'Everyone should go not to Bali, but Africa'

Muslim blogger Rasul Tavdiryakov — about adventures on the hot continent

Muslim blogger Rasul Tavdiryakov has returned to Kazan from another long trip to Africa. On his trips to South Africa, he and a team of other philanthropists help the population of poor villages with food, build wells, open madrassas for donations. In the author's column for Realnoe Vremya, he told why every Russian should choose this continent to visit, how dangerous and difficult it is, and how he himself wants to help Africans.

“Silent desert is something fascinating”

It started about five years ago, when Orhan Jemal and I went to Burma and Bangladesh for the first time. Then I saw hunger, poverty, disease, wounded people who fled almost under bullets from their native lands. They live in unbearable conditions, in tents, without food, not knowing where they are, what God will send them and how they will find food. This impressed me very much. Orhan told a lot of interesting things about the countries he had visited. I decided to continue travelling to such poor regions. And I decided to go to Africa.

Silent desert, lifeless space, sands, wind, occasional passing camel, a Bedouin sitting under the baobab — this is something fascinating. This is an exceptional state. No wonder most of the prophets were brought up by desert. Desert, it seems to me, cultivates noble qualities in a person. One of them is trusting in the Almighty, because you don't know what life will bring you tomorrow. I think everyone should go not to Bali, but to Africa. Especially the office monkey, who ponders what the meaning of life is.

Our criteria for happiness is a new iPhone or a new brand car. Happiness here is to find a source of water. Happiness is if you have a well from where you can draw water, so as not to walk 10 kilometres under the scorching sun to the nearest well.

We are surrounded by a lot of material goods. We live in luxury apartments, drive cars, eat in restaurants. But this spirit of asceticism, when you are content with little... It seems to me that these people are much happier than those who are surrounded by numerous material goods. The more benefits, the more you want, the further you move away from happiness. But there you see happiness in your eyes, if you do something simple — serve food, build a well.

There are a lot of benefits from such trips, they give an understanding that the world consists of a large variety of colours.

Blankets for Mauritania, gangsters for Ivory Coast

This time I have visited several countries. I lived in Mauritania for a month, travelled all over the country. We visited villages, watched how people live, plus organised a fundraiser, served food, handed out blankets, because it's very cold there at night, especially on the hills. At night, even in a hotel you get cold. The nights are long, the desert cools off. So we announced a fundraiser, distributed 100 blankets.

The French influence is not strongly felt there. In other countries, everyone speaks French, in Mauritania — literary Arabic, and any Bedouin can speak poetry. It shocked me — such a love for the language, the Koran! Many religious people from other countries come here to study. There are not many universities here, so they go to the sheikhs in the desert, some of them are world-class.

Then I went to Niger, the poorest country on the continent. In Africa, it is very difficult with air transport. There are no low-cost airlines. Prices are 500-700 dollars, it would cost US $30 in our country. You can go by buses, especially to a neighbouring country. But the question is that there are security problems in Africa now. Military coups and terrorists are everywhere. I wanted to go by bus, but the locals advised: it's better to overpay. Later I found out that some Mauritanians went on business in a car and were shot, their heads were cut off.

I had two changings, in Senegal and Ivory Coast. In Senegal, the airport was far from the city, I didn't go anywhere. And I arrived in Ivory Coast at night, the plane was at lunchtime the next day. So I stayed at the nearest hotel. After the morning prayer, I went out for a walk. At night I watched videos about the country, they showed that it is a modern state. It turned out that there was a ghetto near the airport. I was attacked. First they didn't like my Moorish turban, to which I was already accustomed. People ran out into the fuss, gangsters or drug addicts with glass eyes, tried to take my phone away from me. I barely escaped, jumped into a taxi, a couple of locals helped, took me to the police station, where I was interrogated and released.

“You will definitely reconsider your life attitudes”

I stayed in Niger for 2-3 weeks. But my strength was already leaving me. I took a cheap ticket to Turkey via Addis Ababa. I stayed in Ethiopia for a day, found a preacher through friends who met me, we visited mosques, madrassas, Islamic centres, a Muslim TV channel. I read that this is an ancient Christian country, but it turned out that half of the inhabitants are Muslims. Muslims and Christians often live together. You go in one minibus — there is a Koran, shamails, and in the other — icons, crosses. Interestingly, all mosques are closed for the holidays and prayer is read in the central square, on the streets, speakers transmit voices, the president arrives. Such an interesting friendship of peoples.

Despite the attack, despite that there was unrest, I fell in love with Africa even more. It is close to my heart, temperament, character. I want to create a charitable foundation to help Africa. I have seen that Europeans, Americans, Turks, Arabs help them. Yes, it's a drop in the bucket, but we can make life easier for a few hundred or thousands. I want to organise tours. I think it's worth visiting Africa at least once. You will definitely reconsider your life attitudes when you see that there is another life.

Rasul Tavdiryakov

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