As a lover of Mathematics, I enjoyed Biostatistics during my under-graduate medical training. During my post-graduate training I eagerly waited for the Biostatistics lecture when Prof. Hirji entered the class. This was my first time to see him. He was not at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) during my under-graduate training (2000 to 2005). I quickly realized he meant business. His determination to make sure we all understood what he was teaching was clearly communicated. He demanded our attention and involvement in the subject. He was always on time for his class and it was obvious he took time to plan and prepare for each session. His teaching style and the examples he used brought Biostatistics to the bedside and clinic. This was very important because the class was made up of either nurses or doctors specializing in different clinical disciplines. He prepared a pamphlet of Biostatistics notes for us to use and this was very resourceful.
Prof. Hirji was strict but humorous. He sometimes gave us unannounced quizzes. His tests were open book type and he would give prizes for best performers and to those who demonstrated remarkable improvement in their performance. He was simple, philosophical and patriotic. I remember him insisting that if we do not attend class on time and learn, we are as ‘mafisadi’ as all the other ‘mafisadi’ we complain about. I enjoyed each class but soon the first semester ended and I was done with Biostatistics. However, Prof. Hirji continued to be available for consultation either on a specific journal article or on matters related to conducting research for our thesis.
Years later after my post-graduate training I had an opportunity to get to know Prof. Hirji beyond Biostatistics. We met in the department of Paediatrics at MUHAS where I work. He was delivering a book he had published to one of the faculty members in our department. He offered me a book as well but I had to arrange to pick it up from his home which was not very far from MUHAS. So sometime later, my friend and I visited Prof. Hirji’s home to pick up the book – this was the beginning of a really enriching relationship between us and the Prof. and his wife.
The first thing that caught my attention was the simple life style in which Prof. Hirji and his wife lived. A small and simple home with no fancy decorations. A well-arranged variety of books adorned the sitting room. A simple working desk had a mosquito net hanging over it. Somehow this reminded me of Mwalimu Nyerere’s life style and I realized our lives can be very rich without many material additions. We became friends, and I am proud to say, we have remained so for five years now. My friend and I keep in touch with them; and before the COVID-19 challenges, used to visit them once in a while. Prof. Hirji and his wife have been on voluntary lock down since the beginning of COVID-19 last year. I sometimes pass by to say ‘hello’ and wave to them from outside.
I have learned a lot from observing Prof. Hirji’s life. His is a life of discipline, service, commitment and hard work. He worked at the University of Dar es Salaam, the National Institute of Transportation, Harvard University in USA and at MUHAS before he retired. I learned about his incurable medical condition which through determination and discipline he has not only managed to control, but has also continued to be academically productive for over 30 years! He has challenges with his gastrointestinal system which limits what he can eat and makes it difficult for him to meet the minimum dietary requirements for proper nutrition. He has faced the challenges for his condition by reading, learning, adapting and, most importantly, staying positive and exercising discipline. As he is aging things are not getting any easier. Nowadays he restricts himself to remaining mainly indoors. He continues to write and publish books on various topics. He reads a lot and sometimes shares pertinent literature with me. He is a living example of how one can overcome challenges and move on, rather than give up.
I am also inspired by the relationship he has with his wife, they have grown up to become one. Both are very kind and generous. They will always prepare a take away when you visit, be it a packet of cashew nuts or a book for the children. I have a number of books from Prof. Hirji which I am still trying to catch up with reading – I know more will be coming.