A Startling Call To Prayer
Murtaza Bhimani and I are driving to Kolda, Senegal to inspect a CAI school that was constructed here for the poor community a couple of years ago. Also, CAI is contemplating another small school in another village 4 hours along the way for the children deprived the opportunity of a quality education. The trip used to take us 13 hours to drive, now shrunk to 7 hours, thanks to a new bridge that makes this possible, passing a river through The Gambia. Except we have to clear immigration and customs for the 2 countries twice in two days, rendering the immigration officers confused, asking us for chai money to clear their heads and stamp our passports.
At the poor village of Somb, which is requesting a school for the 331 students who currently study in a crude shack at the mercy of elements, a group of raggedy children follows us as we inspect their school. None of them have shoes on and the clothes they wear are so tattered; my heart twinges. Then we meet this child who gapes at me as if I am from outer space (see picture below); I later find out her name is, like many in Senegal, Fatouma Zahra. She flawlessly recites Dua Faraj and wins our hearts. If all CAI conditions are met, Fatouma Zahra will be sitting on a desk in a modern, comfortable new school shortly, insha’Allah. This is what CAI is all about!
The Kolda school inspection goes well, we are warmly welcomed, filmed and interviewed by a local TV station and, predictably, asked for more facilities. I promise them the world, if and only if the school will attain the perfection CAI demand and expect. To be fair, the local NGO has done a fairly good job and the school is now rated the best in the area. A better, brighter future is in store for these poor community kids because of this school, insha’Allah.
Later that night, after dinner, in a crummy, dilapidated hotel, exhausted, I smugly sleep protected under a stale smelling mosquito net, taunting, jeering and daring the hovering mosquitoes to bite me. These creatures of Allah are sly ones, for they eventually have the last laugh. Waiting until I get up to visit the poorly lit toilet, they let me have it; with a vengeance, right where the sun does not shine. I return to the protection of the net, scratching and cursing them. It is a while before the sting and itching subside and I fall asleep.
A determined, strident call of a muezzin from a nearby masjid startles me upright; 2 other calls follow. One poor guy must have had a nightmare before he awoke, for he sounds as if he is being strangled. I peer at my cellphone – 04:00. Eh? Fajr is at a fair 06:37 here in Kolda, so what the hell? I try going back to sleep, but that is now impossible since these multiple calls are repeated at every 15-minute intervals until the genuine one at 6:37 when a dozen others mosques chime in. Uff, with the racket they make, I’ll bet the decayed bones resting 6 feet under must also be on their knees and in sujood by now?
The majority of Muslims in these areas are of the Sufi persuasion, hence this stubborn and insistent urge to startle the dead. I wish they’d not do this? I suggest there be one proper, unified call to prayer, a dignified one, certainly not from someone who has had a scary dream or an argument with a mate the night before.
Think the mayor of Kolda will take my request in consideration if I write to her/him?
Happy Birthday To Me
So, it’s my birthday. Again. I wish the US Social Security administration would also consider the Islamic calendar for age calculation. Then, I’d be retirement material and ready to draw on my, albeit measly, benefits. Alhamd’Allah, the doctor who gloomily predicted my possibly not so distant demise over 3 years ago did not, obviously, take Allah’s planning into consideration. I’m here, yelling and kicking. Yes, I’ve had to make some dramatic lifestyle changes. Regular intense exercises are waajib, no excuses. Like a deranged addict, I used to smoke tobacco and chew that disgusting gutka concoction. The timely smack from Allah makes me now detest the simple whiff of the acrid smell of fire put to a cigarette. And may Allah curse the originators of Manikchand; et all.
I am firmly convinced that my decision to spurn surgery and conventional drug treatments then suggested and recommended by the doctors was the correct one. I am no medical doctor, I confess, so please, the doctors reading this, don’t take up arms to battle me. Having witnessed both my elder brothers Mohammedreza and Husseinali regress in health and quality of lifestyle, and ultimately pass away with their doctors’ textbook approach to treatment made my decision to buck the trend a wise one. For me. There were, I am sure, many variables and factors involved in their treatments, but for me at least, so far, thank Allah, I’m around and relatively healthy.
There are, however, other battles, huge ones, that I have to overcome. Every day. Bathroom mirrors and weighing scales are a cruel invention for people over 50. Especially the modern bathrooms, that have stark harsh lights over them to bare all. The hair on top of my scalp have lost their brave battle and are in rapid retreat. They now take refuge by showing up in ear lobes and openings, and through the nostril, all bent out of shape and camouflaging their color, from jet black to grey and now, having lost all semblance of fight or resistance, utterly defeated, to pure white. At least the facial hairs show some spine to fight back. Even though time has scared them silly to all white, they plod on, strong and robust.
And the weighing scale? The bloody thing takes great pride in leaping right, all excited and happy the moment I step on to it. Can’t it take it nice and slow, show me some respect? I know it has to be accurate and fair, but surely not rush to judgment so eagerly? Even the 25 miles per week runs and pumping iron at the gym 3 times a week seem not to make a dent to my metabolism rate anymore. The trainer at the Leela in Mumbai keeps on insisting that I cut out all the bread, rice, potatoes and pasta if I want to maintain the optimum weight I wrongly insist I am, and for him not to listen to the weighing scale too much. Rice and potatoes and pasta I can generally sacrifice but please, warm bread with oozing butter and honey/jam/condensed sweet milk is a blessing to be ignored at my peril; Allah’s way of showing me a prelude to heaven?
But the certain slowdown is coming and apparent. My knees, once the cornerstone for my robust running pleasure, are complaining, rebelling, even. The supposed knee specialist in Mumbai insists I not abuse them so much, warning I might one day lock them up in pain and require medical intervention to free them. Whatever does that mean? That sucks; I get my highs running. Terrain that was once a cakewalk traversing and navigating now requires a thoughtful, careful approach. I’m still hoping, praying, that the CAI team will be able to arrange the trekking venture to the south base camp of Mount Everest in Nepal next year. At close to 18,000 feet, this should, insha’Allah, be quite an adventure, no? All this to raise funds for the care of CAI’s 203 Rohingya orphans rotting away at the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Insha’Allah.
For now, as I take stock of CAI’s position compared to the time when the doctor scared my undies into a knot; I’m amazed at how Allah’s plan worked out. We are now getting ready to build CAI 45th donor sponsored worldwide school! So close to a half-century – I really need your prayers/good wishes/support to reach that incredible milestone. At 50 schools, at an average current enrolment of 600 students per school, CAI will be able to offer about 32,000 financially challenged children an opportunity for a quality education. Half of them girls, teachers and mothers of their children. Imagine the miracle of having an educated mother as a child’s primary teacher!
And with free medical care to 350 poor sick people every day of the year, complete care to 550 destitute worldwide orphans, potable water to hundreds of thousands of harried, hapless humans, feeding the hungry in 14 countries, aid to refugees and those fleeing persecution… Surely, Allah is a Master Planner?
So, happy birthday to an increasingly eccentric me.