Fascinating Midwife and Nursing Stories from East Africa, as Mawlana Hazar Imam Arrives for Aga Khan University Convocation Ceremonies

BY SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE
Special to Simerg

Midwives are frontline health care providers playing a vital role in reducing maternal mortality. The Aga Khan Hospital’s Nursing and Midwifery Service is committed to providing effective and efficient care to meet the needs of its patients. The Service delivers a high standard of patient care that is intended to exceed expectations of patients, families and the local community. Nurses are trained on a regular basis to cope with technological advances and societal complexities.Photo: The Aga Khan Hospital for Women, Karimabad

Midwives are frontline health care providers playing a vital role in reducing maternal mortality. The Aga Khan Hospital’s Nursing and Midwifery Service is committed to providing effective and efficient care to meet the needs of its patients. The Service delivers a high standard of patient care that is intended to exceed expectations of patients, families and the local community. Nurses are trained on a regular basis to cope with technological advances and societal complexities. Photo: The Aga Khan Hospital for Women, Karimabad

Editor’s note: In a recent piece for Simerg, Shariffa Keshavhejee enlightened our readers with The Amazing Story of Kundan Paatni: A Graduate of the Aga Khan Nursing School in Nairobi in the 1960s which included rare pictures of His Highness the Aga Khan. In this new exclusive essay, which coincides with the arrival of Mawlana Hazar Imam to East Africa to preside over the Aga Khan University Convocation in Dar-es-Salaam (February 24, 2015), Kampala (February 26), and Nairobi (March 2), Shariffa tells us contrasting tales of midwifery and nursing from decades earlier, including that of her own birth.

Midwife Noor Banu

My friend Mala Pandurang told me of an Ismaili Khoja midwife who delivered three of her children at home in Bukoba. She was called Noor Banu, the only Asian midwife in the locality. Mala’s search to get more information about Noorbanu at the British colonial office drew a blank. She is now looking at links from India to see if any of the midwives came from the  nursing institutions started by the British early 20th century. Child birthing was associated as unclean, and hence the Hindu women who joined these professions were of the lower castes. Mala also wants to know if any of the midwives were spinsters/widows.

Zarin Jivanjee and Midwife Asbaimasi

Zarin Jivanjee was born at home in 1943 in Nagara. Her house was a traditional Indian home with a fario (deck) in the center where all activities happened — drying clothes, lentils and making large amounts of food.  Midwife Asbaimasi came home. She was old, and well known even by prominent families such as Sir Eboo Pirbhai. Asbaimasi also prescribed herbal medicines for aches, pains, colds, digestive problems, rashes. In her window there was black thread. For each complaint. she would give a thread and a powder. She lived in River Road and had to be summoned at birth. There was a Dr.Anderson but the treatment given by Asbaimasi was more effective and preferred.

Shirinbai, Fatmabai, Roshankhanu and Khatibai

Shirinbai Juma born in 1934 in Jugu Lane. The midwife came home.

Fatmabai was born in Kathiawar, her family came from Harravad.  There was a bai who came to deliver at home. She was given five and a half rupees for delivery.

Roshankhanu Jiwa Nathoo was born in 1935 in Kisii. In Kisii too children were born at home The midwife was an old Nubian lady who was very well versed.

Khatibai Mohamed was born in Jugu Lane in the centre of Nairobi. She would go home and the staff would help with the hot water and cleaning up. If there was a miscarriage, she could not remember what would happen.

The Impact of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s Farmans

Portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah. Photo: US Library of Congress.

Portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah. Photo: US Library of Congress.

I was told by Dr. Sultan Somjee, the author of Bead Bai, that there was a farman (guidance) of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957) telling the Ismaili community to take up nursing and not to look down on the profession. Thereafter many Ismaili women trained as nurses that included midwifery. We called them collectively as naaras and not nurse. Fatma naaras was well known in Nairobi. Indeed Somji’s book begins with Birth Stories (Chapter II) told by midwife of old Nairobi, Jugu Bazaar. Now, the Aga Khan Hospitals/University have nursing as priority programmes.

