Am I Going Bananas? – Ali Yusufali
2017 New Year’s Eve finds me in Mumbai, yet again, after my stint in Myanmar and Sirsi and Agra and Delhi. Our UP schools have been enriched by the Savory’s, the educators who traveled all the way from Vancouver, Canada to train the school teachers in new and innovative teaching methods. After Sabira Remtullah’s efforts, from the UK, who did similar workshops last year, this is a concentrated effort by CAI to provide premium opportunities for CAI remote school teachers to advance, personally and professionally – a fantastic bonus for our students.
I deposit Maaha Zainab, who has spent time with the orphans in Sirsi and toured the Taj Mahal in Agra, to her Nana’s and various aunties care in Andheri. I now have a couple of days to concentrate on losing the extra weight put on at Sirsi and Agra and complete pending CAI compliance work.
Rupee demonetization notwithstanding, Mumbai is in a party frenzy, preparing for the coming of 2017 tonight. The usually drab streets have a touch of color and pomp. The Leela is no exception. The lobby is decked out in gaiety, ads urging me to join in and welcome in the New Year, with or without alcohol, only for about US$250 or US$200.
On the way to my room from the gym at about 11 PM, achy and sweaty, I pass the lobby, jam-packed with crowds of revelers, many already sloshed and teetering. There are men in uncomfortable suits and sari-clad women, some who seem to have forgotten they now have flabby and ugly bellies; ugh. Since I am now a recognized regular at this excellent hotel, I get wished a Happy New Year so many times I want to barf. I get stopped by the lobby manager, who facilitates me once more and pumps my hand with so much gusto, I begin to worry he’ll dislocate my shoulders. My genuine smile now becomes a lot fixed and painful to maintain; I escape to my room.
As the bells toll and the firecrackers explode at midnight outside, polluting the already severely foul Mumbai air, I begin to fret about myself. Am I abnormal, or is this world getting batty? I have just witnessed the results of a brutal genocide of Myanmar Rohingyas, more than half of the earth is mired in wanton violence, the world faces a perfect storm of adversity with the current geopolitical makeup, what is vile is right and what is logical is evil according to the mainstream media, trying Trump days lay ahead. Yet, the rest of mankind erupt in bizarre ecstasy because 2016 is now 2017. Am I bananas, missing something?
The next day, Sunday, I go out for a movie at Infiniti Mall. The sun above glares with the same intensity as yesterday, the yukky air smells identical, and the beggars along the rickshaw ride to the movies look as pitiful. Should I be happy because today is the first day of another year? Am I mental for not feeling euphoria? Should I see a psychiatrist?
The movie theater is jam-packed; Dangal, it’s an Amir Khan production. Prime Minister Modi’s seemingly smiling face lights up the screen, promising toilets for every village soon; better days are in the offing. I am forced to stand up for the national anthem, which bugs me. India shining, nationalism and patriotism is great; at school and civic functions and gatherings, perhaps. I have come to see a movie here. And paid for it. But the film is superb and inspiring, an Amir Khan classic and a must watch for the entire family, especially aspiring girls.
It is while I am at the airport with Maaha Zainab, applying moisturizing cream to my stubborn dry skin, waiting to fly to Dubai and grace Aliya Yusufali’s wedding that I figure out I am okay, my marbles are intact, I am not insane, I don’t need a shrink. There is this rather famous astrologer in India who makes splendid money predicting the future to people with ill-gotten money and deficiency of common sense. His columns make it to the local papers at the start of every year, and millions read their fate for 2017; I am no idiotic exception. He predicts I will finally begin traveling the world, that my oily skin will get better and that I will win over the heart of the damsel I have secretly coveted for eons.
No Sir. It’s the world out there that have their marbles askew; I am fine. Alhamd’Allah.
Mascara Not Needed – Navshina Savory
We weren’t sure what to expect or what we were in for. However, the opportunity to help is always something that is a blessed opportunity for our family. So, we decided on an adventure to Sirsi, India as part of our winter vacation. As high-school educationists from Vancouver, Canada, my husband Andy and I, along with our children Yusuf Hussein, 11 and Maryam Zainab, 9, are entrenched in the world of teaching and learning. Our family sees every opportunity as a learning experience, and our focus is always on youth. We see the investment we make in the young people of our community as critical to the sustainability of our faith and the preparation of the coming of the 12th Imam. An offer to train the teachers and meet the orphans of CAI projects was not to be missed.
We landed in New Delhi early AM December 19; disoriented, lacking sleep, but full of excitement and trepidation. Inexperienced travelers, we found ourselves highly frustrated with the organized chaos at Delhi Airport; long immigration queues and delayed luggage (8 pieces checked in – goodies for the orphan, children and teachers). A bad WIFI did not let me connect to our hosts waiting outside. It was a relief and elation to spot Ali Yusufali and Asghar Ali (Administrator at Bahman School) 3 hours later. I was afraid they’d left, and we would have to turn to the Canadian High Commission for rescue. We were finally off on the 6-hour journey to Sirsi. The car ride was as comfortable as one can expect. Luckily, due to our complete exhaustion and a mid-way stop at a wonderful “Dhaba” for Fajr Salaat and the best tasting parathas and yogurt I have ever eaten (even my picky kids devoured them), our commute seemed shorter than it was.
