Jollibee, Durians And Multiple Wives
I am on my way to the Philippines to inspect a work in progress CAI school project that got infected by the doodoo. Now that the doors to the country are open, Sohail will join me from NY and we’ll get the project restarted, insha’Allah. We then plan to visit a CAI school in Al Kifl, Iraq (via Najaf) for possible expansion, and finally, visit the 50 odd Syrian orphan refugee school/safehouse project in Nabatiyeh, Lebanon before heading home and begin the month of fasting, insha’Allah. It will be a turbulent trip, methinks, with doodoo protocols still waiting to derail the best thought out plans.
Manila is an unattractive metropolis, with ugly buildings and congested roads. What sets it apart from other similar metropolises are disciplined people and clean streets. The Airbnb opted by Sohail turns out to be a dump. It’s a tiny apartment with leaky faucets in a shoddy neighborhood with a persistent sullied smell of super-ripe durians in the air. Roosters begin to crow beginning about 2 AM. The entire local community will have a communal feast of fried chicken (that Filipinos dearly love) if I am elected the next local mayor; we’ll all sleep better.
It’s incredible the amount of high-calorie food Filipinos consume. There is a Jollibee fried chicken fast-food restaurant at every corner of all major cities. And a KFC and a McDonald’s packed with hungry diners to boot. Fried food and junk snacks rule the diet everywhere. In the restaurants, the airports, and 7-11 stores – fried pork skin, saltines, and sugary drinks. Healthier choices are virtually non-existent. Halal food is a major challenge; to the majority, it means any non-swine meat. Zabeeha halal restaurants are high-end and scattered. Fruits are a nice alternative – mangoes, papayas, bananas, pineapples, pomelos, and the nasty stinky durians abound. Unfortunately, mangosteens, the fruit made in heaven is off-season until August at least.
Filipinos don’t seem too friendly, to me, but they are very polite and are guarded in their facial expressions, so it is a struggle, for me, to decide if the person I am chatting with is a potential friend or a foe. Akin to an Indian head wag, eyebrows raised to the heavens as an answer to questions can make conversation difficult.
The first leg of our adventure begins at 3 AM the next day for a comfortable ride of almost six hours and the most uncomfortable 60 minutes crossing a once upon a time river (see photos). Mohamed Mawji, a Khoja long-term resident of the Philippines and a CAI supporter/well-wisher joins us for the adventure. CAI had begun a water/toilets project at a school for a very poor community before COVID19. The project is now complete except for some issues related to water pumps which should resolve shortly. CAI will also pay for the repair of collapsed ceilings of two classrooms. We return to Manila, have some hamburgers, and retire. We have more adventure tomorrow.
We fly Cebu Pacific Airways to Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao, to the south of the country. It is here that CAI is interested in helping a remote and poor community build a small four-classroom school. The hotel in Cagayan de Oro is nice enough, but I get a distinct feeling I am in a military setting. The doodoo might be waning but masks are a must in the Philippines, strictly enforced. This hotel, Limketkai Luxe Hotel is something else. It’s nice enough, except I must pay more if I want extra soap and a US$10 fine if I do not finish eating all that I take from the buffet breakfast.
Sohail and I are joined by CAI’s long-term friend and Philippines project implementor, Cairoden in his vehicle. A four-hour drive through thick, lush, and beautiful forest brings us to the village of Tangka. It is here that a small, 130-children school needs help. It is a rundown school, with four decrepit wood rooms with muddy dirt floors and leaky roofs used as classrooms. CAI will, insha’Allah, reconstruct these rooms with a modern permanent structure, bathrooms for both girls and boys, and a water storage facility. Since we are flying back to Manila today and the airport is about four hours away, we have a hurried lunch at Mikael’s house in the jungles.
The house may be in a rural setting with scant facilities, but the man and his three wives are more than generous. A feast awaits, with beef adobo (rendang) and free-range chicken cooked in a coconut broth giving our palates a wonderful new experience. When we inquire how the man and his three wives can live and flourish in a small home with wanting facilities, Mikael is surprised by the question. Not only do the wives get along and live amicably, but they are also actively looking for a suitable fourth bride for their husband. Now that’s something special and novel, no? It’s certainly worth experimenting with other cultures. The Khojas perhaps?
Follow our travels to Tangkal village for the school project here.
I have no patience?!
I’m at Jarul Ameer hotel in Najaf, next to the Khoja Musafir-khana, which is closed due to maintenance. The breakfast area is packed with hungry black-chador-clad women stuffing their mouths. It’s somewhat of a challenge for Sohail and me to get to the food since these women think chatting between food trays is their birthright.
I finally get some food and hot tea and end up at a table facing a middle-aged woman who is struggling to eat. She looks at me through hooded eyes, her face secured by her chador, held in check with fingers of her left hand. I look away but watch from the corner of my eyes as she pounces, shoveling a piece of kuboos bread laden with cheese into her mouth and the curtain closes, covering up her face, her eyes shining triumphantly – she is quicker than a chameleon. I’m sure she’s smiling under her stealth at my tardiness.
I’m dying for some more tea, but three elderly women surround the lone hot-water boiler, jabbering away in Arabic. I wait, politely, patiently, for my turn, which is taking an inordinate time. My patience tested, I ask, in English, to excuse me so I can get to the water. I might have been a pestering fly for all the attention I get. Losing patience after another minute, I step in aggressively, which makes them scatter and fill up my cup. I think one of them mutters that I am being rude.
And my colleagues still insist I have no patience?
Our trip in Iraq ends with a renewed commitment to the CAI-sponsored school in Shabiya, Al Kifl. More classrooms, a computer lab, and much-needed renovations so our children in this poor community get the opportunity for quality education all of us are entitled to.
Our compliance trip to Lebanon for the 50 Syrian refugee facilities orphans after Iraq is uneventful.