Afghanistan, My Turn – Shaida Bhayani

Afghanistan, My Turn – Shaida Bhayani

Afghanistan, My Turn – Shaida Bhayani 150 150 ComfortAid International
Sallam
This, my 26th trip to Afghanistan
was mighty tough, as you will learn from Shaida’s narration
below but as usual, very gratifying; the primary
aim was ensuring donor and huqooq funds are spent
in responsible manner. I am humbled at the projects CAI donors have
supported, bringing much relief and hope to the utmost downtrodden of
Allah’s creations in the most remote parts of His realm. Abbas Jaffer and
Shaida’s company made the difficult trek a little more bearable and I thank
them for their gritty determination to endure it. Shaida’s narration
has been edited for structure and size, of course; his core observation
and narration remain intact. Enjoy. You can also view wonderful
photos of the trip here.
Key players in this narration:
Yusuf Yusufali (aka Ali Yusufali, Kisukaali,
Prince Ali, etc…)(YY) – CEO, CAI.
Abbas Jaffer (AJ) – CEO,
Architectural Sign Group, New York.
Shaida Hussein Bhayani (I) –
CFO, Shokura Inc., Houston.
Wasi Mohammediyan (WM) – lead
engineer and head of CAI Afghanistan.
Basheer Razaee (BR) –  lead
engineer for CAI Afghanistan.
Dr. Aaseef Husseini (DAH) – medical
coordinator for three CAI medical clinics in Afghanistan.
All praise belongs to
Allah (S) who gives me the opportunity to share this experience and
peace upon the Holy Prophet (S) and his Progeny (A) who have
been my guiding force.
The trip has been long
time coming, going back and forth with YY. After two
days well spent with family in Dubai, YY, AJ and I set off for our
trip to Kabul, a city surrounded by mountains, on Friday August
30.
The
journey starts well with YY and me going back at each other
with puns and AJ as bait, but he breaks his silence as soon
as we land in Kabul and the fun begins.
Kabul airport is
surprisingly good, considering I am in Afghanistan. Our hosts WM and BR meet us
and we drive 30 minutes to WM’s warm and humble home in
a ‘secure’ neighborhood. Afghan food is one of the best foods to
have, which BR’s wife prepares with a lot of love. We relax the
day to prepare for our fun journey ahead.
Funny
fact: YY uses a prescription medicine bottle
for loose coins and toothpicks; stores cigarettes in a sunglass
pouch.
Day two starts
early at an unholy time; immediately after Fajr, which
is a little before 4AM. We stay up, enjoy cream
and gharm naan for breakfast and are off.
Saturdays are Mondays here, streets are packed and the city
is alive with people and cars after yesterdays subdued holiday
traffic. After formalities at a local bank, we proceed to CAI
built Imam Hussein (A) School and Masjid. It’s a bumpy,
gritty ride of thirty minutes to Dasht-e-barchi, an untidy,
grimy sprawling neighborhood where internally displaced Shia
Muslims refugees call home. The school is massive, current student
count mind-boggling 4,154 in three shifts. Our third stop is the
new CAI office, now required by Afghan law for all
registered NGOs. I witness a local Afghan donating his
huqooq funds to CAI. We also meet DAH, Director for
three remote medical clinics CAI has built and operates. After
lunch and a nap, we visit twenty-six girl orphans at
CAI’s Sakeena Girls Home. It’s a humbling feeling, meeting these
kids, realizing how blessed I am. I get so engrossed
in my everyday life and routine, ignoring Allah’s repeated command
towards care of orphans. The girls greet us in English and have
a few presentations in English and Daree. A meeting with teachers and
staff ensues; YY addresses their concerns and questions. Our last
stop for today is searching land for a new orphanage, which will
hold sixty girls still on waiting list. We look at two
great spots that are situated in a ‘secure’ area but
prices are out of CAI reach. Insha’Allah…



