Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Day FBI Raided My House

Tuesday, November 19 2013 begins benign enough; we wake up for salaat, Mahaa Zainab and her mother return to slumber and I proceed with pushups and other exercises, run-up to a six – seven mile run later on, after giving breakfast and dropping Zainab to school. It is 7AM and I have just completed my pushups so my heart is already pumping somewhat when simultaneous loud banging at the front door, the back glass door and side windows rattle me. Tasneem screams there are men with guns outside and not to open the door; my heart goes on overdrive.

I run to peer through the front door keyhole; there are about seven men with signs of FBI, DEA and others on black t-shirts standing outside, two of them have their guns draws. Mamma-mia! Now, I have been in pretty dicey situations before, what with my travels for CAI taking me to far-flung and dubious countries globally. But this situation involves my family, involves my daughter Maaha Zainab, so I am plenty rattled. My heartbeat goes haywire, I feel my heart is at all places in my body, not unlike a person possessed by the shaitani of Kilwa, kicking and jerking around, completely out of control. I fling open the door.

Rough hands pull me out. Is there anybody else inside? Someone shouts at me. Dazed, I do not answer, gawk at three men, two with their guns drawn enter the house. Tasneem has already joined me by the entrance and we scream at Zainab to come. She does, annoyed at her best-time-to-nap interrupted, drunk with sleep. Tasneem yells at her to go back and wear her hejaab. I engulf Zainab into an embrace once she returns to the door, hejaab intact. I see men after men, in thick black boots enter and invade my home, where nobody, without exception, is allowed to enter wearing outside footwear, especially the place where I recite salaat; this invasion is pretty painful; a colonoscopy is readily preferable.

After the initial scare, things calm down. The invading guys are firm but polite and courteous; I am assured I am not under arrest. They have a warrant to search my house and seize all documents, computers and cellphones. Why? It is alleged that I have been concealing money from the US government. Okay. Then why is the DEA and other agencies that go after the real bad people here, why with guns drawn? I tell the lead IRS agent I was expecting them, but not this way, with guns draws and an invasion of my house. He looks at me, puzzled. Expecting us, why? Well, with the amount of aid money CAI moves to countries like Afghanistan, the US government would be curious what is going on (although CAI annual tax returns do detail these activities). But I was expecting more courteous method of investigation; an inquiry letter, a visit request to IRS offices perhaps. The agent nods and smiles, assures me these kinds of raids is procedure they follow. How would they know we are not armed, destroying proof or prepping evidence if not a sudden raid? I guess not all of us are Ahlebeyti Muslims...?

Thus ensues about two hours of searching and questions. The house is thoroughly searched, paperwork, passports and electronic devices seized. Maaha Zainab is allowed breakfast, keeping the agents on their toes (especially women agents), busy with rapid questions about the FBI. For Zainab, this is far from scary, why, an adventure really. She is obsessed with being an FBI agent in the future and spends a good deal of her allowable TV watching time looking at detective shows that solve crimes. When I caution her FBI has to use some pretty mean methods to solve crimes, sometimes at the expense of innocent victims, she remains unconvinced. Lets see if the end of this saga results in changing her mind.

True, our lives are greatly shaken up by this invasion and I remain cautious on many fronts. I am absolutely convinced there will be nothing the authorities will find unlawful or incrimination, insha’Allah. CAI or I have broken no laws; in fact I have gone an extra mile, every time, to ensure all transactions are transparent and accountable. Since I do what I do for the pleasure of Allah in serving His downtrodden humanity, I rely on Him to see us through this period of uncertainty; the verdict, however, should be total vindication of all allegations. Insha’Allah.

The home of Hasnain Yusufali, my nephew, dedicated Secretary and Treasurer for CAI is similarly invaded; documents and electronics seized.

I broadcast this so that you, our donors and well-wishers are well informed about what happened. CAI and personal bank accounts are not seized; travel and CAI activities are not restricted or affected. Our mission continues insha’Allah.  

I must add that both the IRS and FBI (DEA’s role was irrelevant) were very polite and courteous immediately after the initial few minutes their operations commenced. Maaha Zainab’s I-Pad and cellphone are not seized, my passports and ID are returned the very same day and the rest of our electronic devices are returned in good order within a week of seizure.

