A Jungle School
After the depressing trip to Pakistan where Sohail and I oversee the logistics of administering the purchase and distribution of 10,000 blankets and 7,000 tents to the victims of the devastating floods in September and October, we head to Manila, Philippines. Manila is a replica of any metropolis in Southeast Asia. Crowded and busy, with the chaotic traffic somehow functioning. In contrast to filthy cities in South Asia, Manila and other cities in the Philippines are relatively clean and orderly. I reach my hotel, disappointing the talkative taxi driver who persists that I let him take me to ‘see’ the city and have a ‘nice’ massage to ease my jet lag. Shaida Hussain of TRS and Keivan Ramezani from Washington, DC join us here before we fly to Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao.
From Cagayan de Oro, it is a five-hour drive to the school site, deep into the jungle. We must leave the main highway, take the tar-top roads leading to the school, and eventually stop. There is a contingent of about fifty soldiers waiting to protect us. This is a very precautionary move by the authorities as there was talk of ISIL presence in the wider vicinity of the school location. The road ahead is impassable for regular vehicles, so we either walk or climb into the belly of an armored vehicle that’ll take us up to the school. I choose the armored vehicle since I’ve never sat in one and promptly regret it. I am claustrophobic by nature and the gut of an armored vehicle is a restrictive, oppressive, dark belly. The tropical heat beating down on the 100% iron coffin-like car gives me the jeepers and I begin palpitating and sweating profusely. It’s not as if I can ask the driver perched way up a tiny opening to stop. He wouldn’t hear me anyway; what with the noise the beast was making. And even if he did, I don’t think he’d stop for a foreign weakling bellyaching for a less than 10-minute ride. So, I take deep breaths and learn a lesson about my eventual home six feet in the belly of the earth.
The day is a joyous one; there are speeches of gratitude to the donors who made this school possible. It is observing the children that give me a sense of accomplishment. This is one of CAI’s 78th global schools – it’s a dizzy feeling of achievement, close to a high. Alhamd’Allah. I cut the ribbon and we are feted with a sumptuous lunch after zohrain prayers. We return to the hotel and fly back to Manila the next day. It’s back to Dar es Salaam for me. Sohail goes to Vietnam for biking and to raise funds for the deficit in the Pakistani flood victims program.
Some very nice photos of our Philippines trip here.
Dar es Salaam – Heat, A Beggar, And A Death
Flying nine hours from Manila to Dubai, sitting in transit for another five hours, and then flying another five hours to Dar es Salaam makes me feel and act like a zombie by the time I land. I get stopped by a pretty young customs officer who coyly asks me what gift I have brought for her. Me, I say, wanting to be funny. She does not see any humor in that. Her face hardens in ire, her mouth utters a curse I can’t repeat here, and orders me to be gone. I bolt towards the exit.
Dar es Salaam is pipping warm and humid. It has not rained in ages, even though the short rains were expected earlier this month. There is a shortage and rationing of potable water by the local municipality, and the poor masses inevitably suffer. There is very little I can do except carefully watch how much water I use and give thanks for the privilege I have with the water pumped to my taps from the water well the apartment owns.
A filthy beggar sits with crossed legs at the same spot across from my apartment every day. He never asks for alms but sits calmly in one spot, whiling his life away. His hair is matted and full of lice, his nails are broken and filthy and the color of his clothes is of dirt under his wiry behind. I see him every time I walk for prayers at the Khoja mosque, our eyes fleetingly meet but there is no acknowledgment or greeting. I used to buy or bring him leftover food ago until he refused one day and asked for cash, which I rebuffed. Today, however, his eyes acknowledge me and he gives me a fleeting smile. For some unexplained reason, this makes me happy. I think I’ll try and engage him in the future. Help him to a more dignified life? It’s worth an attempt.
The hot weather has ripened the mangoes and other tropical fruits. The roadside markets are full of colors – greens, yellows, and reds. And the world’s best pineapples, of course. And the papayas. After a break of almost fifty years, I got to taste meethi eemli (sweet tamarind?) again. I’m not sure what it’s called in English. It’s a coiled fruit, with a lump of semisweet white meat with a black pit in it. I used to die for them in my yesterdays but just like the kungu, or almond fruit, it does not taste the same now. I think my taste buds are aging as well.
I get the sad news of my first cousin and brother-in-law Hasanali Mullah passing away in his sleep in Minneapolis, MN. He had been ailing for a few years and I am relieved he is in a more comfortable and peaceful place now. Emails of condolences and regret at the death follow. Well-meaning, naturally. One of them instructs me to recite sure-Yaseen and sura-Mulk ten times, and 80-Rakat salaat for his soul’s redemption and mercy. Before he is buried. Eh? Really? Surely this is excessive?
This has put me in a dilemma of sorts. I liked my cousin and BIL and want him to rest in peace, of course. But isn’t this asking for a bit too much? I know these are only recommended acts but still. So, I decide to call and ask Mullah Mchungu for advice. He may be an erratic and eccentric old hen, but he is usually spot-on in such matters.
Don’t pay attention to these Khoja-inspired rites, he says, they are hearsay. All made-up bakwaas. One set of 2 Rakat hadye-mayyet is all that is needed.
Do you think I should ask Sheikh Alidina, I insist. Perhaps he will know?
There is dead silence at the other end from the Mullah, which indicates trouble. I’m glad I called and not visited him. His deadly walking cane can be a weapon when used, not something to be taken lightly.
So why do you call me if you want his advice, ghadheero, you ass? Try and call him, no? Sheikh Alidina is in permanent hibernation. Our Imam (a) is easier to access than this Sheikh. Good luck!
I hear a click and the phone disconnects.
Boy, what a temper, nai?