A Sullying Burp
Dar es Salaam – Dubai – Dhaka – Cox’s Bazar – CAI’s Rohingya day school (by car 5 hours roundtrip) – Dhaka – Colombo – Mumbai – Kolkata – New Delhi – Sirsi (by car 6 hours) – Sikanderpur, Halwana, UP (by car 19 hours roundtrip) – New Delhi (by car 5 hours) – Gorakhpur – Hallour (by car 5 hours roundtrip) – Mumbai – Dubai – Manila – Cagayan De Oro – Manila – Islamabad – Parachinar (by car 12 hours roundtrip) – Multan, Punjab (7 hours by car) – Saleh Pat, Sindh (by car 6 hours) – Karachi (8 hours) – Dubai – Dar es Salaam.
This is my current trip itinerary, insha’Allah. So far, I’ve covered the trip to Bangladesh in my prior Blog. I still have a school opening in the remote Philippines, two school openings, and various CAI-funded projects in Pakistan to visit, but I’ll Blog about those later. If we go, that is, since the current political upheaval makes the trip doubtful at this time. From Bangladesh, Shaida Hussein, Amin, and I fly to Colombo, Sri Lanka:
- I’m in Colombo, Sri Lanka for a compliance visit which turns out to be disappointing on the first day. The hotel Shaida Hussein, Amin and I end up in is crummy and depressing, infected with mosquitos.
- Thanks to Amin’s travel points and tier status, we terminate our stay and move into a much better Hilton.
- The flight from Colombo to Mumbai is delayed, and the immigration in Mumbai teems with so many arriving flights; the system teethers at the edges.
- I’m in a terrible and combative mood. Understandably, most Indians do not have the concept of space since the country is so densely packed. I stand in line for immigration, and a potbellied short man attired in a complete suit and tie, as if he is about to attend a corporate conference nudges my back with his belly. I ignore him. He does it again. So, I turn around and give him an ugly glare. All he does is wag his head and give me a mirthless smile – I’m not sure if that means he’s sorry. I ask him, very politely, to move back, since his pregnant belly is causing me claustrophobic discomfort. He does, but then promptly punishes me by letting off a silent sullying burp that curls my toenails and makes my head go kizungu-zungu. It is with Herculean restraint that I do not pulverize his smug pug.
- I end up at my hotel at 6 AM and I have a departing flight at noon today. I have not slept a wink and feel disoriented. 3 hours sleep later, I’m back on an airplane to Kolkata. My immune system is shot and I feel the first sign of fatigue.
- Shaida Hussein, Amin Oskoui, and I are joined on the flight to Kolkata by Aliakber Ratansi of Al Imaan Charitable Trust, CAI’s legal arm in India, Imran Chunawalla and Subhaan Dawlati, well-wishers, and donors to CAI, from Houston, TX.
- The drive from Kolkata airport to Matia Burg where CAI has built an orphanage and supports about 20 boy orphans is a lifetime experience, with all my senses in turmoil. Matia Burg is probably the most congested city in India, perhaps the world. I can see, smell, and hear life experiences that can be novel, overwhelming, offensive, bizarre, and disgusting to a newbie.
- We meet with our orphans, eat dinner and bond with them for the short time we have.
- The flight to New Delhi and the onward drive to Sirsi in Uttar Pradesh is another stinker. New Delhi is probably the most polluted worldwide city; my upper respiratory system gives all the warning signs of distress. A stop for snacks at a squeaky clean dhaba is where Amin probably catches a bug that has him pooping and puking for the next couple of days.
- After a much-needed day’s rest in Sirsi where CAI has built a school for over 900 students and two orphanages for both sexes, we head to Sikanderpur and Halvana, two remote areas in UP, India where CAI has constructed schools for underprivileged children, offering non-existing education opportunities to poor communities.
- A stop at a roadside dhaba in Muzzafarnagar specializing in a biryani and haleem concoction is a must. The dhaba is in the middle of a busy street teeming with humanity, and irritating flies, and the temperatures hover around 95°F; sweat pours from every pore of my body as soon as I leave the comfort of the air-conditioned car. A grumpy waiter half-heartedly wipes my table with a dubious-looking damp rag, leaving a sullied smell of dank in the air. The blend is fiery and delicious, sprouting beads of sweat that travel from my scalp onto the plate unabated. I fleetingly worry if my tummy will revolt later but my tastebuds override that caution.
- Both the schools in Sikandarpur and Halvana are recovering from the ravages of COVID and are doing better now. CAI donors recently invested in computer labs, a library, and a solar power unit for both schools that will significantly enhance the opportunities for the students from the farming community they come from.
- The entire roundtrip takes about 19 hours and is grueling with uncomfortable jostling on terrible roads. A stop for maghrib salat at a mosque and the mosquitos have a field day, feasting on every exposed skin while I pray; I worry about possible malaria or dengue. The nimble mosquitos in India have turned us all into hijras, uselessly clapping away every so often.
- The effects of the biryani/haleem from earlier today come calling. In a dark smelly toilet adjacent to the mosque, where alarmed cockroaches swarm to hide from my cellphone light, I groan and gingerly squat. Intuitively, I turn on the tap – no water! I utter a shameful expletive. Saved in the nick of time. Good thing there is water in the other cubicles that suffice my needs. My bum smarts from the frenzy sting of so many giddy mosquitos.
- Back in Mumbai, I complete my annual medical check. All good, alhamd’Allah. So, I gorge on hafoos mangoes as my reward. A tad too many.
- I have two full days to complete the compliance audit of CAI’s numerous Indian operations.
I’m now heading to Dubai and onwards to Manila. The last part of this lengthy trip report will conclude after I complete the Philippines and Pakistan visit, in about 2 weeks insha’Allah.
*** This Blog may sound like a bellyache. No. I consider myself the luckiest man on earth to be doing what I do as CEO of CAI; I would not trade this role for anything else. My hope is that these Blogs will give you, the donors who make it all possible, a taste of the various challenges (and satisfaction, unexpected rewards/delights) it takes to ensure your funds are 100% compliant. We at CAI ensure, employing our best efforts, that your contributions are appropriately allocated, are sustainable, and that there are reasonable chances of continuity in the future.
My novels help pay for the education of about 950 worldwide CAI orphans; I make no money from the sale proceeds. My next novel, Two Blue And Gold Diamond Earrings, will be published in September 2023.
Click HERE for a few excerpts from the novel – perhaps you will purchase a copy or two or more? Priced at a modest US$77, one book will pay for about 3 months of a poor child’s education – please click HERE to buy. 1,128 print copies already purchased/pledged – Allah bless.