Flying three hours from Mumbai to Dubai and another fourteen to Melbourne, Australia is tasking, especially for a young lad like me; take my word for it. Unlike my last visit to this mammoth country where I was grilled for almost two hours for stupid reasons, I am pleasantly waved through immigration and customs without being asked a single question or my passport being stamped. I must be turning more likable as I age, I suppose. My hotel is right across the terminal so I just walk across and I’m a happy camper.
Recovered from jetlag, I sit at a desk at the hotel room and watch aircrafts come in to land and take off. Beyond the airport runway, there is nothing but expanse of rolling green meadows; feels like I am somewhere in the UK, except I am thousands of miles away from anything British. There is something missing with this picturesque background however and I can’t seem to figure it out and this bothers me. It takes me almost a whole day to realize it’s the missing cows and horses that are absent. Duh!
In the few days I have been here, I am sure Australia, or only this airport hotel perhaps, has been invaded by everything foreign. I’ve had a Bosnian check me in the hotel, Sri Lankan and Punjabi maids clean my room, met a Sikh hotel handyman who fixed an errant light switch and a Lebanese waiter serve me breakfast. I’ve had a Syrian cab driver take me someplace, met people from Pakistani Parachinar, Hazaras from Afghanistan and an assortment of ethicalities from other Indo / Pak regions. This place would make the UN proud.
Aghaa Mohsini, a highly religious respected and leading personality in Afghanistan, had once suggested I come to Australia and remind the sizable Hazara community in Australia not to forget their responsibility towards their historical countrymen and their pitiful plight. So, I am hopeful they’ll open their hearts (read pockets) and sponsor one of the many projects that CAI is actively pursuing in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, at least in Melbourne and Adelaide, I find this community divided and teetering. I get an earful from almost all ‘leaders’ (there are quite a few), about how divided and disorganized they are. Parents and community elders lament a lost generation of Hazaras who have very little or no empathy or need for historical religious or cultural affiliation. It is left up to the Indo / Pak community to take the lead.
A prominent tireless member takes me around and I get to see a 100% halal McDonalds. Wow! I wish Maaha Zainab had these treats growing up in the US. She always wanted those fries and I would deny her, afraid they’d be fried in dubious oils. I feast on chicken or lamb sharwaarmas at Ali Babas right across the street in the airport terminal. There is also a Nandos here. All halal. Yum. I get to hear No Worries, Mate in several accents. It’s a standard phrase in response to civility – thank you or sorry or excuse me…
There are some very motivated individuals who are trying to get Melbourne their first school and there is good news as I visit with them. Their purchase of land for an all-purpose community center including a school and prayer hall has finally been approved.
I have a blast with the Pakistani Parachinar community in Melbourne. These hearty and brave Pashtuns, almost all boat refugees struggling in their new country, give me a grand time with their babble and generosity. Originally from Afghanistan, they have adopted cricket with a passion and have regular battles within and outside their close-knit community. Rain, which can be plentiful in Melbourne, is but a tiny irritant; cricket must go on. They treat me to barbecued quail, a delicacy I last enjoyed when traversing through the flood plateaus of Pakistan Punjab during the devastating floods a few years ago. When they drop me at the hotel late in the night, they are deeply offended when I offer them a goodbye handshake.
What! A handshake. We are Pathans, Brother, we hug. We’ll give you a nice warm hug to bid you temporary goodbye. Because we’ll certainly meet again, insha’Allah.
Uncaring that there is a line of cars patiently waiting to move forward, I get a warm hug from the trio who have come to drop me at the hotel. After a presentation at the better organized but a tired looking Panjatan Center the next day, I head to Adelaide, home to over 20,000 Hazaras.
I am of unqualified and absolute conviction that Allah is the best guide and He proves this repeatedly, unfailing, in people who help CAI take on some very daunting tasks. Two Pakistani Hazaras, who I have never met nor heard of before are at the chilly Adelaide airport to receive me. These two, may Allah bless them abundantly, take care of me and take me around to various centers so I can showcase CAI worldwide activities. One of them, a qualified maulana, the resident aalim, even cooks me a fiery lunch. Now, this is novel; I am accustomed to serving maulanas, not the other way around. This group has an ambitious plan for a center, a school and a cemetery that is doable and CAI will insha’Allah look for ways to publicize the project.
Now in Sydney, I am in the care of Zain Sherrif and Sheykh Jehad, who are setting up various presentations at some of the 65 centers available in Sydney. This city, as Melbourne, is diverse, with pockets of very strong Afghani, Lebanese and Iraqi communities. The availability and choices of halal products are plentiful and restaurants serving halal food abound. I am in the midst of profound happiness and gaiety, since all the centers are commemorating the birthdays of three wonderful and holy Aimma (a) personalities born in early days of this holy month of Shabaan.
One of my task here in Australia is to set up an independent NGO with people who share common CAI values. It’s a tall task but well worth the effort, since CAI needs to grow in order to help struggling communities combat illiteracy, ignorance and the ensuing poverty worldwide. Compliance issues will dominate the task but I am sure, with Allah’s blessings, your duas and well wishes, we’ll prevail. Insha’Allah.