An orphan’s baba – I am done with the fun and adventure in Vietnam and Cambodia, and although my injured leg from the bicycling accident in Vietnam is still giving me throbbing intermittent grief, I find me, accompanied by fellow CAI Trustee Sohail Abdullah on an airplane heading to Kabul. Joining us are well-wishers Shaida from Houston and Mazaher from NY as well. This will be my 36th trip in the last 14 years of CAI operations in Afghanistan.
There is every reason for us not to be traveling to Afghanistan at this time, especially Kabul. There have been at least 3 recent suicide bombings in the vicinity of CAI orphanage/school operations that have taken the combined innocent lives of over 150. Not going would be an easy choice, even a sensible one to some. However, it is not only our safety and security at stake here. 150 orphans depend on CAI to take care of them, there is another school in Mazaar to inaugurate, 4 out of 6 medical clinics in remotest points of our world to inspect for compliance and quality control, homes for the homeless to gift away…
We celebrate Sha’baan 15 with the 100 Kabul based orphans at the SGH facility in Kabul. There is this 2nd-grade orphan, Fatema Sadat, who eyes me in obvious awe and mischief when I meet and greet her; I smile at her, she responds by hiding and giggling behind the palm of her hand and hijab’s pallo. After the program, there is a mini-melee as the orphans mingle with us, all wanting to shake hands. Fatema, who is quite petite can’t reach up through others, hugs my thigh instead and won’t let go. I faintly hear her yell Baba over the din, then a more robust Baba, as she grasps my leg tight. I look down, stunned, a tingling sensation making its way up my spine. Did this child just call me Baba? Baba, I see her mouth again, as I look into her haunting, stunning ocean-deep brown eyes. My heartbeats stop for an entirety, then take off in painful thumping. I feel my eyes burn with unwilling tears, I swallow the lumpy lump in my throat – hard. I have this overwhelming desire to reach out, lift and hug her, to kiss her, return the love and affection she’s adorningly showering me with, to assure her I am there for her – I’m her Baba. All I can do is pat and stroke her hijab-covered head in affection and gently but firmly dislodge her clinging arms from my leg. She disappears amongst the milling children. Any wonder why I return? Meet Fatema Sadat:
India’s bull shit flies – I depart Afghanistan in one piece, alhamd’Allah, and head for India, my second home, literally. Here, I’m joined by CAI’s Africa representative Murtaza Bhimani from Dar and well-wisher Riyaz Devji from Vancouver, Canada. We are to visit a CAI donor-funded school extension in Hallour, a 5 hours’ drive from Lucknow on day one, inspect and somehow return to Lucknow the same day, fly to Delhi and drive about 21 nerve wreaking hours to Halwana Sadaat villages where a school is under construction, then to Sikanderpur to inspect an operating school and finally to Sirsi where we have the grand opening of Sakina Girls Home, a new modern orphanage facility for our girl orphans the day after. There are 6 of us, plus luggage, cramped in an uncomfortable vehicle and the drive through Indian rural roads, with the shape my hurt leg is in, is exceptionally painful; I so much want to weep in grief.
The drive through rural India always gives me the creeps and leaves me mighty irritated. I’ve just been through rural Vietnam for 6 days a fortnight ago and pleasantly, not a single fly fouls my mood, even amongst the cows and dogs and pigs. Here in the villages of India, the flies drive me insane, they are in the vehicle creating a nuisance and I take exquisite delight is squashing them dead whenever I get lucky, they mill and buzz about tormenting me as I sweat in the heat and humidity trying to eat or rest or sleep or sit absolutely still, even. They mill around in droves on every plate of food I want to eat from… It’s the shit from plentiful village bulls that’s exciting them obviously, they have tons of the stuff everywhere; I can see it, smell it and if not very careful, could walk through the stuff as well. Talking of bull shit, the matter is pasted for drying on almost all household walls in rural India; not sure why all the credit for posting bullshit on walls go to Facebook. I think I’ll perhaps advise some villagers to sue the hell out of FB.
The only saving grace from this misery comes in the form of a fiery haleem concoction, in Muzaffargarh, along the way. It’s a crummy hole in the wall place, the restaurant has no bathroom or place to wash hands, the tables are dubiously wobbly and everything smells of puréed dampness and everybody of stale sweat and reeking body odor. But the haleem, mixed with bull-meat biryani, is mouth smacking, and I can’t have enough. The blend of the haleem is so fiery, it instantly cleanses a troubling sinus issue I have and I’m sure it’ll thoroughly rinse me out the other end as well tomorrow – if I can hold off till then. But the food is safe, fresh and fiery. Has to be, with the volume served to the clamoring masses who line up for their share. The sturdy, functional and elegant new SGH is declared open the next day in a brief ceremony with all orphan’s present, the stifling heat making any elaborate festivity unwise. We return home via Mumbai the day after.
I’ve been away from home for 6 weeks now and pine to return home, and see Mahaa Zainab. She’s almost 18 now and getting further self-assertive and increasingly independent; it’s frustrating she’s making her own decisions and needs me to boss her around less by the minute. At 2 years old, she was a puppy who crawled after me, demanding attention, wanting to be picked up and changed or massaged or caressed; it is the same face and eyes that now seem surprised when I want to butt into her affairs.
Ramadhan kareem – Back home in Sanford, Ramadhan sets in, with the mercy of Allah intact; the heat abates; nights become days and days nights. Our days culminate at Masjid al Hayy where there is (increasingly tasteless, except for the divine salads) iftaar dinners followed by the regular Khoja gupp-shupp baraaza of course, we can’t seem to live without them. Now that most consciences attendees heed the non-smoking policy at HIC (there are still a few kichwa-maajee uncouth ones around), it is Manikchand that is the in-thing. Such is the need for the concoction that rumors whirl that addicts demand stuffed Manikchand dates as part of the iftaar menu? I tune in to Sheikh Jehad for inspiring and rib-tickling funny lectures aired from Dar, – what a practical, inspirational guy! My heart is heavy with the unending misery in Gaza and Yemen and Syria and with the Rohingyas…when will all the unceasing pain end? And I want to barf with the importance and attention some self-made royals uniting in matrimony in distant lands are getting; as if I care an ant’s ass what they do or wear or eat or when they pass wind or take a dump…
I paraphrase a friend’s beautiful words for this holy month – This Ramadhan, whether celebrating or grieving, hopeful or afraid, at life’s new optimistic beginnings or at wit’s end, this holy month is for us all. Remember, this month is not for the perfect, not for the strong, or for those already deemed pious. This holy month is for the weak, the broken, the wounded and for those in utter despair. A second, third, fourth, fifth…chance for redemption. An opportunity to get up and try once more, and again, and again, towards attaining the mercy of the most Merciful. I wish all of you Allah’s mercy and blessing in the remaining days of this powerful month and a joyous Eid, insha’Allah. On Friday, please!