There is a profound question by one FBI agent late on the day of the raid, when a team of five agents arrives home to return my passports and ask more questions. The Agent, a young man, asks me if I will notify the FBI if I knew of another 9-11 in the making, since they are all about preventing a repeat of that tragic, fateful day. I am flabbergasted at the question, a bit angry even. But then I realize where he is coming from, so my reply is appropriate.

First and foremost, I am a man who tries hard to follow the commands of my religion: to protect a life in danger, any life. Period. Two, I am a US citizen, duty bound to the constitution and laws of this country. Three, I live here, earn my living here, my family lives here, my daughter grows up, goes to school here. Surely, the question is redundant? 

Monday, October 28, 2013

I Gift You, My Dearest, An Onion Ring

We are inseparable, India and I, I think. Why, I was here just six weeks ago. I am back, thanks to an incompetent real estate agent who forgot to take a signature in the presence of Land Registry last visit, an absolute must. Well, I am here now, bemused at the ruckus created by skyrocketing onion prices. This absolutely must ingredient in any Indian meal has the country in comical frenzy, passionate subject of many discourses. With prices at five times they were just a year ago, there is talk of incumbent government at grave risk of losing the next general elections if prices don’t come down in a hurry. It is joked poor suitors gift their fiancées engagement rings mounted by a (dehydrated?) onion ring. 

Sarfaraz, driver with Al Imaan Foundation in Mumbai sits in a car under main Andheri Bridge, desperately trying to reach a mechanic who can advise on how to restart the stalled car. Volumes of cars and motorbikes scream around him, making conversation with the repairman almost incomprehensible. A rude rapping on the windscreen startles Sarfaraz, who looks up to see a stern cop-face glaring at him.
‘Aree Saala, what do you think you are doing sitting in the middle of a road talking on a cellphone? Move your car this instant and let me see your license!’
Sarfaraz, who is up to his wits by now, suddenly jumps out of the car, startling the potbellied cop, who registers a look of panic for a second.
‘Why don’t you move the car if you can?’ he shouts back, offering the wary cop car keys. ‘Its broken down and I am trying to call a mechanic!’
Thus ensues a shouting match that Sarfaraz surprisingly wins, refusing to pay a sliding bribe of Rs. 300/200/100/50 ($1=Rs.61). The drama ends with a wishful look of lost opportunity from the cop, when onlookers help push the vehicle to a safer place.

Sarfaraz drops Aliakberbhai and I at the airport early the next morning; we are off to visit CAI refurbished and maintained Shia Boys Home at Matia Burj just outside Kolkata. It is raining profusely at Kolkata airport when we land, with long queues at the taxi booth. We are rudely advised no taxis are available as the city is under water; Matia Burj is at least ninety minutes drive away. Aliakberbhai’s contacts come in handy and a friend comes to the rescue, dispatching an SUV that arrives an hour later. True, Kolkata city is in knee-deep water and the ride to the orphanage becomes tedious and at times, rather daunting. People wade in water everywhere; there is water in every street level home and business. We pass several wedding mandaps, all inundated with water; the poor couples must be ruing days when they ate directly from the pot? Shabbir, the adept driver navigates through the mess and delivers us safely outside the orphanage four hours later.

The Shia Boys Home at Matia Burj is off a horribly congested narrow lane; a butcher proudly exhibits hanging carcasses of skinned goats, blood still dripping from them. Several decapitated goat heads form a neat line on the storefront, dead glaring eyes stare at me accusingly. Three live goats are tethered nearby, huddled together, as if this show of solidarity is going to save them from certain impending doom. The orphanage was built over a hundred years ago. It resembles a mini fort, with thick concrete walls and Victorian design. 

About thirty boy orphans from shockingly poor families call this place home. Oh, what a rebound from pathetic conditions I first met them some nine years ago, when wearing a pair of pants was a novel act for most of them. They are now in the process of acquiring a well-rounded secular / Islamic education in fine schools. They eat well-balanced meals three times a day, study, play, watch TV, indulge in horseplay as children will and naturally dream of a future life of dignity and wealth. CAI donors have / are doing their part in offering them this opportunity; it is now up to them to seize it.

