CAI’s India, Senegal, Mali, Bangladesh
Sayed Kaneez Fizza is the clerk who handles all the CAI project compliance paperwork for India. She is a typical Mumbayte of UP origin, complete with the education and mindset of an urbanite Indian upbringing, including the omnipotent head-wag, which can mean yes, no, maybe or I don’t know. So it is not the easiest task to read her mind in the best of my days. She finds me sitting in my comfortable red t-shirt, and a hand shoots up to her mouth in shock and dismay.
‘Sir, you are wearing red! It is not Rabi’ al-awwal nine as yet, no?’
I wreck my brains to solve the complicated formula between wearing red and the 9th day of the month after Safar. Bingo! Kaneez is appalled and upset that I choose to wear anything other than black before the ‘official’ mourning period in the subcontinent ends. I sigh, mumble an illegible response and let it go. I am severely jetlagged, and a rational, well-thought response will only hurt my head. I have an early morning flight to catch to smog and pollution shrouded New Delhi tomorrow and will need all my strength and wits to survive the next few days.
Later in the day, I listen to some online religious lectures, to atone for being caught not wearing black. I also can’t sleep, due to the jetlag from flying in from Florida to Mumbai. The first lecture elevates my blood pressure to heights yet inexperienced. The vocal guy, bless him, yells that I must join my salutation to the Prophet (s) in a proper manner. It is insufficient to say Allahuma sale alaa Muhammed, Waa ale Muhammed. Nor Sir, that is an affront to the aal (s) of the Prophet (a). So, I must say Allahuma sale alaa Muhammed waa ale Muhammed, all in the same breath. Here we are, the world is a frightening mayhem, ready to make mincemeat of us Muslims, and this dude has the time and energy to come up with this apparently concocted nonsense. I quickly swallow a dose of medication to lower my BP – just in case.
I try and listen to another online lecture. This one is even more baffling. The guy is shrouded in a heavy black cloak from the throat all the way to his feet. And dons a sheep wool kofia that I have seen Afghans wear in the middle of winter. He is complaining to the crowds that he feels super warm; is the air conditioner not working? Can the whirling fans be speeded up? He repeats this complaint quite a few times. I wish I were there, in London, where I could advise him, politely, to perhaps wear a less elaborate kurta shalwar next time? But alas, I am in Mumbai. I still listen to him, since he is quite popular with many; I want to understand why. Perhaps he can impress me equally? He veers off from his chosen subject matter no less than three times in the next fifteen minutes, comes back and tells the crowd Yeh meraa mouzuu nahee hai, magar… Gee, I really wish I am there, in London, where I could suggest, very politely, that he stay on mouzuu? I stop watching and try sleeping instead. Should I be surprised at the apathy and confusion in our college-going children with this kind of gobbledygook from the pulpit?
This current trip takes me from Sanford, Florida to Mumbai. I take a redeye from Mumbai to New Delhi the next day and then drive to Sirsi in UP, joined by my Guru in India, Aliakber Ratansi. The SGH orphanage construction is coming up very well, CAI should be able to officially open the modern facility to 50 odd orphan girls in May 2018 and afford them a quality education insha’Allah. Then on to Halwaana where CAI is constructing a school for 600 non-going children living as poor farmer’s kids in a cluster of sadaat villages on the banks of the river Yamuna. From there we visit an already constructed school in Sikanderpur, a surprise inspection of sorts. We travel on terrible roads over three days at maddening speeds that takes a heavy toll on my sleeping pattern, already in disarray from the jetlag. The only bright experience is a hot, fiery mutton biryani breakfast at a roadside dhabba that is unbelievably divine. Doesn’t do my guts any good but my tongue has a mind of its own, so I have two helpings. Burp. Lulls’ me to sleep later on in a jerking vehicle.
I have a day’s rest on return to Mumbai before a 12-hour flight to Dakar via Dubai and Conakry. I am joined here by fellow Trustee Sohail Abdullah from NY, CAI Africa representative Murtaza Bhimani and well-wisher Mushtaq Fazal from Dar es Salaam. And we are off yet again, an almost 13-hour drive to Kolda where CAI has constructed a school and soon will be starting another small school in a deprived village. Insha’Allah. Apart from one of us forgetting a bag full of money and passports at a roadside café and battling determined mosquitos, we survive the 3-day 30 hours’ drive in one piece and return to Dakar for our flight to Bamako, Mali the next day. Thanks to our partner Mouhammad Aidara and his reach in the country, the money and passports are safeguarded and returned to the relieved owners on our return to Dakar.
CAI has just completed the construction of a school in Bamako, Mali and its inspection is our goal – all is well. Our next stop is a rickety shabby elementary school about a two-hour drive from Bamako. This school has about 350 exceedingly poor students who have no future past grade 9. The sight of these children, all willing to give it their best in very trying circumstances, tug at our hearts. CAI will look into constructing a three-classroom high school unit shortly insha’Allah. After arranging a protein-rich feast for the starved children in honor of the birthday of our Prophet (S) for the next day, we rush to Bamako; our hosts are not too thrilled for us to be in the boonies as dusk approaches. Mali has been rocked with violence from radicals, and Aidara wants to take no chances with foreigners so far away from the city proper.
I must add that the arrangements by Mouhammad Aidara, CEO and founder of Mozdahir, in all the West African countries that CAI is active in providing quality education to deprived children, has been exemplary. He commands awe and respect, not only from his disciples across W. Africa, but also from the various governments and heads of States, even, for his services. CAI is much indebted to him and the rest of the staff at Mozdahir.
CAI will, insha’Allah, continue with providing educational opportunities to the marginalized children in the whole of W. Africa. The plan is to construct an elementary school in every location that lacks one. Next stop, the country of Benin. Insha’Allah.
I return to Mumbai after a day’s transit in Dakar once more before heading out to Dhaka and Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, where I officially declare a makeshift school for 140 Rohingya orphans open. We hope we can dry their tears, stabilize their emotions and perhaps, in a small way, rekindle hope in humanity and compassion, something that their own countrymen have decided to forsake.
I urge you to see several photos of this trip here.
Phoot! Is Now Available!
This novel, my third, is now out and available for US $100 delivered globally. All proceeds – 100% – will help over 550 worldwide orphans that CAI supports and educates.
You can read an excerpt of Phoot! here. You can purchase it here. Please help us help the orphans become educated, dignified, balanced and upright human beings. This will be an everlasting, lifelong gift to them. Allah bless.