Day three commences
before 3AM since we have to be at the airport by five; multiple, mundane
security checks can create havoc with time. It’s a tiny six-seat
Kodiac plane and I get the co-pilot’s position because I am the
biggest in the group. The one-hour flight to Nili has some
amazing views (‘amazing’ is AJ’s constant refrain throughout our trip).
I see villages in valleys between the mountains in
remote areas. I wonder how people survive from up
here, only to find myself outside a CAI funded school right in the
middle of a mountain; the place is called Hijdi. The ride here is
not easy, a workout really, through rough mountain terrain;
our driver Sher Hussein is adept on these treacherous
roads. Upon arrival, we receive a very warm
welcome from almost the entire village and students of
school chanting Khush-Amadeed. The seven-classroom
school, exceptionally made, is
inspected; YY advises the village head of their
responsibilities of maintaining the school.
We take off
from Hijdi towards Dareoos; the two hour ride is an adventure
and very rough. The sight of CAI medical clinic up in the mountains is a
welcome sight. Words of shukaar are on my tongue by
default. The basic necessity I take for granted and often waste
is luxury here. Clinic staff greets and feed us lunch.
After an eleven hour journey a nap is wajib. YY goes
thru three months of medicine stock and other accounting
reports.
This clinic has an OPD with an ultra
sound, vaccination room with freezer, pharmacy,
delivery room and a MCH room. There were eleven night deliveries last
month. YY meets with staff and addresses their concerns.
Day four starts
at 3AM; we set off towards Kejran to inspect a school
construction. This is our toughest day; a fifteen hour drive through
very rough and sometimes precarious terrain. No photos or words can
describe the actual journey, but a brief idea for your
imagination: Distance between the two villages is 110miles.
There is no road as such, a cut through mountains. The car lurches along
at peaks and valleys, through rivers, Sher Hussein having to switch
to overdrive every so often. We avoid boulders and deep cliffs with much
effort. The ride takes a physical and mental toll, both sleep and talk is
virtually impossible. Although the mornings are chilly, the afternoon temperature under
a cloudless sky heats up the car mercilessly. If I open the windows,
I breathe and eat fine dust; this settles in my nose, tongue and
throat. Our security escort, with five heavily armed policemen, tries
to keep enough distance between cars so the chocking dust does not
overwhelm them. We get a machinegun mounted security car with armed
policemen throughout our trip, courtesy of local Provincial Governors.
The school, when we reach it bone exhausted and weary, is well
under way and will be ready to open doors for over 300 plus students of both
gender in two shifts. The implementation process and formalities with the
local education ministry is arduous. It’s good to see dedication and hard
work of CAI team members come to
fruition. The inspection and suggested improvements is completed
quickly and although I am fatigued, I sit at the school site and
rewind through our drive here and contemplate. Children as young as 5/6 grazing
sheep and working in family fields make me realize the benefits of
my education. How it helps us define our lifestyle, our
present and future, how much emphasis and resources my
parents put towards it. Since this is the first NGO project
here ever, the logistics of getting the construction material is nightmare.
Materials are transported in parts, disguised for Taliban bands are
known to attack and destroy all school related projects. We are ready to
retire soon afterwards since we have the same long drive
back tomorrow. Today’s meal was simple; inevitable naan and
tea for breakfast; canned tuna, naan and tea afterwards.
Some quotes I capture from AJ:
‘This drive is not for
the weak hearted.’
‘Does YY put
everybody through this torture?’
‘I need to be carried,
I can’t do it anymore.’
‘Every time I see
a four runner I think Taliban.’
I can’t
imagine YY doing this routine with very project no matter
the distance or weather, at least I have the comfort of knowing I won’t be
doing this again in three months.
Day five is a
classic memorial. We literally climb up a rickety ladder to sleep on
rooftop of a mud house under the open sky. Living in the wild does
have advantages, falling asleep gazing at the stars with a
clear Milky Way is one beautiful experience but the night doesn’t go
as well. My immune system surrenders; I awake with
sharp pains at 1:30AM. I dread going to the restroom
in pitch-dark, down the steps, through uneven pathway to a stinking hole
without a door in the outer courtyard. Gathering up courage and
coming down the tricky ladder, to sounds of howling dogs and
cows, no lights, imagining a Taliban attack, I manage to
get through this. We are up at 4AM and head back to
our 13-hour dreadful drive from Kejran to Nili; no fun
with all liquid out of my body. We make it
to Nili by 5PM and head straight to a seedy hammam; a
