CAI gives me repeated opportunities and the good fortune of knowing and interacting with an overwhelming number of people I have never met! Some through CAI’s activity updates and many others through the Blogs I author.
One such person is Farookh Khambathy, who lives in Tucson, AZ with his family. I did not know this man from Adam, until he contacts me one fine day and we meet for dinner when he visits Orlando last year. Farookh is a revert from the 21 Imami sect of Islam (commonly know as the Dawoodi Bohris), a down to earth, humble, kind human and a wicked cook. Then last month, he insists I visit him in Tucson, promising an intense loving relationship with Mother Nature. So I check my available free miles, book the flight and hop from Orlando to Dallas and on to Tucson, where I arrive late in the day. Farookh lives with his wife Zahra, originally from Zanzibar, and his two daughters, Sophia and Marziyya.
The next day, Friday, Sajjad Khalfan, a twenty-year plus resident of Tucson and an avid trekking enthusiast, picks me up, and we go trekking up the Finger Rock Trail in the Cantilena Mountain Range. Tucson is entirely different from what I thought Arizona would be. Instead of the Gringo type desert depicted in Western movies I expect, the landscape is surprisingly green, with various cacti in abundance. Sajjad owns a top-down BMW convertible and both of us possess abundant flowing hair (visible to very pious eyes only), so we go flying down Tucson roads and let our hair down. Oh, what a blast in Tucson!
The first approximate two thousand feet of the trek is pretty relatively tame, where I get a chance observe the fabulous nature that Allah has made so abundant for us. Then unexpectedly, the terrain becomes challenging and ugly. Keeping my eyes firmly down and paying very close attention to the ragged, menacing rocks becomes paramount; least I sprain an ankle or worse. The air thins and cools but I still sweat buckets from the toll. Sajjad is a seasoned trekker and the six thousand feet climb, for him, seems a piece of a favorite cake. The vista from the top is worth the effort. If the climb is a dare, the decent is wicked, with every limb muscle of mine working overtime to maintain the dance of balance; the toll on my knees is grating. It takes us ninety minutes to go up and sixty to come down. I thoroughly enjoy the torture, however. Go figure.
Being Jooma, prayers are at a locally diverse community mosque; there are about four hundred people in attendance, overwhelmingly men. After a workout at a local gym where Farookh has gotten me a week’s pass, it is a meeting at a local the Husseini Center of Tucson where a varied group of people meets for Dua e Komail every Friday. I give a brief presentation on CAI activities and feel blessed and welcomed by the community. Farookh has worked tirelessly to unite and make the Friday meetings possible and interesting, single-handedly acquiring 501(c)(3) status for the Center, a major accomplishment indeed. The community will be at a significant loss when he moves to Greenville, North Carolina in May where his wife, Zahra, an MD, who has accepted a new appointment with the East Carolina University.
Saturday and Sunday are spent in the company of Farookh and family, who treat me no less than royalty, with Farookh indulging me with above average cooking delights; man, I have not been so pampered! I also spend time with Sajjad Khalfan and his lovely wife Ashraf, both former E. Africans. Sajjad is retired from work but very active with outdoor sports and nature. He takes me to another mountain trek on Mount Lemon Saturday but alas, the hike, at 9,000 plus feet, is still covered with snow and ice, so we cover less than a mile.
Tucson is an interesting city, with abundant outdoor activities to keep anybody occupied and healthy. It has mountains and valleys, a hot but dry summer and mild winters. Skiing in winter is an hour or less away. The cost of living (food and housing) is reasonable; gas retails at $1.16! Perhaps there is a Khoja business willing to expand their horizons and repeat the Orlando success?
I am supposed to return home Monday, much refreshed and loved, but American Airlines, the incompetent airline that it is, cancels the flight from Dallas after a two hours delay, when all are boarded. The reason? No pilots to fly the aircraft. One of the biggest airlines in the US, with all modern technology at its disposal and they can’t plan their pilot schedule. Go figure again. So I spend a restless night in a dingy hotel room and now waiting for a flight at Dallas airport, finishing this Blog, to take me home.
I am off to India, Afghanistan, Senegal and Pakistan soon insha’Allah. A two and a half month stint that will force me to be in Afghanistan for six weeks as CAI counts down to the grand opening of Sakina Girls School in Kabul on May 6 insha’Allah. This school will be our most important and ambitious project, empowering the lives of three hundred girls; sixty of them very deprived orphans.
I seek your usual duas and good wishes, for CAI and my health.