Towards the end of last February, when Toronto is in a midst of a deep freeze, I get a call from my fellow Tangawalla and Orlandowalla – Ali Yusufali of CAI, asking me what was I up to. I did the usual complaining about the cold until he asked me if I would be willing to travel to Afghanistan and Iraq to inspect the various CAI projects on his behalf. I quickly agreed; anything to get out of the Canadian cold!
My enthusiasm was somewhat tempered when he said, Zuhair, that’s great, please go online and fill out the visa application for Afghanistan and Iraq… it’s a simple process… you will get the visas pretty quickly. I will make all the ground arrangements for you. You will be travelling with Abbas Jaffer, a CAI Trustee from NY who has been to Afghanistan before. Take some time off work… 2 weeks max and all the best. Click! I could not work the rest of the day as my mind was travelling over a 1,000-miles per hour… what have I landed myself into… what if I make it to the evening news on Global and CNN…Who is Abbas Jaffer… will I have to be babysat??
I go home and tell my wife and children it's been a very cold few weeks and I am off to get some sun; they all looked at me weird, probably thinking how selfish of me not taking them along. Once I declared that I was off to the warmer and hotter conditions of Afghanistan and Iraq, my children gaped at me like I had gone bonkers, with my wife giving me a look that said… We need to talk! RIGHT NOW!! After the dust settled at home, the holidays approved at work and visa applications done, I get a TripCase notification reminding me that my ‘Kabul’ trip starts in 20-days. On Wednesday, April 15th, I say goodbye to my family who still think I am nuts. When my wife and daughter bid me farewell with teary eyes and my son gives me another tight goodbye hug, I know they are worried. I assure them this is no holiday, and I was off to help the Almighty’s creation and HE would take good care of me. They seem to relax a tad as I take off on the first leg of my Kabul trip.
Friday, April 17th - I meet Abbas Jaffer of NY at the gate of Dubai airport, for our onward flight to Kabul. Abbas turns out to be a gem of a guy, very genuine and totally down-to-earth. He explains what to expect at arrival in Kabul in detail.
We meet our hosts – Wasi and Bashir – both Engineers, both school and college mates, both working with CAI, both live next door to each other, both speak English fairly well and both extremely likeable beings; they give me a comforting sense of security and satisfaction that we will be well taken care of. Dr Assef, CAI's medical administrator, joins us for dinner later that day. We make plans for next day’s travel to Nili in Dykundi Province, in the heartland of Afghanistan to open CAI's latest school (18th) as well as monitor various medical clinics and attend a mass marriage ceremony for 50 poor couples that CAI assists in starting a new life.
Saturday, April 18th – We are at the outskirts of the airport next morning when our hosts receive a call from the UN agency that manages chartered flights informing us the flight to Nili is cancelled due to heavy rains. Nili has a dirt landing strip which has turned to mud due to the rains. After several phone calls, we are re-scheduled for next day, at 7:00AM.
Our next stop is to conduct a spot audit at the offices of CAI. While at the office, we meet an Afghan gentleman with his young daughter in tow. He and his daughter humbly sit on the floor by the door and speak to our hosts Bashir and Wasi. My heart sink when I learn that the 9-year old daughter – Sitareh (meaning star) has been diagnosed with leukemia recently and the father had to leave his village and come to Kabul to seek medical attention for his daughter. With help from CAI, he is able to pay for medical services and medications. Sitareh’s brother is found to be the perfect bone marrow donor and Insha’ALLAH, this young girl will be able to get bone marrow treatment to cure her.
Sunday, April 19th – We are back at Kabul airport bright and early and as we make ourselves comfortable in the small ‘Departure’ lounge, the pilot walks in and advises that the rains had not let up in Nili and the flight was cancelled once again There is nothing that can be done, as the final decision to fly depends on the pilot and he will naturally not take any chances. What an utter disappointment! We would now have to re-schedule our entire trip.