The boys are happy to see me, even though I have neglected them; this visit is well over three years overdue. Aliakber and I review their progress with staff and manager Amjaad, the orphan’s mother and father in every sense. There are a few challenges of course, so we put in place possible solutions. The place needs a serious scrub and paint job, a few minor repairs and a new refrigerator; an implementation action plan is put in place.

We dine with the boys, who are in a relaxed mood, being Saturday night. Next morning, after a sumptuous breakfast of fluffy hot poories, omelets, aloo choole curry and fresh, artery clogging malaai, we go to distribute your amaanat to the poor and destitute of Matia Burj.

All the poor and destitute live in cheap, drab apartment complexes put together in a hurry for maximum investment returns. I cannot tell these apartments, built so close to each other, are separate units. For example, I clearly see and hear, from the orphanage guestroom, a plump woman chop onions and fling the rinds from her kitchen window to the alley below and beautifully sing along a Manna Dey song from a radio or TV. He died yesterday and all stations overdo tributes to him thus.

We visit four families going through tough trying times; all in dire need of some housing support, least they end up in the streets. Since these families have teenage daughters, CAI decides to extend support by building them inexpensive rooms on open corners of willing, unscrupulous apartment owner’s properties. Highest cost US$1,000, maximum size of room 160 square feet, housing a family of four. We also make arrangements to feed an invalid family for one year and other charitable distributions. Donor’s sadeqa and radde-mazaalim funds well spent, insha’Allah.

Visiting the poor and destitute is, for me, an upheaval of emotions I struggle to control, even after all these years of repeated experiences. Walking through narrow streets thronging of jostling humanity and energy, the perplexity of senses hits me. First thing I smell is shit; from open sewer lines that run along all structures. This is combined with various other odors; I smell the aroma of frying pakooras and parathas sizzling in open tawwas. I smell nauseating decay that emits from heaping piles of week old garbage now being forked into filthy municipal trucks, I smell goats and cows and dogs and unwashed human sweat, and body odor and cheap perfume from burqa clad women.

I see harassed faces hurrying to work or other errands, even this Sunday. I see children play in the filth of alleyways, chasing after each other, oblivious of ever-present flies. I see kids make a beelike at a bhel poori vendor, to a cheap street goola vendor, eagerly sucking on colorful sugary ice-lollies. I see flies that gleefully make merry on uncovered paratha dough, waiting for its turn of agony on the sizzling tawwa.

The greatest damage of senses is to my eardrums; from constant honking of cars, busses and motorbikes. The noise pollution makes conversing on the streets impossible. It is only when I turn into narrower streets that talk becomes possible. But teenagers, all boys, seem to be having a party of sorts. A computer game room blasts Bollywood dance numbers to which few boys gyrate, angling their thin bodies to seemingly impossible angles. The decibels are so loud, my eardrums vibrate to the roll of drums from various speakers as the kids delight in the music and various games on offer.

But I smell, see and hear something more powerful than all this - in the people CAI donors try and help. I sense despair. The vacant look in eyes of a man who works endless hours supporting four daughters but have no home for them; all the money went into treating a dying wife. The daughters split into pairs and sleep at relatives while the man makes do at a friend’s house. Or the aged couple with six children, all teenage girls. The risteys come with a price of dowry the parents can’t even dream of forking out. Or the destitute sister whose body rocks with sobs as she relates her woes, sitting besides a severely jaundiced brother in a tiny imambargagh, the only place they could find refuge.

The purpose of writing this blurb is not a sadistic desire to depress. It would be the easiest thing for me to channel donor funds through third party and the job would be done, yes. It takes all faculties of senses, however, to actually feel the pain of poverty and destitution. A widow’s grief, an orphans need, a homeless parents hope for shelter, a teenage girl whose marriage hangs on a few hundred dollars... These real life experiences are irreplaceable, nay, necessary to bring me (us) down to earth from out lofty routines. It is my hope I am able to bring alive some of these experiences for you, insha’Allah.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Little Muskaan Is Going Blind

I sit in the shade, outside CAI built Al Zahra Boys Home in Sirsi, UP India. My face and every exposed body part feel the scorching heat and humidity out here. I earlier inspect new science laboratories and seven new classrooms at the school across the orphanage all morning so am taking a well-deserved break. I can see shimmer of heat creating mirages across the field that our children will play cricket later today, seemingly unaffected by the suffocation I feel. Six orphan puppies, cubs of our guard dog mauled to death by predators while fighting to protect her litter, take shelter from the heat under a cluster of pretty stressed flower plants, panting as they try to seek comfort from siblings in the absence of their mother. Even a slight movement of squatting flies away from my face brings instant beads of perspiration all over my body; even my undies seem to weep at the effort.