The Story of Shirin

Shirin Cassam Keshavjee was inspired by the 48th Imam’s farman. She joined Witwatersrand University (Whits), South Africa, to train as a nurse and then as a midwife. However she could not practice nursing near her home, being a person of colour.

Fortunately for Shirin, she heard an announcement in the Pretoria Jamatkhana that they were looking to employ a nurse in the Aga Khan Clinic in Kisumu. Lucky for Shirin, her uncle, Habib Keshavjee, was off to East Africa with his family.

So Shirin joined Habib Keshavjee’s family for the trip. She came to Nairobi and proceeded to Kisumu to live with the family of my grandfather, Count Hasham Jamal. Here Shirin was to change the face of midwifery in the Nyanza District. She was the first ever qualified midwife.

She was appalled at the state of the women and the new born child. Her kind hearted and soft spoken manner brought mothers from all over the district of Nyanza, Homa Bay, Kindu Bay, Kissii, Kimlili, and all the way from Kampala too!

She explained early care of the child, sanitation, breast feeding, sterilization, diet of mother and child. Shirin then married my cousin, Amir Shamji. Thus began the liaison. Now there are five Keshavjees, married to five Jamals!! Shirin Shamji (nee Keshavjee) lives in Toronto.

A midwife in Upper Egypt holding a kulleh pot. Also known as the goollah, it is a porous water-jar of sun-dried Nile mud. Photo Credit: Winifred S. Blackman/ Wellcome Library Image, London.

A midwife in Upper Egypt holding a kulleh pot. Also known as the goollah, it is a porous water-jar of sun-dried Nile mud. Photo Credit: Winifred S. Blackman/ Wellcome Library Image, London.

‘Laxmi’ Jenab Nanjee

The following story was narrated by Jenab Nanjee to her daughter-in-law, Nuri Abdul, daughter of Madatali Suleiman Verjee

“I was born in Jugu Lane now called Gulzar Street on Sunday, August 20, 1930. It was my grandfather’s house, Madatali Suleiman Verjee. It  was customary to go to your parents house at the time of birth.

“My mother was in her final days of pregnancy. She was ready now to go to her parental home for Khoro Bharavo. Khoro is the lap. Bharavo is to make full. This is a ceremony filled with abundance on the lap of the new mother. A special prayer is recited and the expectant mother’s mother prepares a coconut and some sweet meats to take to Jamatkhana to make sacred this time of birth. The new mother usually wears green as a symbol of plenty and of happiness.

“A European nurse, a qualified midwife was asked to come home for delivery. This was a privilege of the wealthy. ( I wonder what happened to the not so wealthy)

“I was born on a Sunday. My grandfather was very happy and pleased that a ‘laxmi’, a daughter was born to his daughter. Sometimes a daughter was a bad omen. Suleiman Verjee saw this as a sign of prosperity. He gave me the first gursurdhi  jaggery mixed with water. A sweet drink to  bring sweetness into my life. He gave me the name of Jenab, a name of one of the wives of the Holy Prophet Muhammed (s.a.s).

“My mother and I stayed at my grandfathers house for a month. This was so that my mother could be helped with my first initial upbringing and that my mother would regain her strength. At this time the family visited my mother and she was given many gifts called ‘chati’.

“Customarily it was significant that Mrs Suleiman Verjee was given such good care, received many gifts and that she had the care of a qualified midwife. Jenub, now 82  lives in Nairobi.

“Now the course offered by Aga Khan University in East Africa is call Nursing and Midwifery. It leads the way in East Africa. It offers undergraduate, and graduate programmes as well as conversion and professional and continuing education courses.

“The nurses can achieve international standard, even when they are studying and are mothers. They study as they work.”

During his visit to East Africa in 2009, Mawlana Hazar Imam toured  some of the Hospital’s diagnostic services and specialist clinics.  Photo: AKDN

During his visit to East Africa in 2009, Mawlana Hazar Imam toured some of the Hospital’s diagnostic services and specialist clinics. Photo: AKDN

The Story of My Own Birth

I now share the story about my birth in Kisumu on June 1, 1946. We lived in Jamal Building facing Lake Victoria. The building was constructed on Main Street Station Road in 1945.

