Adventures In Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Leone
The quest to offer quality education available to the children of poor communities worldwide provides CAI Trustees with wonderful opportunities for interesting and adventure-filled global travel. Last week, I am in West African with fellow Trustee Sohail and CAI African representative, Murtaza Bhimani.
Consider my itinerary – Fly from Orlando to New York – 2.5 hours, connect to an overnight red-eye to Dakar – 7.5 hours, drive to Somb – 7 hours immediately on arrival, further drive to Kolda – 4 hours. Sleep a few hours. Return to Dakar next day. We get a day’s rest as there are no flights to our next destination the preceding day. Fly to Lomé, Togo – 3 hours, fly to Accra, Ghana – 45 minutes, fly to Monrovia, Liberia – 2.5 hours. Rest for the night. Drive to Bo, Sierra Leone – 7 hours. One night rest and all this repeated on our way back, all in nine days. Add the uncertainties of tight flight connections, long lines at immigration and security, warding off corrupt officials, travel to/from airports, mess with substandard hotels and eat foods that exit the next day with interesting colors and odors and you will appreciate the wonderful blessings we have.
We fly Delta Airlines between New York and Dakar; my only beef against the airline is they should make their seats for flights into Senegal a lot bigger; Senegalese people are genetically at least a time and a half bigger than normal humans my size, so ending up in a neighboring seat with someone from this country can be daunting and rather painful experience.
The school in Somb, CAI’s second in Senegal, is making good and steady progress and should be ready for a grand opening late November 2019 insha’Allah. The school in Kolda, three years old now is doing well and will improve further as they implement new procedures and systems.
CAI supports three schools in Monrovia and two of them thrive. Our school in the outskirts, unfortunately, is struggling, for many reasons. It is in a very poor area, the quality of teachers is not at the level we find satisfactory and it has not been maintained at quality standards demanded by CAI. Liberia is going through a very rough time, with government employees unpaid over four months. Corruption is rife and epidemic. This country has historically seen much pain with a vicious civil war, killings, Ebola and general mayhem. ‘Democracy’ imposed by the UN, led to peace and election of a popular soccer player, a woeful administrator, as the President by the uneducated masses, so the country has no money. So fees, especially from children of peasant families to run and maintain our school are not being paid.
Our concern is for the deprived children, however, so CAI will stick with supporting the school and with some handholding and dedicated guidance, I am sure it will, like all our other schools worldwide, turn around and provide the quality education opportunity CAI donors are so proud and fortunate to offer. Insha’Allah.
Liberians speak ‘English’ but I’m hard-pressed to understand them unless I pay very close attention to what is being said and to the context. Local Liberians tend to lob off the last few syllables from words. So, bread becomes bre, boiled eggs become bo ee, meat is me and rice, rai. I could be served bo ee and bre for breakfast and me and rai for dinner. Everything ends with ver fine. Ask someone his or her health and you get ver fine in response. The country is going to the dumps but it’s ver fine. The family is ver fine.
Good thing we have Zein Jaffel, a local businessman as our gracious host, else we would starve. Zein arranges our accommodation at his building he rents to foreign companies or the UN and takes care of our transport elsewhere. Thank Allah for likeminded global hosts like Zein that CAI is blessed with. Halal food is available but dubious, so fish is a good alternative. Zein treats us to some fine seafood at restaurants that only the elite in the country can afford. Murtaza and I had enjoyed me and rai at a local Muslim restaurant during our earlier visit to Liberia so I request our local representative Shyekh Askary to take us there. The meal is a disappointment this time and all Sohail, his first time here, can do is make a face and state that the me and rai was a poor replica of ghoos jo saak and chaawal at any Khoja center worldwide.
Driving from Monrovia to Bo in Sierra Leone reminds me of my growing up in Tanzania fifty years ago. The countryside is almost identical, with bad roads and rich, green forest foliage throughout the seven-hour drive. It is the rainy season so the bad roads are made even more challenging, but the 4-wheel drive come in to play and we are not affected. We pass a few vending shacks where honey-colored bottles are on display except these are either petrol or bootleg rum for sale. At the despairing and dirty border town of Bo Waterside between Liberia and Sierra Leone, we have amazing baguette with bo ee and coffee both ways, since our drive begins before sunrise both days. I’m not sure how healthy the bre is since the flies seem to have a free reign on them but we are hungry and need to eat.
Our driver’s name is Aboobakker al Siddiq (no, not that one) and he has one mean temper, cussing at whatever impedes his driving progress. Sierra Leoneans also speak ‘English’ but the Creole version; I cannot understand anything until they switch to the proper version. A rich country with diamonds that brought civil war and much bloodshed is now beginning to dig out of the misery and paying attention to development and education.
Government and education officials in this country speak, surprisingly, excellent, impeccable English and I am mighty impressed. We get to meet a host of officials eager to promote education with sensible plans. In the border town, we get to meet the Sierra Leone ambassador to Liberia. The dude is chilling, lounging in flip flops by a dirty and makeshift building, meeting his constituents. He is articulate and impressive, his English flawless, telling us his people are not bothered with suits and ties, so he adorns the dress of the common man. But he also cautions Sohail who is busy taking photos not to put his photographs on the website, as his official position requires the decorum of dressing professionally; I will respect this. We also get to meet with the sister of the Christian President of the country, who is Muslim, something very common in the country. A family can have four kids, equally divided between the two religion with the parents also divided. Strange, no?
CAI will insha’Allah construct a school in a poor neighborhood of either Bo or Freetown, depending on the outcome of additional ongoing due diligence.
And the CAI quest for quality education opportunities to the worldwide poor continues.
Vivid Imaginations – A Memoir
$66,000 has already been raised from the pre-sale booking of Vivid Imaginations – A Memoir. It is a recount of a memorable life of a Khoja Muslim with Gujarati genes, born and reared in E. Africa, migrating to the Middle East and then to the US. A frank and self-critical account, funny yet somber and very telling. A not to be missed read insha’Allah. You can read a brief preview here.
This will be a limited print issue, only 320 copies (284 already booked). All proceeds, 100%, benefit CAI’s circa 600 orphans worldwide. Please purchase a copy or more for $50 (or more) each? For legal and administrative purposes, the donation is not tax-deductible and must be purchased online at bit.ly/VividImaginations. Allah bless.
Please note this book will be published end of the year 2019 or first quarter of 2020 and mailed immediately thereafter, insha’Allah.