Reminding Me Of Zainab:
I am bleary eyed and woozy headed, seated on an Emirates Airline flight waiting to be flown to Mumbai after completing the seemingly non-ending 15 hours flight from Orlando to Dubai, with an added 3 hours transit wait. So, you will appreciate I am not in the best of moods. Especially since I can’t seem to balance the 2019 budget for the 203 Rohingya orphans that CAI cares for in Bangladesh, no matter what trick I try with the numbers. I’ve got to get a working and balanced budget so I can give the good news to the kids that their care will continue for the remainder of the year, perhaps a little longer. The Excel sheet does not lie; one plus one always maddingly equals two, even though the Wania in me wills it to say two point five. Or more. I give up and snap both the laptop and my eyes shut. Perhaps I need to try and get some sleep before Mumbai throws me her challenges.
I smell her well before I see her. It is an overpowering scent of very expensive oud. The kind that smells heavenly at any pricy malls in Dubai, until the salesperson looks you over and unimpressed, snottily informs you of the outrageous price, and the feeling of intense nausea replaces the celestial scent. She is clad in the traditional Emarati black abaya, the one that twinkles every time she moves, showcasing strands of fake blond hair half exposed, pricy looking fancy shades rests above kajaled clad large oval eyes that regard me quizzingly. Hugging an outlandish Louis Vuitton handbag, she is fair and tall and rather pretty. She must not be more than 20, perhaps younger even and I am reminded of my Zainab in her last year of high school.
Uncle, she singsongs in perfect Indian Hinglish, can you please help me park my suitcase? It’s too heavy for me to lift it up.
My mood darkens. She just used the curse word to address me and I have a policy of not bringing into the cabin anything I cannot lift. I am about to grumble she should have checked the bloody thing in when she gives me this wide grin, exposing very clean even white teeth, and I think of my Zainab again. I make a face, but haul myself up and park the really not so heavy suitcase for her.
Thank you uncle, she breaths and asks if I am also headed to Mumbai? I want to be mean and say no, I am headed to Timbuctoo, but I restrain myself and scowl at the stupid question instead. Is she going to be my company with these senseless questions for the next 3 hours? I think she senses my sour disposition so gets busy peering at the latest iPhone Sx Max. Man, this woman child is loaded! Eying that handbag she hugs and the hole it must have burnt into her father’s bank account depresses me even further. Why, we could have almost 3 months of the orphan’s expenses covered with the price tag.
It takes her perhaps 5 minutes to bore with the phone and nothing on the TV screen in front of her seem to hold her attention. So, just like Zainab again, Azeeza begins talking, nonstop, until we land and deplane in Mumbai about 3 hours later. She is a product of a now divorced Emarati father and a Lacknowi mother. So, she spends her time between a pricy, snotty college in Lucknow and shopping sprees with a remarried, busy, guilt-laden doting father in the UAE.
And like Zainab, she can talk! About everything under the sky. But mostly about shopping in Dubai and Bollywood in Mumbai. Even the dinner being served does not pause her yapping.
I love Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh, she gushes, who do you like, Uncle? Do you have a favorite actress?
Caught by surprise at the question, I have to wreak my brains before I offer the name of Mumtaz; Azeeza looks perplexed.
But I know of no Mumtaz as a Bollywood actress!
Mumtaz probably retired before you were born, my dear, I muse. I liked her.
Azeeza turns and gawks at me, as if she sees me for the first time, making me rather uncomfortable.
Wow, Uncle, you are old. Even Baba is younger than you! She giggles. Tell me, how come your beard is all white but your eyebrows are still all black?
After recovering from the shock of her brazen question, I ask her to direct that question to Allah instead. She rolls up her eyes to the heavens. Again, I remember my Zainab.
A Generation Ruined – Dreading The Future:
Now, wide awake, I listen to rats scamper around on the ceiling of the school/safehouse in Kutupalong, Ukhia, Bangladesh that CAI has built for the 203 Rohingya orphans that receive nutrition and a semblance of an education. At Camp 8W, the situation is much improved, with the highly disciplined Bangladesh Army taking charge and laying basic infrastructure with money donated by foreign NGO’s. CAI donors have been active, with the caring and schooling of 203 orphans and the distribution of clean, potable water to over 19,000 people.
I, however, fret for these hapless kids. What’ll happen to them after December 2019, when CAI money runs out? This project is a stopgap measure, in response to an emergency situation created by the mauling Burmese army. But the kids have flourished here, all have recovered from malnutrition and almost all from the mental trauma of seeing their mothers/sisters mauled and or raped by their very protectors. Not able to forecast a solution, I fall into a fitful sleep.
The next day, Murtaza Bhimani, CAI representative for Africa, and I commission another water project at Kutupalong, this one at Camp 4W, sponsored by the worldwide donors of CAI, serving 10,000 refugees This brings the total number of refugees able to tap into clean potable water at any time of the day to about 29,000. Alhamd’Allah.
The Rohingya refugee issue is quickly becoming a vexing issue. Both the orphans and the water well projects were taken on to save lives and ward off certain death. Now, with shrinking interest for these helpless humans and dwindling resources, CAI may have to bid adieu, something I would loathe to do since the orphans now seem a real part of me.
An air-hop of just over an hour from Dhaka brings me to Kathmandu, a dismal, polluted city that looks and feels depressing the moment I leave the airport. There are about 50 stateless Afghan refugees who have fled persecution and murder from the Taliban who now somehow scrap a hopeless living here. At least they are safe from the constant threat of violence. CAI donors support their children’s education. Their future is bleak, however, and the daily threat of death is replaced by the everyday worry of what next.
This Hindu nation is also home to about 140 displaced Rohingyas. They live in squalor condition at the edge of the city, a blight of land with no sewer. Runny-nosed infants gape at us as we tour their camp. The needs of these wretched and innocent humans are unlimited, but CAI can offer the children much-needed protein for the next two weeks. I arrange the slaughter of 2 bulls whose meat will be distributed to the families, a small treat amongst their despair insha’Allah.
As my aircraft gains traction and pierces the clouds above Katmandu, so does my gratitude to Allah for His mercy and bounty. I could easily be the child with a runny nose and lacking protein to grow healthy muscles. But He has graced me with this incredible opportunity to make a minute but incredibly critical difference in someone’s life. All it takes for these fateful humans to make it out of misery is an opportunity. We can offer that opening, and that is all that our Creator asks from us.