I believe I am coming down with something dreadful. It has not been an easy trip this. Punishing commute between villages in Afghanistan with very little sleep, to Srinagar, Kashmir for a girls orphanage project and now in remote Sirsi has, perhaps done harm to my immune system. I could go to the air-conditioned guest room inside the orphanage building but that would entail starting up a pricey, noisy, erratic generator so I am not bothered. Plus, the brave man I am, I am scared silly of mice. For the first time in four years that I regularly visit this orphanage, there are mice in the room. Yesterday, Aliakberbhai and I finally go to sleep, at about 2AM, arriving from New Delhi, driving six hours. I am in deep sleep when I feel light tapping in my back. I open my eyes to look at Aliakberbhai in blissful slumber. If he is facing me, who is it tapping my back? With my heart in my mouth, I leap out of the bed; so does a tiny mouse, even more terrified than Î, who springs in the air and frantically scurries to the safety of a refrigerator nearby. Earlier today, after salaat, the room super chilly, I insert my feet into the warmth of a comfortable blanket. Mr. Mouse thinks likewise, so my foot caresses a furry ball. I scream the orphanage down, much to the merriment of staff and boys. No, I am fine wilting away here in the heat. I am not going to sleep in that room tonight either, not until the mice trio are shooed away or put to permanent sleep.

My feeling weedy and melancholy, even with excellent progress of school labs, classrooms, both girls and boys orphanage ship-shape here in Sirsi and a new classroom wing extension at Phanderi Sadaat Girls School some two hours away has deeper reasons. Some three months ago, a friend observes I have lost laughter and merriment; I have turned much serious with my association with CAI; a grouch, he suggests. Then, I wave this off as a silly observation, of course. Now, I am unsure. With worldwide Muslims, especially Shia Muslims in deep suppression and oppression, what is there to elate and be happy about? I cannot name a single country where Muslims are prosperous or happy. Can you? A smug mug of Narender Modi all over the country as front contender for next Prime Ministers post of India can easily slide even the most optimistic mind into deep melancholy.

And then, early this morning, I meet Muskaan, a seven-year-old orphan girl at the orphanage. She is going blind, you see. Muskaan is unique, for she has no parents; both die within few years of each other. She is taken in by her maternal grandmother, an old woman, poor and sick herself. Overwhelmed, she turns to our orphanage for succor and is more than relieved to put Muskaan in our care, which is fine of course; this is why we are here. Recently however, our staff detect Muskaan does not follow instructions and takes inordinate time performing routine tasks. When a doctor examines Muskaan, the diagnosis is swift and devastating. She has very weak and unstable retinas, deterioration of condition is certain, leading to eventual blindness. The doctors can only delay the outcome with immediate surgery, one eye at a time. But it will be certain blindness eventually, for sure.

This news is both numbing and painful, both to Aliakberbhai and I. Aliakberbhai, who is more close to all the girl orphans as he visits them more frequently than I, is not willing to accept the doctors verdict. He insists a more qualified specialist be contacted, no expense spared. The doctor regards Aliakberbhai with understanding, tolerant eyes; he has no objection to the suggestion, but cautions us not to delay. Now, Muskaan will go through the routine of being examined by a specialist and then certain surgery. This will retard progress of the darkness that has begun engulfing this pitiful child of Allah, whose wellbeing and care He has commanded and admonished us so much in His book and through His representatives (A) on this earth. This darkness engulfs me as well, suffocating me as I imagine my own Maaha Zainab in a similar situation. I start violently, startling the slumbering puppies, who yelp and whine in protest, but are unwilling to vacate their relatively comfortable place under the almost weltered flower plants.

