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SISTERS Reads: Riding the Samoosa Express

Compiled and edited by Zaheera Jina Asvat and Hasina Asvat | Published by Modjaji Books (2015) | Reviewed by Fatima Bheekoo Shah

When was the last time you stayed up to finish a book because you simply could not put it down? For me, that luxury has taken a back seat since my children arrived on the scene. Riding the Samoosa Express changed that. This book is an anthology of real life stories exploring issues of marriage, love, loss, birth, family life, culture, education, politics and freedom – amongst other issues faced by women in South Africa. These wonderful ladies come from all walks of life, and some stories even take us right back to the Apartheid era.

 

 

The book gets its name in part from an interesting pre-marriage ritual practised in some parts of South Africa. The ‘Samoosa Run’, as it is called, is when a suitor arranges to meet a number of prospective brides and their parents. According to the custom, the prospective wife would come out and serve tea and so the suitor would get his first glimpse of her. The ‘Samoosa Run’ or ‘Express’ is usually done over a weekend with the groom visiting a few houses before making his final decision.

 

Edited and compiled by Zaheera Jina and Hasina Asvat, the pair makes it quite clear that the book is not a research project nor does it make any points or arguments in relation to women. Instead, this book is a personal and brutally honest account of South African Muslim women and their journey towards self-discovery, despite the challenges they have to endure. Its central theme centres on marriage and the various facets which surround this rite of passage. It is not necessarily though an anthology about marriage.

 

 

There is a notion that Muslim women are often seen as voiceless and oppressed, and this book challenges this global ideology. It gives a powerful voice to women who find themselves at various intersections in their lives. Associate Professor Nina Noel at Oslo University’s Faculty of Theology says, “This book is a wonderful portal into the multifaceted lives of South African Muslim women. The narratives invite the reader to enter into the precarious realm of personal and interpersonal – a realm that demands critical attention into contemporary South Africa.”

 

 

Riding the Samoosa Express stirred various emotions in me – from anger to bewilderment to shock, sadness and even tears. From challenges with hijab, losing a spouse, divorce, diversity and depression, it is all covered in Riding the Samoosa Express. At times it touches on the impact fathers, brothers and husbands have in the choices we are forced to make as women living in a society that to some extent is patriarchal.

 

 

As I read, I felt that I found a little bit of me in most of the stories. I saw many lessons in the stories, which made me introspect my own upbringing. I must admit, some stories sounded tedious and tired, but I think the good ones keeps you interested. The stories will provide you with excellent entertainment value but at the same time, stir your soul with their honesty and vibrancy. A common aspect I found running through all the threads is the immense faith and courage these women had – not only in telling their story, but also in their lives. These women rose above their personal struggles only to become what they needed to be for themselves. I took a lot away from this anthology, and I hope women’s stories continue to make their way to the publishing houses – we really need to hear these lone voices. This book is a wonderful effort by the authors, and it will definitely make a timeless addition to your bookshelf.

 

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

The book is available at Modjajibooks.co.za

 

Fatima Bheekoo Shah is a wife, mother, food blogger, foodie and breastfeeding activist, finally answering her calling to be a writer.