At the Dhaba, Aliakbarbhai Ratansi from Mumbai joined us. This was our first time meeting him, and he quickly came across as a kind, generous and wise man with class and decorum worthy of someone who gives selflessly. His acumen in dealing with hundreds of requests from those seeking aid will be an inspiration for our family always, and we look forward to crossing paths again soon.
Even at that early hour, the boy orphans were waiting eagerly for us and showered us with rose petals and bouquets of flowers; I honestly thought I was entering the pearly gates! This greeting was just a foreshadowing of the love and hospitality for the next several days during our stay at Zehra Boys Home (ZBH).
My task was to work with the teachers of the school to provide Professional Development Workshops, to improve their teaching practice. Bahman Public is in Sirsi and has approximately 950 students. Andy’s work was to provide guidance and recommendations regarding a maintenance schedule for the school and orphanage buildings. Andy, along with Yusuf and Maryam, presented the entire school a wonderful science show. Experiencing science in such a fun, engaging and accessible way to connect and was very well received by the students and teachers.
Given the many unknowns regarding the teachers’ history, working with them had my stomach filled with butterflies…. although, they were “Flying in Formation” because this is the work that I love. With my husband Andy, a 20-year convert to Shia Islam at my side, being his usual confidence booster and spreading his annoyingly consistent optimism, things got off to a wonderful start and remained so throughout our stay.
Most of the children at Bahman school come from poor and illiterate homes. The teachers and the school, are for many, the only haven of hope and positive modeling this generation will experience. The work and resources that the donors of CAI have put into the school is an amazing gift to the entire community of Sirsi. The work with the teachers was wonderful. Working with individuals whose life’s work is dedicated to investing in children is a true gift. This was the constant message that we wove throughout our presentations to the teachers. The work that teachers do matters so much in the lives of their students. I am excited about continuing these educational conversations on-line until we meet with our new teacher colleagues again.
We were housed at the ZBH, which is located on the same property as the school. The 28 boy’s orphans are the purest examples of kindness, generosity and joy that my family has experienced. With the structures, routines and expectations espoused to the boys through the work of CAI and direct caregivers Naseembai and Anjumbai; the boys have a sense of dignity, a dream to create a better future for themselves and their families. The boys are the finest examples of believers, and this shines through their smiles. Despite spending a short time, we grew very close to the boys. My family and I played with the boys, helped with their studies, worshiped with them, ran with them and just talked with them. Yusuf Hussein and Maryam Zainab learned that it truly is “better to give, than receive”. Missing Christmas holidays became less an issue for my mixed breeds. Ironically, we all learned the true meaning of Christmas when we didn’t celebrate it this year.
We also visited the CAI constructed Sakina Girls Home (SGH) and shared a meal with the orphan girls. SGH provides housing and schooling to about 30 orphan girls who otherwise would not have had the opportunities of a formal education, love, safety and security. They were lovely and gracious, and it took everything out of me not to take each one home.
One of the most impactful things we saw were the housing projects, also supported by CAI. The “houses” were shocking, to me. In my sheltered Canadian upbringing, I was not prepared for the poverty I saw. They were about a 200-sq. Ft. structure of concrete, one bedroom, one toilet, one bath and a tiny cooking kitchen. These houses were of the most basic type I could imagine. The alternative, I learned, was being homeless. These projects at least had a community, running water, private toilets and power. The children of these homes attended Bahman school, allowing a hope of a better future.
Our time at the school and with the orphans was too short, but made the most impact in our lives to date. Leaving Sirsi, for me, was painful and gut wrenching. For an Inner City, high school Vice Principal, who daily deals with drugs, weapons, fights, colorful language and unpredictable situations, I am not a ‘touchy, feely, wallflower.’ I’m tough and crying is not helpful in my daily work. The experience with teachers, students, orphans and our hosts made me a cathartic mess…but, it felt wonderful to feel such love.
Two days before leaving Sirsi, I stopped wearing mascara (no point, tears just messed it up) and caressed the hands of children, giving little hugs and words of encouragement about the importance of education. Andy, Yusuf and Maryam all shared special moments all in their way, making sure their tough ‘mom’ was okay. There were many exchanges of gifts, WhatsApp numbers, well-wishes, tears, of course, and even promises to return.
Thank you to Yusufali, Aliakberbhai, Asgharbhai and all the others that made this experience possible. We are inspired by your vision and pray that you and your families reap the blessings of Allah SWT so that you continue to create better generations for India’s poor.
For those of you wondering what to do this with Blog, I say, GIVE! Your time, talents or financial resources. My family experienced, first-hand, the impact CAI has on the lives of impoverished children and families – they change lives, making the impossible, possible.
Thank you, CAI for the fantastic opportunity.