We spend the rest of the day visiting the site of the new Sakina Girls Home / School project. The new building will accommodate 60 orphan girls in the walkout basement and a school on the top 3 levels with staff and admin offices. The school will be a private English-medium school, open to the paying public and the income generated from this venture will able to support the expenses of the school and the Home. Insha'Allah.
In the afternoon, we visit the current Sakina Girls Home. Here are 30 girls, ranging in age from 5 to 14 and we meet with the Administrator and the part-time English teacher. The girls expressed how pleased they were at the Home and how during one school vacation they took on extra studies to be able to skip a grade at school. One of the girls told me that her ambition was to become the President of Afghanistan, that she wanted the Afghan people to be able to live peacefully, that she wanted to provide education to all. These are the lucky ones who has made it to SGH. I am sure there are countless many in this war-torn nation that do without all the basic necessities that we in the West take for granted.
Monday, April 20th - Although our trip is cut short due to the weather, a special bond has been developed with Wasi, Bashir and Dr. Asif and it's sad to say goodbye to them, but deep down I feel that I will be back in Afghanistan to see the progress of the great work being done by them and CAI.
April 22nd - On arrival in Najaf, Brother Shakir meet us at the airport. After checking into a local hotel, we head off to pay our respects to the great personality - Amir al-Mumimin, Ali ibn-Abu-Talib (A.S.).
April 23rd – Our guide Br. Shakir has the full day planned for us; we will visit a housing complex for refugees and water-well projects, all located on the main highway between Najaf and Karbala. The housing complex built by Comfort Aid in conjunction with Wabil of the UK is a small 30-unit complex. Each home has a small garden area in the front and a living/sitting/dining area, a kitchen, one large bedroom and a washroom and running water.
We then inspect 4 water well projects. The project involves the digging of a deep well, installing pumps to bring the water to the ground level from where it goes through a filtration process and then stored in tanks as potable water ready for consumption. The water is available at no cost to the surrounding community and villages. During Arba’een, all the zawaars are benefactors.
As ‘My Trip of Endless Thanx’ comes to end, there are millions of reasons for giving thanx, some of whom I wish to acknowledge:
First and foremost, my thanx to ALLAH (SWT) for everything and every bounty HE has bestowed on me. I know that even if I were able to utter thanx to my Lord with every breath I take, it would not do justice for all the bounties that have been bestowed upon my family and me;
To Yusuf mian – Br. Yusufali of Comfort Aid International for his kind invitation, his immense hard work, his vision and his trust in allowing me to experience first-hand the great work being done by this organization;
Br. Abbas Jaffer – my travel and room partner, and someone who taught me so much. His love for Comfort Aid is immense and his enthusiasm for all the projects was a delight to experience;
Brothers Wasi, Bashir and Dr. Asif – for being such great hosts in Kabul and opening up their hearts and their homes to us. A special thanx to Mrs. Bashir who provided us with such great and nutritious meals;
Br. Shakir – who tirelessly took us to all the projects around Najaf and also drove us to Karbala, enabling us to do our Ziyarats;
Mohamed Walji and Prabhjot Singh Dhanoa – my employers allowed me to take time off work to go on this trip;
Br. Asghar and Sr. Raziya Dhirani, Br. Shams Dharsi, Br. Mustafa Jaffer and Br. Inayat Daya – all of who assisted in various stages to enable me to get my Iraqi visa;
Maz Ismail – for all the hotel bookings from his points in Dubai;
Hussain Esmail of Emirates in NY – for the countless hours he spent on routing and re-routing our flights;
To all my friends, colleagues and family members who thought I was crazy or brave, or perhaps both, to go to Afghanistan, but who all meant well and wished me luck on this trip;
And last, but not least, my wife Munira, my children Imran and Malikah, who encouraged me, backed me up and prayed for me to be able to pursue my passion of helping mankind.
May I request that you please remember all the girls at the Sakina Girls Home in Kabul, the people of Afghanistan and Iraq and also young Sitareh in your daily good duas.
For details on these and other projects, please visit www.comfortaid.org