good hot bath nevertheless! After prayers at a mosque in utter
darkness, we head towards our clinic in Oozmuk; this clinic has
excellent space and structure. We retire to sleep after dinner.
Day six starts
at 3:30AM. Routine accounting checks and audits
follow salaat and breakfast. We are on schedule for our
30 minutes flight to Panjab, yup Panjab, Afghanistan. Before we
land, the pilot makes a horizontal fly past close to the airstrip before
returning to land. ‘Runway might have turned into a soccer field with goal
posts,’ explains the pilot. We drive out to Waaras, Bamiyan District,
which is a 1 1/2 drive (if you pay attention to our commute times, you
will perhaps appreciate what a trashing my body
takes) through horrible roads; no fun even if the route
is scenic. We make it to a local hotel – 5 star, no
less. One large room with a common toilet outside; my, what luxury.
Our lunch is french-fries, boiled potatoes and the king naan, no
eggs or rice available. We are so tired everybody groans when WM
informs us the drive to Takhavi, possible 15th CAI school site is two
hours away; even YY. Once we get to the village, our hearts immediately melt
to the sight we see; three torn tents, about 120 plus pitiful,
scurfy kids and hopeful village elders stand waiting
quietly. The kids probably have not showered for
days, their skin blistered due to the weather; the feeling
I describe, will not do justice. It simply leaves me humbled, full
of humility. It’s a no brainer for YY who immediately OKs
the project. We check out the proposed land and agree to
initiate ASAP. The drive back literally brings tears to my eyes with prayers
of shukr and taufeeq to help make this project, a reality
with pure intentions. A good observation by YY: ‘How interesting
these remote and improvised areas are mostly populated Shia Muslims, Kargill,
Pakistan, UP…’
Day seven is
privileged; why, we start at 8AM! Distribution of one month of food supplies,
using Fidya and Kaffara funds, to fifty poor families, some
coming from great distances. We proceed toward our 2nd stop of the day,
mass marriage of 75 couples. We reach before schedule and wait for the couples
to arrive. YY shares his initial experience in
Afghanistan; I can now appreciate the challenges after
experiencing the better piece of the pie myself. Throughout our
visits we are constantly bombarded with requests and help for different needs.
These are most difficult moments; people with expectant faces and
humility in their requests. CAI cannot help them all, obviously, but
YY promises to try, if they will participate in joint funding, CAI will
try getting donors. Ya Allah! The connection I feel with these
people, simply because of my shared love of Ahlebeyt (A) is definitely
a feeling I cannot pen, especially when many of them are
children of Fatema(A).
Grooms and brides
show up, Quraan is recited, speeches follow. I ask WM if I can
expect a wedding cake, especially since dessert has become a
fantasy during this trip. WM smiles; alas the waleema is simple
but delicious naan, rice and lamb.
We set out
for Yakowlang on schedule after Dhor prayers for yet
another 4-½ hour journey. After a visit to a local hammam,
we are guests at Jamsheds (a local businessman and great logistical
supporter for CAI) lovely house, a royal treat, nothing less than a 5
star hotel; clean room, comfortable floor beds, great food…truly a great
host.
Day eight begins
with two-hour drive to Sachek. I feel my body giving way and pass
out throughout the drive but wake up to a beautiful sight of the
new clinic. This was the first clinic by CAI. The new building stands besides
the old one and it has the best facility out of the three, a much needed one
specially in an area where people travel for hours to come see a
doctor on foot or donkeys. After a through inspection
and minor suggestions, we proceed with the opening.
Being a Friday the clinic is closed, but the sick
still try their luck. While we are checking inventory and accounting, two
critical cases arrive. A six year old girl, constantly
moaning in pain with each breath.  The doctor suspects
acute hepatitis, suggests she be taken to Bamiyan city. CAI donates the
$100 expense she needs for her travel and treatment. The second patient is
a 16-year-old boy with a cracked spine; it’s a wonder he can
walk! He needs to be sent to Kabul for surgery; again CAI comes
through. There are many such regular cases and Alhamd’Allah CAI
donors have always come through. We head back to Jamsheds house, as we will fly out
of Yekawlang tomorrow; our chartered flight arrives at 7:20
am. (You must see a pictures of this airport).
This trip was surely not easy, but made
bearable by the great company of YY, AJ, WM, BR and DAH. The local
CAI team truly goes through great lengths to implement an
excellent and successful logistics and operations. Though I met
them for the first time our bonding and connection was no less then that
between brothers. Insha’Allah, until next time…

Shaida Hussein Bhayani –
Houston, TX

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