Ulfat – Zanzibar
I meet Ulfat some three years ago, in her grandmother’s pitiful house somewhere in Zanzibar. It has taken me a ten-minute walk in waterlogged muddy lanes to reach her house. My shoes are soggy with muddy water, and they make a rude sound as I walk. Good thing I am wearing shorts, or else my trousers would be equally shot. Thank Allah for the shorts-wearing tourists who visit Zanzibar and are now tolerated, else I’d be cussed by the conservatives for showing off my bare legs. I curse my luck. Did the skies have to weep today? So profusely? Although it has rained, the air is warm and moist, and I am sweating from the exertion of the walk.
Ulfat is an HIV-positive child; she got the disease from her late parents who both died from the ailment. It is left to Ulfat’s maternal grandmother to now care for the girl. The tiny home is a bare brick affair, with a tin roof; the floor is dirt. The grandmother, an ailing, bent woman who seems to be carrying the pains of her misfortune on her tired shoulders let us in, a glimmer of hope and expectation in her eyes. It takes me a few seconds to adjust to the dim interior.
What I see disheartens and pains me. Ulfat lies listless in a corner of a room, covered by a thin drab blanket; she is all skin and bones. She looks at us without emotion as we discuss her. I sink to the floor to be at eye level with her and give her a reassuring smile; she does not emote. She does not answer any of my questions, but I still assure her we’ll try and help. I tell her I want to see her in school, soon, that she should eat the protein-rich food that CAI donors will soon supply her. I have very little confidence I will ever see Ulfat alive when we leave shortly afterward. Now, I’ll bet some sneering Mullah will call me up to remind me that life and death are in the hands of Allah, and I cannot predict Ulfat’s demise. Save your breath, Sir, I know for certain she would have died without the protein-rich intervention by CAI donors. This is a science base fact, yes?
Poor HIV children in Zanzibar get free HIV medication from the government, funded by WHO. These drugs keep children like Ulfat alive, but the medicines are more adapted to a Western protein-rich diet for digestion and cure, something poor Zanzibaris like Ulfat cannot dream of affording. CAI donors have been funding the feeding of protein to such children for the last three years with amazing success.
So it is with sheer delight that I meet Ulfat in Zanzibar recently. The change in her is so wonderful I am tickled to death!!! She recognizes me, smiles shyly, and states that she is well, and had pimples! Always a healthy sign in a teenager, I say. I restrain the urge to hug her with great self-control.
We had enrolled Ulfat in a beauty make-up course so she could fend for herself economically. Since she is so far behind in school-based education, a skill set would be the best alternative. Not so. Alas, customers shy away from her when they find out she is HIV positive. So, I’m wrecking my brains to get her occupied in non-contact work, so she’ll not be dependent on others as an adult. Insha’Allah.
I share a photo with Ulfat taken on October 16, 2021.
Maisa – Nabatiyeh
The lady immigration officer at Rafic Hariri International in Beirut eyes me with suspicion as she flips through my passport – I can understand her distrust for a lone American visiting Lebanon in troubling times.
Sayyedi, she says in Arabic and switches to English when she sees the confused look on my face, you are visiting Lebanon twice in a month. She gives me a typical Arab shake of the head, spreading tinted hair around her head. For?
I wreck my brains for apt response. I can’t say I’m a tourist again. People don’t visit other countries to experience twenty hours of blackouts a day. I mean Lebanon is nice and all, but I should have a credible story.
I’m here to meet a beau, I say on an impulse, surprising myself.
That does it. Her immaculate eyebrows above a masked face lift in surprised joy as she surveys me closely. My answer must satisfy her, for I can see eyes smile as she stamps the passport and breathes ahlain, welcome.
I am in Beirut again last week, summoned to complete new local compliance and other issues that will enable CAI to begin serving 50 Syrian orphan refugees in Lebanon. Things are moving in the right direction and the CAI donor-sponsored Sakina Home will open January 1, 2022, insha’Allah. It will be fashioned close to the CAI Sakina Home in Sana’a, Yemen where 150 poor orphans currently thrive and receive a quality education.
I have the pleasure of meeting some of these orphans in Nabatiyeh, about a ninety-minute drive from Beirut. Among them, that perk my interest are four sisters – Leen, Seelin, Zhoha, and especially four-year-old Maisa. Their father, Abdulaziz Koko, a daily wage earner is blown to pieces by a bomb as he works around Damascus in 2017; he does not survive to see the birth of Maisa.
The mother, Sameera, terrorized and fearing for her children, flees Syria to Lebanon with the children; the safety of the children is her paramount concern. Her life takes on the pains and tribulations that are so common amongst refugees around the world. Sameera is young and pretty, so men propose marriage, all with the condition that no children accompany her as a package. Sameera turns down these silly and mean conditions, obviously. And so, they suffer poverty and deprivation. The UNHCR provides them with very basic meals.
I meet the four sisters at a restaurant where ten of the future orphans share a warm and healthy meal with me. They look forward to attending classes at Sakina Home and being able to, like every child should, receive an opportunity to grow and be a productive citizen of the world. Insha’Allah.
Here is a happy Maisa receiving a gift. She gave me heart flutters by falling ill shortly afterward due to weakness caused by a lack of proper nutrition. She is now fine, alhamd’Allah.
The views and opinions expressed in this Blog are entirely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of Comfort Aid International or her Trustees.