So here is little Muskaan, who has stolen my peace and quiet since I learn of her predicament. I know of nothing that I can say to her that will give her hope. But yes, I can pray for her, beseech my kind and merciful Lord to please, please give Muskaan her sight back, even if I cannot be merry and cheerful. I beg you to join me in praying for this beautiful child as well. Miracles can, do happen. Insha’Allah.

I include photos of other orphan girls gleefully exploring my IPhone 5, a novelty for them. Yes, we execute one mouse, the other two, unfortunately, escape.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Afghanistan, My Turn - Shaida Bhayani


This, my 26th trip to Afghanistan was mighty tough, as you will learn from Shaida’s narration below but as usual, very gratifying; the primary aim was ensuring donor and huqooq funds are spent in responsible manner. I am humbled at the projects CAI donors have supported, bringing much relief and hope to the utmost downtrodden of Allah’s creations in the most remote parts of His realm. Abbas Jaffer and Shaida’s company made the difficult trek a little more bearable and I thank them for their gritty determination to endure it. Shaida’s narration has been edited for structure and size, of course; his core observation and narration remain intact. Enjoy. You can also view wonderful photos of the trip here.

Key players in this narration:
Yusuf Yusufali (aka Ali Yusufali, Kisukaali, Prince Ali, etc…)(YY) – CEO, CAI.
Abbas Jaffer (AJ) – CEO, Architectural Sign Group, New York.
Shaida Hussein Bhayani (I) - CFO, Shokura Inc., Houston.
Wasi Mohammediyan (WM) - lead engineer and head of CAI Afghanistan.
Basheer Razaee (BR) -  lead engineer for CAI Afghanistan.
Dr. Aaseef Husseini (DAH) - medical coordinator for three CAI medical clinics in Afghanistan.

All praise belongs to Allah (S) who gives me the opportunity to share this experience and peace upon the Holy Prophet (S) and his Progeny (A) who have been my guiding force.

The trip has been long time coming, going back and forth with YY. After two days well spent with family in Dubai, YY, AJ and I set off for our trip to Kabul, a city surrounded by mountains, on Friday August 30.

The journey starts well with YY and me going back at each other with puns and AJ as bait, but he breaks his silence as soon as we land in Kabul and the fun begins.

Kabul airport is surprisingly good, considering I am in Afghanistan. Our hosts WM and BR meet us and we drive 30 minutes to WM's warm and humble home in a ‘secure’ neighborhood. Afghan food is one of the best foods to have, which BR's wife prepares with a lot of love. We relax the day to prepare for our fun journey ahead.

Funny fact: YY uses a prescription medicine bottle for loose coins and toothpicks; stores cigarettes in a sunglass pouch.

Day two starts early at an unholy time; immediately after Fajr, which is a little before 4AM. We stay up, enjoy cream and gharm naan for breakfast and are off. Saturdays are Mondays here, streets are packed and the city is alive with people and cars after yesterdays subdued holiday traffic. After formalities at a local bank, we proceed to CAI built Imam Hussein (A) School and Masjid. It's a bumpy, gritty ride of thirty minutes to Dasht-e-barchi, an untidy, grimy sprawling neighborhood where internally displaced Shia Muslims refugees call home. The school is massive, current student count mind-boggling 4,154 in three shifts. Our third stop is the new CAI office, now required by Afghan law for all registered NGOs. I witness a local Afghan donating his huqooq funds to CAI. We also meet DAH, Director for three remote medical clinics CAI has built and operates. After lunch and a nap, we visit twenty-six girl orphans at CAI’s Sakeena Girls Home. It’s a humbling feeling, meeting these kids, realizing how blessed I am. I get so engrossed in my everyday life and routine, ignoring Allah’s repeated command towards care of orphans. The girls greet us in English and have a few presentations in English and Daree. A meeting with teachers and staff ensues; YY addresses their concerns and questions. Our last stop for today is searching land for a new orphanage, which will hold sixty girls still on waiting list. We look at two great spots that are situated in a ‘secure’ area but prices are out of CAI reach. Insha’Allah...