Now that she was full term, my mother Khatija had to move to the downstairs room. She could not deliver her baby in the upstairs room, where there was a great deal of traffic of the extended family. Besides older children Zeenat and Amina, she had a brother-in-law Amirkaka, sister-in-law Nasirbanu and of course her in-laws, Bapaji and Ma. The downstairs room was called ‘Nichlo room’.

It was already embarrassing moving down. In 1945, women or men never talked about pregnancy, welfare of the mother and so on. Expectant mothers were covered by a long dress and a pachedi (shawl) would be drawn over the head in the presence of Bapaji or any male relative.

So Khatija, my mum, was all prepared with clean sheets and extra americani sheeting for the baby. No early preparation was made for the baby. It was a bad omen to do so. No layette, no baby showers!!!

It was before 4 a.m on 1st June. Khatija hoped that Bapaji would go for his early morning prayers, so that she could ask my dad to get Sherabai Hirji, the midwife.

Sherabai was smart. She was also cheerful and kind. In her white uniform, she inspired confidence. She was very good at delivering but she did not keep medical notes such as the baby’s weight, height, and temperature. However, my mum was relieved to see the arrival of Sherabai, who was a friend and well known to the family. Seeing my mother out of bed she admonished,  “What are you doing out of bed? You are so close now, get into bed!”

As if to help, my mother said “Let me get the hot water and the sagri….open brazier, jiko.” She got another reprimand, “You are doing no such thing.” Sherabai organised the water, sheeting and towels. She was familiar with the household having brought into the world Amina and Nasirbanu just a few years earlier.

Thus I was born in the presence of midwife and nurse. Sherabai then organized a brick, which would be heated on the jiko and placed on the mother’s stomach to keep it in shape.

Sadly, I was yet another female child. This did not auger well for my mother, nor for the family. Nevertheless, there I was, plump and full of life, to be loved by all the family in Kisumu till a year later we moved to Mombasa.

Date posted: Saturday, February 21, 2015.

Copyright: Shariffa Keshavjee. 2015.

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Shariffa KeshavjeeAbout the writer: Shariffa Keshavjee is  a philanthropist and an entrepreneur with an objective to help women empower themselves. Raised in Kisumu, she considers herself a “pakaa” Kenyan. She is now based in the nation’s capital, Nairobi. Her other interest is in visual arts where she delights in painting on wood, silk and porcelain using water colours, oils and acrylics. She also likes writing, especially for children, and bird watching.

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Links to a selection of articles by Shariffa Keshavjee on simerg and simergphotos:

  1. Bagamoyo’s Historic Ismaili Jamatkhana Through Pictures, Poetry and Prose
  2. Inferno of Alamut
  3. The Jamatkhana in Toronto — “A Seed of Faith Planted…” by Shariffa Keshavjee
  4. My Fascination with the Once “Exotic” World of Paan

Kundan Paatni: A Dedicated Nurse Shares Her Special Moments at the Aga Khan Hospital, Nairobi, in the 1960s

“To my overwhelming surprise the lift door opened on to the fifth floor where I was in charge. There they were, the Aga Khan and the President. I was honoured and awed. I felt like the luckiest person on earth. I met all the dignitaries and escorted them through the impeccable ward of which we were so proud.” — Kundanben Paatni

ESSAYS AND LETTERS: The Amazing Story of Kundan Paatni: A Graduate of the Aga Khan Nursing School in Nairobi in the 1960s

His Highness the Aga Khan and the late President Jomo Kenyatta visit the Aga Khan Hospital. Photo: Kundan Paatni Archives.

His Highness the Aga Khan and the late President Jomo Kenyatta visit the Aga Khan Hospital. Photo: Kundan Paatni Archives.

2014 Simerg Collection: Passings, Achievements and Historical Reminiscences

PLEASE CLICK: Ameer Kassam Janmohamed (1931-2014) or photo for tribute.

