With the way India’s Prime Minister Modi lauds the achievements of his administration since he assumed office, you’d think India’s roads are paved with gold. But the vehicle I am in hits another mean jarring pothole and I am returned to realities of political farts; repeat untruths enough times until they become deluded facts. Okay, so it’s the monsoons in India now and the insane downpours can knock any paved sock off. Still, this road is a sobering fact that not everything is milk and honey in ‘magical and affluent’ Gujrat. In fact, the shanties and squalor I see along the way to Kodinar jar me, since I have grand visions of an ‘awakened elephant’ as espoused by team Modi in the general press. Could President Trump’s constant refrain about fake news have some merit to it? Hmmmm.
I am on my way to inspect the most recent CAI school project, this one in Kodinar, in Gujrat State. Ordinarily, CAI would not support Gujrat projects. This state is the most prosperous in India, with super wealthy Patels and Shahs and Memons and many of my very own Khojas, even, living in it. Why, if a tea seller can climb up the poverty rung and become the esteemed Prime Minister of India, surely there is enough traction for others, no? However, Kodinar is kinda backward, Modi’s harvests have yet to yield the promised sweet aams yet. Kodinar’s poor sadaats, especially girls, have nowhere to go get a quality education, hence CAI’s efforts to correct the imbalance.
The school construction has taken off quite nicely, and on the way to open its doors to the first batch of students in June, 2019 insha’Allah. This will be CAI’s 42nd worldwide school for the poor, a very proud and fulfilling undertaking by the donors, may Allah bless them abundantly. The school will be under the auspices of Al Mahdi Trust, who operate highly successful and elite schools in Bhavnagar and Maua under the care of Sajjad Verteji and Muhsin Dharamsi. There can be no authentic Gujju dish than guwaar (Guar beans?) curry; I have this dish with piping hot chapati for lunch in Kodinar. I don’t believe I’ve had this vegetable since 1975, when I migrated from Tanzania.
Kodinar to Bhavnagar is only 140 miles, yet it takes us 6 hours to navigate through the potholes, enough time for me to get intellectually lost and muse on CAI successes and challenges going forward. With Allah’s blessings and donor support acting as the wind beneath our wings, CAI has soared alhamd’Allah. 20,000 plus poor students attend school in CAI constructed schools daily, 500 very destitute Afghans can seek medical attention every day at the 6 remote clinics spread about their badbakth country, over 300,000 people get fresh potable water outside their doors daily, 1,400 homeless now have CAI constructed permanent houses, tuition fee support for poor students, scholarships for struggling college goers, medical life/death support, relief for war and bomb blast victims, succor for victims of natural disasters…CAI donors are ready and willing to serve, active in20 countries thus far.
Afghanistan is one country that has the most uncertainties and giant challenges. With 22 schools constructed, 6 remote medical clinics up and running (7th still cooking), 150 orphans under active care and another quality permanent home for 50 orphan boys under construction, the security situation in the country give me the creeps, disquieting days and sleepless nights. Whichever way I analyze the issues, the solution is the same – there is no choice but to stay the course. We must leave it to Allah’s protection and your continued prayers and support.
After a hiatus of about 25 years, I get to visit New Zealand again, this time as a guest of Sean and Mohammed Bhayaani, in Auckland. I was there briefly in circa 1990, with corporate America and retain very vague memories of the place. So, Auckland is alien to me, damp and cold, especially flying in from balmy Mumbai and fiery Dubai. Americans don’t need an entry visa, thank God, so happily pass an unemotive immigration kiosk that okays me through but an expressive human stops me a few paces away. He is but a teenager with a real bad acne case of festering pimples and just woken up breath.
‘Sir,’ says he as I try to flinch my nose to safety. ‘Can I see your passport?’
I want to tell him to scram, since he dons no official uniform, nor does he wear an ID. But New Zealanders are commonly known to be a friendly and welcoming lot, so I sigh expressively and give it to him. Plus, I’ve just flown 16 hours from Dubai and my mind and demeanor are akin to Garfield, the cat. He goes through the book, studying each page, as if readying for a college entrance exam. I see his eyebrows pop as he scans the various visas stamps, and elevate to painful arches when he sees so many to Afghanistan. He pauses, peers at my impassive face, breathes fumes at my face. I want to faint. But this is jehaad al Akber, so I maintain a deadpan expression. The questions begin.
His probes are nothing extraordinary or new, I’ve been through them before with other overzealous low-level officials who must prove they are earning their keep, except some of the questions do make me wonder why and how governments select these dudes. I am not objecting the need to screen visitors like me, this is their right and an important precaution, just some of the silly and mundane questions he asks. He tires after about 5 minutes, hands me the passport back, tries to give me an apologetic smile but manages more nauseating air my way; I grab it and flee.
New Zealand is a very beautiful country and Auckland is a pleasant and multicultural city, something akin to Toronto, Canada, except I sometimes think I am in Tokyo, HCMC or Seoul. Winters can be chilly and a cold drizzle is never predictable or too far away. The downtown area where the Bhayaani’s have rented a comfortable B&B has so many Asians milling about and jabbering away in Japanese, Vietnamese or Korean, I am constantly bewildered; where the bloody hell am I? Although New Zealanders appear tolerant, there are subtle undercurrents of bias in daily life. The indigenous Marawis are at the bottom of the economic rung, the Asians taking most clerical positions and Indians, Arabs and Afghans more laborious tasks. Finding halal food is always a challenge but there are enough Turkish kabob places that are readily available; but how many kabobs can one have; I crave some extra fiery nourishment after a couple of days. The country is also toothachey pricy; a mid-size car can pack in almost US$100 in gas.
I’ve seen many strange scenes in my eventful life; Auckland gives me a few more. Going to workout at a local gym, I am struck at the sight of a couple in a lip-lock that lasts, to me, an entirety. The couple furiously exchange saliva while people walk past without a second glance and the stiff chilly wind that makes me shiver bothers them not a bit. I pass by a gay church and go hmmm, I see a 500 gram Manuka honey priced at US$50…
I make a quick trip to Melbourne, Australia where a struggling community from Parachinar, Pakistan wants help starting a school for their children and how CAI, through KSIMC, with an ideal piece of property in their grasps, can help them. We pray for a good outcome insha’Allah.
A call comes through at 2AM; a bombing at a mosque in Gardez, Paktia Province, Afghanistan has claimed 36 lives. Sleep is impossible, so I gather the efforts of the Bayaanis to try and get urgent local help for the surviving victims. Allah always helps, this small effort on our part. Alhamd’Allah.
I am ‘home’ in Sanford, FL after about 9 weeks, ready for some peace, quiet and quality time with Maaha Zainab. Insha’Allah.