is thick. I arrived  at the Airport at 14:10.

A serpent reminiscent of Anaconda ignored me, unaware of my arrival, as I entered MM2 Airport. The serpent made a reverse “L” shape. It was alive. It moved. Passengers pushed their luggage along the serpent; the serpent is a check-in queue. At the head of the serpent is a sign that reads “Abuja”. This is my queue.

A floating screen showed flights and departure time. Beside my flight, the time read 17:30. Damn! The flight has been delayed almost 2hrs. Treaded the serpent and headed upstairs to the waiting lounge.

My mother called. I told her about the delay. She assured me that what matters is that it is a safe flight (not the time). I looked within and tied my argumentative self to a leash.

It is 15mins after the postponed time of departure. DING! A voice announces that there is a further 30mins delay. I wondered if that meant 15mins left. 40mins pass and DING! Another delay of 30mins announced.

A delayed passenger sitting next to me sighed and then said “Well, better safe than sorry. What matters is we get there safe”. As if the delay was caused by a repair. I strengthened and shortened my leash.

Four hours after the original departure time, we queued to board. An hour and a half later we landed in Abuja. The lady next to me sighed and followed up with “At least thank God we have arrived safe”. I was now playing tug-of-war with my argumentative self. Safe flights, safe flights, safe flights Aaarrrrrgh!

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June 3rd 2012 was a tragic day for Nigerians. Nigerians united in grief to mourn victims of the Dana Plane Crash. We continue to pray for the victims.

History is shaped by memorable events which may be traumatic. These events shape the vocabulary of discourse; e.g. recent American Foreign policy is largely made, read, and understood through the bifocal glass of pre-911 and post-911. Similarly the Dana Plane Crash is defining our perceptions of and reactions to Airline Services.

Nigerians are known for taking bad news with grace; or what could be construed as grace. Amidst the grief of the crash, stories of hope and survival started spreading. The most famous one is that of the two passengers who missed the flight for reasons not theirs, and how one of them made a scene at the check-in counter, and how they exchanged numbers… only to contact each other after the crash to collaborate on interpreting the divinity of their survival. Even funny stories. The famous funny story is the one about the husband who lied to his wife about going to Lagos on that flight because he wanted to be away with his “mistress”, only to have to face his wife in awkward confrontation and confession. The funny story is also a fun riddle; usually presented as “what would you do if you are the wife”?

There are of course two stories of people who didn’t get on that plane for one reason or the other; which I have confirmed to be true. However, the popular stories (as above) stir up prudence in me that I am reluctant to believe it exactly as told. Whatever my qualms with the stories, I think their effect has been powerful. Especially being that Nigeria was once “The Most Religious Country”. The average Nigerian explains away a situation (past, present and future) with God: “we can only pray now”, “na so papa God want am”, “sai addu’a” etc. The short story at the beginning of this blog reveals the effect of such popular stories: which is Complacency and Lowered Standard.

On identifying this effect, I became proud of a blogger (Omojuwa) I read about the night before who is uncompromising, relentless (and threatening) on the services he got from an Airline; the Airline “lost” his/her ipad.

I say we continue to pray for victims of Dana Air Crash. I say we bring back our standards of expected services in Aviation (God knows our pre-Dana-crash expectations were low enough). Let us not settle for Safe Flights. Even if we find it difficult not to read divinity into safe flights, then that is “divine” service not the one you are entitled to as a customer on an Airline. Let us demand proper Airline Services.

Disclaimer: This is directed at Airlines in Nigeria.

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