Bollywood In Najaf?

Bollywood In Najaf?

Bollywood In Najaf? 150 150 Comfort Aid International

Bollywood In Najaf?

It is incredible how the Coronaviruses have upturned all our lives, but especially for frequent travelers. Like me. Consider this. Emirates Airlines has me on a confirmed flight to Najaf from Dar via Dubai. I have made all the arrangements (a pain of sorts), taken the accursed doodoo tests, made appointments, booked onwards ticket to Beirut, booked hotel rooms, scheduled the date and time for the soft opening of SCH for Syrian orphan refugees in Lebanon and then, the nincompoops at Emirates Airlines refuse to upload passengers from Dar! Even though they had initiated an additional PCR test at the airport just two weeks ago for the fear of the doodoo coming from us in Africa.

I scramble to reschedule the program and thankfully, Qatar Airways comes through. Emirates Airlines need to really get their act straight, else they’ll lose valuable customers. Not only have they created chaos and financial suffering for their customers, but their actions (and arrogance) also stink of mean, outright racial discrimination. In European countries, particularly the UK, doodoo infections are so much more than any of the East African countries they have targeted with this idiotic move. Yet, there is free passenger movement to Dubai from all the European countries reeling from Covid infection rates. This is wrong and it stinks. I hear Kenya Airlines have retaliated. Good for them.

I meet CAI colleague Sohail Abdullah in Doha and we fly to Najaf together. Earlier, about 400 passengers in Iraq for ziyaara are stranded due to the Emirates / Fly Dubai stinko. I hear the likes of Nakshwani, and Javed Jaffery from Bollywood are in Iraq to spruce up or rekindle the Khoja spirituality. Aree wah, we’ve come a long way, nai?

When we land in Najaf, all is well. Our gifted manager and strategic contact, Abdulkarim Laljee is at the arrival area and makes the frustrating task of visa formalities and airport exit a piece of very good cheesecake. Sohail and I are here for due diligence on yet another CAI school project shortly coming up in the Karbala vicinity. Insha’Allah. This will be a joint BETA (UK) and CAI undertaking. The school will open quality education opportunities to about 500 children once the project completes.

Najaf has not changed since my last visit in 2020. The same grimy buildings, unruly traffic, plastic polluted streets, and hoardings of ulema turned politicians (or the other way around perhaps?) welcome me. These are Ayaame Fatemiya days so black banners adorn numerous street crossings and many buildings.

At the shrine of Imam Ali (a), I encounter a surreal scene. As we head towards the Khoja managed musaafar khana (guest house) next to the shrine, there is a procession of sorts leading to the haram. A large pick-up truck, equipped with a couple of massive speakers, pulsates ear-splitting Arabic latmia about the ugly treatment to and demise of S. Zahra (a). The reciter is a white turbaned fellow holding a mike and is lost in making everyone within a thousand feet painfully, temporarily deaf. The latmia is accompanied by the thumping of drums, resonating through the street and alleys leading up to the haram. Incredibly, people of both sexes, none wearing masks, trot behind the truck pulsating their bodies to the beat of the drums, some beating their heads. In grief, I hope. The beat is catchy, really, and was it not for the sanctity of the place, I, too, would want to sway away.

I am reminded of a similar scene some years ago, in Mumbai, India. At the Ganesh festival. Same setup but on a scale hundred times larger. Trucks mounted with speakers larger than humans, pulsating deafening Hindu devotional songs and devotees swarming behind, dancing, and pulsating to the drums. Or a scene from a Bollywood movie I had watched out of boredom once. Ajeeb. Maybe I’m ignorant about my religion or possess weak imaan. Probably. However, I doubt, very much, if S. Fatema (a) or her husband (a) would appreciate such shenanigans.

The Anjuman E Faiz E Panjetani musaafar khana is much improved from my last visit, especially with their menu options. Both the properties in Najaf and Karbala are well maintained, inexpensive and their menus much improved. Particularly the Karbala one, where I think I put on a few pounds eating the good food and no place (or time) for exercise. If you feel like some very good authentic Yemeni food, visit Mandi Sanaa in Najaf or Karbala, and have their mandi or lamb haneeth. Or both. I am rarely gluttonous but all three of us, Abdulkarim, Sohail and I eat like savages, even with our bellies straining. Burp. Very good stuff.

In Karbala, we visit several plots of land that can be suitable for a school and hold meetings with the local NGO that CAI will be working with to operate the project. We will start mobilization by the 2nd quarter of 2022 insha’Allah, after legal formalities. Our biggest concern is corruption in the country. Iraq is massively corrupt. Top to bottom and sideways. This is an undeniable fact, and no matter how much we may be emotionally averse to admit this fact due to the land of the Imams (a), our due diligence must stand this scrutiny. Our project will only proceed if there is complete transparency. It will be a wonderful project to administer after we pass through many of such inevitable hurdles. Insha’Allah.

We get a chance to visit the 2018 CAI-sponsored school in Al Kifl, between Karbala and Najaf, offering schooling opportunities to about 350 poor students who were unschooled till then. It’s a small project of eight classrooms and struggles for resources but at least the children have an opportunity to sit in a proper class on a desk and learn something.

It’s less than two hours flying time from Najaf to Beirut and is uneventful except Sohail has an ugly sprained ankle from a hurried misstep in Najaf. The Sakina Home for refugee orphans of Syria is almost complete and we have a soft opening of the refurbished center in Nabatieh, about ninety minutes’ drive from Beirut. The girls and boys who will attend this facility will be totally taken care of by CAI donors, including a super opportunity for quality education.

Sohail and I leave for home with minimal fuss with Qatar Airways, who welcomes us lesser non-white passengers with open arms.

You can view some nice photos of the soft opening of the orphan home here.



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