Day three commences before 3AM since we have to be at the airport by five; multiple, mundane security checks can create havoc with time. It’s a tiny six-seat Kodiac plane and I get the co-pilot’s position because I am the biggest in the group. The one-hour flight to Nili has some amazing views (‘amazing’ is AJ’s constant refrain throughout our trip). I see villages in valleys between the mountains in remote areas. I wonder how people survive from up here, only to find myself outside a CAI funded school right in the middle of a mountain; the place is called Hijdi. The ride here is not easy, a workout really, through rough mountain terrain; our driver Sher Hussein is adept on these treacherous roads. Upon arrival, we receive a very warm welcome from almost the entire village and students of school chanting Khush-Amadeed. The seven-classroom school, exceptionally made, is inspected; YY advises the village head of their responsibilities of maintaining the school.
We take off from Hijdi towards Dareoos; the two hour ride is an adventure and very rough. The sight of CAI medical clinic up in the mountains is a welcome sight. Words of shukaar are on my tongue by default. The basic necessity I take for granted and often waste is luxury here. Clinic staff greets and feed us lunch. After an eleven hour journey a nap is wajib. YY goes thru three months of medicine stock and other accounting reports.
This clinic has an OPD with an ultra sound, vaccination room with freezer, pharmacy, delivery room and a MCH room. There were eleven night deliveries last month. YY meets with staff and addresses their concerns.

Day four starts at 3AM; we set off towards Kejran to inspect a school construction. This is our toughest day; a fifteen hour drive through very rough and sometimes precarious terrain. No photos or words can describe the actual journey, but a brief idea for your imagination: Distance between the two villages is 110miles. There is no road as such, a cut through mountains. The car lurches along at peaks and valleys, through rivers, Sher Hussein having to switch to overdrive every so often. We avoid boulders and deep cliffs with much effort. The ride takes a physical and mental toll, both sleep and talk is virtually impossible. Although the mornings are chilly, the afternoon temperature under a cloudless sky heats up the car mercilessly. If I open the windows, I breathe and eat fine dust; this settles in my nose, tongue and throat. Our security escort, with five heavily armed policemen, tries to keep enough distance between cars so the chocking dust does not overwhelm them. We get a machinegun mounted security car with armed policemen throughout our trip, courtesy of local Provincial Governors.
The school, when we reach it bone exhausted and weary, is well under way and will be ready to open doors for over 300 plus students of both gender in two shifts. The implementation process and formalities with the local education ministry is arduous. It's good to see dedication and hard work of CAI team members come to fruition. The inspection and suggested improvements is completed quickly and although I am fatigued, I sit at the school site and rewind through our drive here and contemplate. Children as young as 5/6 grazing sheep and working in family fields make me realize the benefits of my education. How it helps us define our lifestyle, our present and future, how much emphasis and resources my parents put towards it. Since this is the first NGO project here ever, the logistics of getting the construction material is nightmare. Materials are transported in parts, disguised for Taliban bands are known to attack and destroy all school related projects. We are ready to retire soon afterwards since we have the same long drive back tomorrow. Today’s meal was simple; inevitable naan and tea for breakfast; canned tuna, naan and tea afterwards.

Some quotes I capture from AJ:
‘This drive is not for the weak hearted.’
‘Does YY put everybody through this torture?’
‘I need to be carried, I can't do it anymore.’
‘Every time I see a four runner I think Taliban.’

I can't imagine YY doing this routine with very project no matter the distance or weather, at least I have the comfort of knowing I won't be doing this again in three months.

Day five is a classic memorial. We literally climb up a rickety ladder to sleep on rooftop of a mud house under the open sky. Living in the wild does have advantages, falling asleep gazing at the stars with a clear Milky Way is one beautiful experience but the night doesn't go as well. My immune system surrenders; I awake with sharp pains at 1:30AM. I dread going to the restroom in pitch-dark, down the steps, through uneven pathway to a stinking hole without a door in the outer courtyard. Gathering up courage and coming down the tricky ladder, to sounds of howling dogs and cows, no lights, imagining a Taliban attack, I manage to get through this. We are up at 4AM and head back to our 13-hour dreadful drive from Kejran to Nili; no fun with all liquid out of my body. We make it to Nili by 5PM and head straight to a seedy hammam; a good hot bath nevertheless! After prayers at a mosque in utter darkness, we head towards our clinic in Oozmuk; this clinic has excellent space and structure. We retire to sleep after dinner.