Ameer Kassam Janmohamed (1931-2014), lived his life to the fullest. Please click on photo for tribute.~~~~~~~

PLEASE CLICK: “Conversations on Three Continents”

Please click on image for book excerpt.~~~~~

PLEASE CLICK: Rediscovering a Lost Piece of Ismaili History — First Steps in the Migration of Tanzanian Ismailis to Canada

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, blessing Vazier Rajabali Meghji Visram during his visit to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania (then Tanganyika) in October 1957. Photo: Sadru Meghji Collection, Toronto.  Please click on photo for article.

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PLEASE CLICK: To the Memory of Roshan Thomas and Zeenab Kassam

The deaths of Roshan and Zeenab in Kabul at the hand of terrorists have touched the hearts of thousands around the world.

PLEASE CLICK: Roshan Thomas – Acting in the Path of God By Jalal Jaffer

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PLEASE CLICK: Simerg’s Exclusive Interview with Mirza Ali and his Sister Samina Baig Who Became the First Ismaili and Pakistani Woman to Reach the Summit of Mt. Everest

Samina Baig climbing Mt. Everest. Photo: Mirza Ali. Copyright.~~~~~~

PLEASE CLICK: A True Account of How Three Ismaili “Shaheeds” Lost Their Lives in a Tragic Accident in 1925 Near Kilosa, Tanganyika

Portraits of the three Shahids, Karmali Dahya, Lalji Ladha and Missionary Khudabaksh Talib (right), who died when their lorry slid into a ditch near Kilosa in 1925. The photo was displayed in the lobbies of jamatkhanas around East Africa at the instruction of the 48th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan (1877-1957). Photo: Anverali Talib Family Collection, Montreal, PQ, Canada. ~~~~~~

PLEASE CLICK: Remembering Rai Hussein Khanmohammed of Burma

Rai Hussein Khanmohamed (1932 - 2013)

Date posted: December 31, 2014.

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11 Year Old’s “Incredible Interview” with Star Indian Musician Touches on Mawlana Hazar Imam, FIFA and Music (of course!)

“…it was quite something to perform in front of him [Mawlana Hazar Imam] and be in his presence. It was truly, truly magical. I think it was one of our most prestigious performances” — Salim Merchant

PLEASE CLICK: 11 Year Old Boy Aspiring to Become an Astronaut Interviews India’s Iconic Singer Salim Merchant

Please click on image for interview

Please click on image for interview

A Thank You Note to Pir Hasan Kabirdin by Navyn Naran

“…The Nav Chugga are our choice. In the poem, if all goes well, the inevitability is for the butterfly (or silk moth) to emerge and do its butterfly thing, remembering its delicate wings can intricately avert the forces of evil with strength of flight and purpose. Only by guidance, reflection and intention can this occur for the ruh (spirit)…”

Navyn Naran’s Ode to Pir Hasan Kabirdin – the Author of Anant Akhado and the Nav Chugga

Please click for “An Ode to Pir Hasan Kabirdin.” Image in frame is copyright Istockphoto.com.

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For series, please click Thanking Ismaili Historical Figures

Chapter Five of Nasir-i Khusraw’s Wajh-i Din: The Gateway and Key to Paradise by Rukhsana Ali

“By the generosity of the Imam of the time, we say that Paradise in truth is the Intellect, and the Gateway of paradise is the Prophet (peace and salutation be upon him) during his time, and his wasi, his rank, and the Imam of the time during his age. The Key to the gateway of paradise is the utterance of the phrase, La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadan rasul Allah.”

Please click:  Pir Nasir-i Khusraw on the Gateway and Key to Paradise

This statue of the Ismaili da’i and intellectual giant Nasir Khusraw stands in his memory in Badakhshan. Please click for article.

