Sunday, June 2, 2013

Afghanistan Once Again – Part Two

...continued from Afghanistan Once Again - Part One:

Back to Nili airport and off to Yakawlang!

The unholy hour of 3:30 strikes again! Our alarm clock is none other than Yusufali himself. Somehow he is always first awake and manages to find a place between snoring heads to place a jaanamaaz! We take turns to do wudhu and only few can join him in jama’a. While some prepare breakfast, three of us head up a small hill next to the clinic for sunrise exercise; food tastes a lot better when the body actually needs it.

Later, it’s another two hours of wadi / rock bashing in Sher Hussain’s 4x4 van. The route is mostly uninhabited; we pass few children going to school initially, the rest of the way is boulders and we. Some rocks seem to tell tales, how eras of frigid and windy weather shaped them. I cannot help but wonder how this weather affects children here.

We reach Nili town, spend a few blissful minutes at an antiquated Internet café but are summoned to the airstrip in a huff – our chartered Pactec flight is running ahead of schedule. Off we go to Yawkawlang, to the third CAI operated clinic in Sacheck. The flight is an adrenaline-pumping treat; the pilot dives steep, then flies vertical about four feet above ground before lifting into a steep climb, turns around and makes a rather bumpy landing. This dramatic maneuver is to ensure there are no large rocks or animals on the rarely used landing strip.

Jamshed is there to drive us to the clinic in Sacheck. As we approach the clinic, we notice some retreating students; Jamshed explains they were expecting us earlier, some waiting at the clinic few hours to meet Yusufali but now returning home disappointed; its Zohur when we reach the clinic. A program ensues soon after salaat with thank you lectures, poems and loads of requests. Engineer Bashir takes the microphone and stresses the need to stabilize the situation in Sacheck for continuity of clinic services and other projects like this.

Dr. Zia Afzal, our resident doctor, says he daily sees around hundred patients despite the fact another NGO clinic is closer to Yakawlang town, some two hours away. This is because of superior quality and reliability of a doctor and medicines at CAI clinic. We learn doctor Zia (like Dr. Sardar of Uzmuk) has recently married and intends to settle in Australia in the near future; that means CAI is looking for three doctors – Dr. Asif has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders.

A staff meeting proceeds where various issues of the clinic are discussed. A very important point Yusufali emphasizes is funds to run this clinic are donated from regular hardworking Momineen – so the need to safeguard every every dime wisely, carefully, judicially. It is well received and I think the staff are left with renewed zeal.

Yusufali, Wasi and Basheer break away from the group and inspect construction of a new adjacent clinic building. Yusufali informs me all the work seen completed (in the photos) was achieved in just a month. The construction underway is the very first clinic built by CAI; all others operate in hired mud-houses.

Herat – the pearl of Khurasaan

We spend a most hospitable night at Jamshed’s residence in the village of Yawkawlang; enjoy the best dinner of the entire trip here. After another 3:30 morning climbing another hill, and bathing in a pubic hammam of Yawkawlang, we head back for the airstrip. Though it makes no geographic sense, we fly from Yawkawlang, to Kabul (eastward) and then to Heraat, the very west of Afghanistan (bordering Iran); it is a cost driven decision. Heraat is known as the cultural and educational center of the historic Khurasaan, the pearl of Khurasan.

The next morning (here fajr is at 3:00 am, but we are allowed some rest after salaat) we start with the first orphanage constructed by CAI six years ago; Imam Baqir (A) Trust of Kuwait manages it. There are some thirty orphans here; this number will dramatically increase once new admissions starts later. CAI sponsors English and computer tuition teachers plus daily milk.

Al Zahra Township is a set of hundred houses built by CAI for sadaat families; all but four are occupied. We grab the chance to enter one home to photograph the inside. Each house is nearly identical with a room, attached hammam, kitchen and hall. The toilet is outside in the veranda, following local custom. There is an empty plot of land next to it that is being considered for a masjid or an orphanage.

We spend the next hour trying to identify a piece of land nearby that is for sale. CAI is trying to locate one close to a good school so the girl orphans can walk to it. Since there are no official deeds to land in this part of Heraat (the outskirts) it is difficult to identify who owns what land.  Unfortunately, after much running around, we learn a plot for sale we like is not suitable, and quite a lot more expensive than initially thought; the idea is abandoned.