Day six starts at 3:30AM. Routine accounting checks and audits follow salaat and breakfast. We are on schedule for our 30 minutes flight to Panjab, yup Panjab, Afghanistan. Before we land, the pilot makes a horizontal fly past close to the airstrip before returning to land. ‘Runway might have turned into a soccer field with goal posts,’ explains the pilot. We drive out to Waaras, Bamiyan District, which is a 1 1/2 drive (if you pay attention to our commute times, you will perhaps appreciate what a trashing my body takes) through horrible roads; no fun even if the route is scenic. We make it to a local hotel - 5 star, no less. One large room with a common toilet outside; my, what luxury. Our lunch is french-fries, boiled potatoes and the king naan, no eggs or rice available. We are so tired everybody groans when WM informs us the drive to Takhavi, possible 15th CAI school site is two hours away; even YY. Once we get to the village, our hearts immediately melt to the sight we see; three torn tents, about 120 plus pitiful, scurfy kids and hopeful village elders stand waiting quietly. The kids probably have not showered for days, their skin blistered due to the weather; the feeling I describe, will not do justice. It simply leaves me humbled, full of humility. It’s a no brainer for YY who immediately OKs the project. We check out the proposed land and agree to initiate ASAP. The drive back literally brings tears to my eyes with prayers of shukr and taufeeq to help make this project, a reality with pure intentions. A good observation by YY: ‘How interesting these remote and improvised areas are mostly populated Shia Muslims, Kargill, Pakistan, UP...’

Day seven is privileged; why, we start at 8AM! Distribution of one month of food supplies, using Fidya and Kaffara funds, to fifty poor families, some coming from great distances. We proceed toward our 2nd stop of the day, mass marriage of 75 couples. We reach before schedule and wait for the couples to arrive. YY shares his initial experience in Afghanistan; I can now appreciate the challenges after experiencing the better piece of the pie myself. Throughout our visits we are constantly bombarded with requests and help for different needs. These are most difficult moments; people with expectant faces and humility in their requests. CAI cannot help them all, obviously, but YY promises to try, if they will participate in joint funding, CAI will try getting donors. Ya Allah! The connection I feel with these people, simply because of my shared love of Ahlebeyt (A) is definitely a feeling I cannot pen, especially when many of them are children of Fatema(A).
Grooms and brides show up, Quraan is recited, speeches follow. I ask WM if I can expect a wedding cake, especially since dessert has become a fantasy during this trip. WM smiles; alas the waleema is simple but delicious naan, rice and lamb.
We set out for Yakowlang on schedule after Dhor prayers for yet another 4-½ hour journey. After a visit to a local hammam, we are guests at Jamsheds (a local businessman and great logistical supporter for CAI) lovely house, a royal treat, nothing less than a 5 star hotel; clean room, comfortable floor beds, great food...truly a great host.

Day eight begins with two-hour drive to Sachek. I feel my body giving way and pass out throughout the drive but wake up to a beautiful sight of the new clinic. This was the first clinic by CAI. The new building stands besides the old one and it has the best facility out of the three, a much needed one specially in an area where people travel for hours to come see a doctor on foot or donkeys. After a through inspection and minor suggestions, we proceed with the opening.
Being a Friday the clinic is closed, but the sick still try their luck. While we are checking inventory and accounting, two critical cases arrive. A six year old girl, constantly moaning in pain with each breath.  The doctor suspects acute hepatitis, suggests she be taken to Bamiyan city. CAI donates the $100 expense she needs for her travel and treatment. The second patient is a 16-year-old boy with a cracked spine; it’s a wonder he can walk! He needs to be sent to Kabul for surgery; again CAI comes through. There are many such regular cases and Alhamd’Allah CAI donors have always come through. We head back to Jamsheds house, as we will fly out of Yekawlang tomorrow; our chartered flight arrives at 7:20 am. (You must see a pictures of this airport).

This trip was surely not easy, but made bearable by the great company of YY, AJ, WM, BR and DAH. The local CAI team truly goes through great lengths to implement an excellent and successful logistics and operations. Though I met them for the first time our bonding and connection was no less then that between brothers. Insha’Allah, until next time...

Shaida Hussein Bhayani – Houston, TX