CAI has built and operates 6 medical clinics in the remotest lands in Allah’s creation – the treacherous mountain terrain of Afghanistan. These distant lands are home to perhaps the poorest and disadvantaged people on earth. Most of the 300 sick people who are treated in these clinics daily, for free, have never seen a medical person before – ever!
So, when CAI Trustees embarked on raising funds for the 7th clinic, one novel way was to endure the pain of cycling about 220 miles (350km) through southern Thailand in 5 days, coining the initiative Wheels That Heal. Painful, but doable, for sure. The gain was collecting the targeted US$140,000 in operating costs for the project, adventure, Thai food and fruits, the terrain and the inevitable Thai massage at the end to ease some of the pains.
So, 8 of us got together and did the deed, raised the required funds, went through an amazing adventure in the process, ate fruits and seafood as if it was going into extinction and got the awfully sore muscles pampered at the end. We were an assorted lot, age and location wise – Afzal Yusufali (Dubai), Hussain Zhian (NY), Mushtaq Fazal (Dar es Salaam), Mohamedhassan Alloo (NY), Nasser Jetta (Dubai), Shabbir Yusufali (Dar es Salaam), Sohail Abdullah (NY) and I (Sanford). Needless to say, the airfare to Thailand and all other expenses were self-sponsored.
For me, this ride was harder than the Vietnam / Cambodia one Sohail and I did earlier in 2018, to raise funds for the catastrophe in Yemen. I am a long-distance runner, so it was not the stamina I lacked. Surprisingly, Thailand is hilly and the climb up was so taxing on my butt, it was raw, weeping and bleeding by day 3, making the ride so exceedingly painful, I was almost ready to throw in the towel many a time. But alhamd’Allah, all of us prevailed and came away with a once in a lifetime experience and adventure. It was not a ‘love you till-I-die bro, trip.’ Can’t be, 8 individuals have surprisingly varying opinions, wants and egos, so there were differences and tiffs, for sure. The ultimate goal was always in focus and it was oodles of fun and frolic.
Instead of a rambling account of what we did daily, we’ve opted to give a snapshot(s) of a particular moment(s) as a sample of any day. So, here it is, in the words of Mohamedhassan Alloo and Hussain Zhian.
In a nutshell, the following incident captures this adventure so well for me. Four of us, Sohail Abdullah, Dr. Afzal Yusufali, Hussain Zhian and I are riding along the back roads of Southern Thailand in a pack. Dr. Afzal shouts out ‘Look, a starfruit tree!’ (Click on the link below to see the photo of the fruit). We stop and decide to explore. Dr. Afzal examines the surrounding flora, Hussain searches for animals, birds, spiders; anything that’s moving, to touch or play with, I want to look for something else to eat while Sohail snaps pics and chronicles everything. The starfruit tree looks majestic with many plump ones waiting to be plucked. We approach the owner and ask her if we can eat one of them and she says yes! I pick one, take a big bite, chew and swallow. All is perfect and whimsical. Hussain decides to take a bite but pauses and the following exchange takes place:
Hussain: ‘Hold on, I saw something move.’
MH: (eyes slightly widened): ‘What do you mean?’
Dr. Afzal: ‘There’s nothing moving.’ Proceeds to take a big bite.
Hussain: ‘Right there! I see a worm wriggling around in there!’
Me: ‘Ugh, Astaghfirullah!’
Dr. Afzal: ‘We should be fine. Fruit worms are mostly not parasitic.’
Me (eyes fully wide): ‘Mostly?!’
Sohail: ‘What’s for lunch?’ This question has nothing to do with the starfruit but it is common for Sohail to ask to be continuously fed during the course of the day, every day.
Nasser Jetha happens to zip by and we relate the story to him. It is never clear if Nassar is ahead or behind us, but one thing is for sure; he is always zipping by everyone.
Nassar rides up the line of other cyclists and relates the story to each one prompting the following reactions:
Ali Yusufali: ‘It’s great that they ate starfruit but regardless, we will be riding a minimum of 70kms today and we will be stopping promptly for salaat, no matter what!’
Mushtaq Fazel: ‘I wish I had been there to try some!’ Mushtaq stops riding to take pictures of some lemon trees, he is constantly taking photos of fruit and fauna.
Shabbir Yusufali: ‘Starfruit? We have to complete 70kms, it’ll be namaz time soon and I haven’t even hit my top speed yet!’
I am left dumbfounded at the beauty of this country. Mountains of limestone tower above us, forming a jagged skyline as I look upon the horizon. Rows of rubber trees are shorn and the resulting milky sap is collected in empty coconut shells. As I high-five the banana leaves, whizzing through the sleepy villages, I can’t help but notice the harmonious mix of Muslims and Buddhist, smiling wholeheartedly as we pedal by. A naked toddler waves at me and makes an attempt to yell a greeting before he’s dunked in a little blue bucket of soapy water. The energy here gives my aching muscles a chance at completing this escapade.
I have rediscovered my love for fruit coming to Thailand. Jackfruit, logaan, durian, mangosteen, mini banana, mango, rambutan, papaya, tangerine…just to name a few. The white sapote, a round green fruit the size of an orange, has a milky center as sweet as honey. But some foods were made of sheer molten lava, with spicy levels exceeding India Indian limits! We all occasionally struggle through the ordeal, wolfing down the food. The food is heavenly, especially after a long day of cycling. My mouth is numb. I’ve also learned how to properly eat fish and prawns, and I’ve learned to stay away from the intestine soup and spoiled sugar cane juice.
Our local cycling guides Al, Yahya, and Chai accompany us throughout the ride. Al is an experienced biker and I catch him occasionally singing classic American songs as he rolls up and down the Thailand hills. Al makes sure we stop on time for prayers. ‘It’s all downhill from here’ Al states with a smile as his hand gestures a steep incline. As we make our way for wudhu, Al grabs a broom and starts sweeping the cemented platform we’re to pray on. Al is not a Muslim, a Buddhist rather, and the sight of him sweeping the ground where we are to pray on is touching.
After 4 arduous days of cycling and adventure, including showering under a giant waterfall during a downpour and taking a dip in boiling hot springs, it has come to day 5. Yahya parks the bus on a patch of grass. I stare down a cow sporting a silver nose ring as I gear up for the last 64km. The team is ready, and we line up for the last morning picture, our bikes, our companions, so proud – by our sides. Just as I am starting to smirk for the picture, a man comes out of his home and offers to take the picture, grabbing the cellphone out of Chai’s hands. Chai jumps in, and the man takes the group shot. The man’s toddler is standing near the front door of the house in his pajamas, watching his father talk to Al about why we are cycling through Thailand. The man puts his hands together in namaste and heads back inside. A few minutes later, he emerges and hands some money to me, pointing to the print on my shirt. I am so moved. To think, a Buddhist, living in south Thailand, who reads about CAI on a T-Shirt and donates towards a remote clinic in Afghanistan sends a chill down my spine. Our world is truly a global community, and as a community, we must look after one another. May Allah reward him and all others who donated towards the cause. And may Allah continue to give strength and motivation to all those involved with CAI and making the world a better place. Amen.
You may enjoy the following photos.