We proceed to Imam Baqir ul Uloom School where nine hundred students study here in two shifts. The school is the second of its kind run by a local Aalim and is yet to gain complete recognition by the authorities so it gets no financial support, unlike the first. Yusufali asks the manageress (Khanum Moosavi) what the school needs most urgently so CAI pledges a high quality computer for the administration office to manage the records of the students, print out study material for photocopying etc.

Our next stop is near a busy marketplace – a gigantic building which seems to be a part of Iran more than Heraat, with yellow brick walls and blue tiled calligraphy; it is Madrasah Ilmiyah Sadeqiya. Here we discuss more about the second Baqir ul Uloom school grim situation and Yusufali commits to paying six months rent. After praying in the largest congregation I see in Afghanistan, we meet twenty students who have been sponsored by CAI to study in Sadeqiya. These hail from Talibaan controlled Helmand Province, where minority religions are not free to practice their faith. CAI aim is to educate these in religious / secular subjects so they can return to Helmand and be catalysts for change. A series of question and answers follows between them and Yusufali with Bashir as the interpreter:

Yusufali: Are you happy here?
Nod of heads.
Yusufali: Do you want anything else here?
Now the heads move the other way – surprisingly they do not want anything more.
Agha Jibraeeli adds the students get everything that they need here – stay, food, drink, books and stationery.
Yusufali: Do you miss your parents?
A child: yes, but we prefer to study here. And we go home sometimes.

A teacher requests more CAI sponsored students. Yusufali suggests we should discuss after this current batch completes a year of studies. There are requests for water wells in Nauzad, Helmaand and a few more wells in another province near Helmaand; Wasi briskly takes notes of the requests. They ask how long it will take for Yusufali to make a decision; to my astonishment, Yusufali agrees to four wells immediately, more depending on funds; Wasi is not surprised.

Before we head to the airport for Kabul next morning, we make a quick trip to a bakery that is run by a recipient of CAI micro finance loan. It is doing very well and the loan is paid back on schedule. Yusufali makes a wish of the young gentleman – I want to see multiple branches of the bakery in various parts of Heraat, in Kabul and all over Afghanistan. These bakeries should then financially help CAI projects in Afghanistan.

Once out of Kabul Airport we head straight to the girls orphanage that is run by CAI in Shujaaee’s Corolla; the dilapidated orphanage hosts sixteen little angels. They school at Khatim un Nabieen School and will be studying English at the orphanage by a dedicated teacher soon. It is operated in a rented building that Yusufali is not happy with at all - the kitchen ceiling caved in last winter; even then, it is nowhere close to the standards of the Herat orphanage. Although the ceiling is repaired, there is possibility of other parts of the building giving way during the rains this year, so it is agreed another location be pursued and the orphanage relocated into before the rains. Within three years insha’Allah, funds permitting, a brand-new purpose orphanage is to be constructed.

While uncle Aliakbar and Yusufali proceed to Wasi’s residence to call it a day, Basheer, Shujaaee and I proceed to a slum area called Daste Barchi, just outside the main city. This is where tons of refugees settled during instability of Talibaan war. CAI has built a huge school here that is now run by the government. I cannot believe the numbers students it serves from thirty-six classrooms – nearly five thousand! Before you begin calculating the number of students per class, consider it runs in three shifts. The average of fifty-five is still too high; much more than we are accustomed to.

I also visit a CAI sponsored Hussainiya next to the school. It is an all-inclusive facility with a hall for ladies and gents on two separate floors, a ghusl-khaana with arrangements for ghusle mayyit, toilets, kitchen and a guard’s room. Since no function is planned today, I am limited to simply photographing the facility.

Later at night Yusufali treats us to the best kabab restaurant in town; (I recall this is our first meal outside as such; how we have been continuously hosted by one person or the other) all people who have little in common with us except they respect CAI for what she is doing for Afghans. It is definitely not an individual effort, rather a community that has come together under the leadership of Yusufali to help their own people.

By Muslim Faisal

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