Mawlana Murtaza Ali (a.s.) to Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini Hazar Imam – The People of the House of the Prophet and His Progeny or Ahl al-Bayt

The excerpts shown below from the Holy Qur’an, the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) and speeches of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, are quite clear about who the term Ahl al-Bayt refers to. However, Farhad Husseinali Patni gives further light on the subject by providing examples and references from early Islamic History, going back to the life of the Prophet and Qur’anic revelation. Please read this important article by clicking on “Ahl al-Bayt” – An Understanding Based on the Holy Qur’an, Hadith and Historical Events or on the image below.

Please click on image for article

Please click on image for article

The Modern Pace of Life and the Place of Faith and Religion – A Reflection by Farouk Topan

Simerg Post Pace of Life

THE FUNDAMENTAL MESSAGE OF RELIGION

By Dr. Farouk Topan

The pace of life today is said to be much faster than it was just a few decades ago. This is an axiom of our times. What, however, is not axiomatic is the corollary that is often assumed to stem from it, namely that spiritual value and worth get diminished in proportion to the increase of pace. It is not uncommon to hear the lament that nowadays people have no time for religion. Many people actually believe this, and that is a great pity. For religion is not a ‘thing’ one ‘does’ if one has time. Religion is a commitment, an involvement of one’s being and personality, utterly, totally and completely.

Human nature, however, accepts few commitments gladly and it abhors those which are seen as imposed externally. Some people consider religion as a process forced upon them from outside themselves. To view religion as an imposition is to misunderstand its message and its function.

The fundamental message of religion to Man is to be at peace — at peace with himself, with his fellow human beings, and at peace with his Creator; the fundamental function of religion is to enable a person to understand and to know his own nature, his environment and to begin to recognise and to know his Creator. Knowledge and peace are interlinked. One makes the attainment of the other possible and a person who attains a degree of both becomes a potential recipient of God’s most valuable gifts to Man: wisdom. Tranquility is a reflection of wisdom.

Photo: John Macdonald.

Photo: John Macdonald.

“I do not believe that we should fear material progress, nor should we condemn it. The danger is that it could become an obsession in our lives and that it could dominate our way of thinking” — Mawlana Hazar Imam [1]

“The day we no longer know how, nor have the time nor the faith to bow in prayer to Allah because the human soul that He has told us is eternal is no longer of sufficient importance to us to be worthy of an hour of our daily working, profit-seeking time, will be a sunless day of despair” — Mawlana Hazar Imam [2]

An essential aspect of knowledge is the understanding that even a tiny part of our lives cannot be isolated from what is termed ‘religion'; for religion properly understood, is nothing less – and even more –  than life itself. We, as Muslims, are not and cannot be ‘outside’ of Islam. Islam involves us completely; that, indeed, is the essence of our existence.

The realization of this simple fact is the basis for experiencing an inner calm and tranquility. Then the pace of life around a person becomes largely immaterial, and its varied speed becomes a matter of petty insignificance. This is not to underestimate the powerful attractions of the style of life prevalent in many parts of the world; it is simply to point out that, if one wants to stop oneself from being drifted away aimlessly by the currents of materialism, one can stabilize oneself through the teachings and practices of Islam and Ismailism.

Date posted: Thursday, November 6, 2014.

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The essay has been adapted from Ilm, Volume 2, Number 1, published by the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) for the United Kingdom, where it appeared under the title “Islam and the Modern Pace of Life.” Excerpts from the speeches of His Highness the Aga Khan were not part of the original piece by Dr. Topan.

[1] His Highness the Aga Khan, Takht Nashini (ceremonial installation), Karachi, Pakistan, January 23, 2958.
[2] His Highness the Aga Khan, Convocation Address, Peshawar University, Pakistan, November 30, 1967.

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Links for speeches of His Highness the Aga Khan:

Photo Essay: Autumn Foliage at Gatineau Park, Wakefield and Canada’s Two Prime Ministers, Mackenzie King and Lester B. Pearson by Malik Merchant

PLEASE CLICK: Photo Essay: Two Great Canadian Prime Ministers, Mackenzie King and Lester B. Pearson, Feature in Simerg’s Peep into Gatineau Park’s Autumn Foliage

Gatineau Simerg Post Image