Thursday, December 31, 2015

The End Of The Road?

I make this public only because my ailment has leaked out and there have been some awkward queries about it. The last thing I want is wild rumors swirling around my health, not that it should be of much importance. I suppose some people I confided in out of necessity unknowingly have leaky faucets?

The doctor seated across me is rather ugly; bald, squat, with heavy myopic eyes that regard me through thick glasses that have dug deep ruts into his nose. There is a tuft of fine hair that grow on his outer ears and some thicker ones that have aggressively made their way through his nostrils. These he plays around with the tip of his fingers while he studies the result of my medical reports in front of him. He must not like what he reads, for he frowns now and then, shaking his neck-less head sadly. What an ugly character, I think again; surely he could have trimmed his nasal hair and not toy with them now in front of me, making my stomach queasier?

The doctor comes highly recommended in Mumbai; his fees surely attest to this recognition. I recently completed fifty-eight years of healthy living and was going through a routine annual checkup when an anomaly surfaced. Since I am visiting Mumbai and the medical services here are readily available and relatively affordable, I have sought professional advice. This doctor put me through several tests and re-tests, wanting to make double sure before he reached some conclusion. He looks up suddenly and snaps shut the folder in front of him rather severely. I tense.

Mr. Yusufali, he says, his eyes large and sad, I am sorry, I have bad news for you. The butterflies in my stomach that are floating around now start flapping erratically and the speed of my heartbeats equals that of cars racing the Daytona 500. Almost. The doctor stoically informs me I have a grave illness that requires immediate attention if I am to live past the next three to five years. He recommends immediate treatment that will last about six months and make me sometimes very sick, perhaps. But it will give me a fighting chance to live for five years, at least. I think not twice and immediately decline treatment, thank him for his review and counsel, and leave. He has a look of utter bewilderment on his face as I close the door behind him. I seek a second opinion, which confirms the first. Is this, then, the end of the road? Gee, after all the discipline of workouts and sensible eating? What a bummer, no?

I have had a few weeks to think this life-changing event through. I will not seek invasive or drug induced treatment, as I firmly believe I have a good chance to live the three – five years without debilitating drugs savaging my body, making me a virtual vegetable. I have so much to do, very short time to do it in and many places to visit before the curtains fall.

I have no regrets, none. I have had an interesting, wholesome and full life alhamd’Allah; been there, done that. Allah has been exceptionally kind and gracious to me, much more than I deserve; He has blessed me with opportunities most people can only dream about. I view death as crossing shores between rivers. There are so many people waiting for me across there; my loving Mama, and Bai, who went so early, so young, and my brothers and other relatives and many friends. And Papa, who I never knew. And my Aimaas (A) of course, if I am real lucky. Or worthy of / in their presence. I am sad I will not be around to play with Maaha Zainab’s kids, and depressed that will not see the twenty-five Afghan schools I so passionately wished CAI could complete building.  Ah well, sixteen built so far is an amazing accomplishment as well, alhamd’Allah. Add in the schools in India, Pakistan, Senegal and Liberia will make that 27! I pray some of the kids from these schools, especially girls, will make it to a more rewarding life. Insha’Allah.

Before death, I want to:

1. Ensure there is a smooth succession to someone who will lead CAI; I am working on that. There is a 4-man Trustee team already in place.
2. Complete all current CAI projects in progress. This will require me to be on the road a lot. I don’t mind; I am at home and comfortable amongst the poor and destitute that CAI serves.
3. Meet as many of you as possible. And thank you for being a part of my life. And apologize if I have rubbed you the wrong way. I am a very straight person, you see, almost like a wayward jaleebi, and I speak my mind. However, I have absolutely no malice in me.
4. Trek in New Zealand. Trekking is my passion, I love it, and New Zealand has some of the best trekking in the world. Never made it there, so this goes into the to-do list. Insha’Allah.
5. Work to complete my third novel that I will try and market, 100% proceeds will go towards the running of CAI’s several worldwide orphanages; hoping to raise US$100,000. I hope you will support this noble initiative?
6. I want your duas for this one, please. For personal reasons, I wish to be interned in Mumbai, India. I know I cannot time my death correctly, but I will be in that general vicinity. Please, please pray that I breathe my last in that city, that my final inevitably painful days are bearable and that Allah, the all Merciful, will forgive my many, many lapses.

So, so long guys, if I do not see and meet with you. I will still write my Blogs as long as I can; we can still keep in touch by email, WhatsApp app or phone calls. Let us please not talk about this dreadful subject when and if we meet or chat. I do not want your sympathies, although I appreciate them. Your prayers I need, certainly.

Fee amaan’Allah.

Note: Good news. The last two tests have both been negative and the homeopathy doctors treating me are very encouraged. I am under close observation and non-invasive intensive therapy. More importantly, approximately all 400 plus orphans under CAI care actively pray for my health regularly. Can Allah deny an orphan's plea?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

No problem. Bhai Bhai, we are, no?

There is, nestled among the old, winding lanes of once upon a time Catholic community of Juhu, a men's barbershop. Here, I can get me a relaxing foot massage and a pedicure that takes care of my very painful - if not timely treated - ingrown toenails, all for about US$5. Now, where in the world would I get a deal like this? Well, in Mumbai, of course! This mega-metropolis, home to over 12 million people, is a shocking contrast between the haves and have-nots. With a growing middle-class, Mumbai can be, sometimes, very pricey. So this foot treatment, for me, is a real good deal.

The salon is some distance away from my hotel, The Leela, near the international airport, but Mumbai now has a super modern and efficient metro system that runs right outside The Leela to a short distance from the salon. The air conditioning in the cabins is set to summer months when the heat, humidity, pollution and mobs can fry your brains, but they forget to, or can't, or won't, adjust it for the milder 'winter' months between November and January. So I curse myself for opting to wear comfortable shorts this morning. I buy a return fare for 75 US cents and begin climbing several steps towards the Metro. A massive cow and her calf, both completely obstruct both ways to the Metro, however. Nobody makes any attempt to move them; rather, they touch the bored and weary animal then their foreheads in reverence and retreat the steps, cross the road and come up from the other side.

Hmmm. Now where have I seen this before? Ah yes, we Khojas do exactly the same thing, with the Zuljana horse. I have seen this with my own eyes at Kesar Bagh in Dongri on Muharram 8th. So this is where we picked it up. No problem. Bhai Bhai, we are, no?

Going down the steps again, crossing the busy and maddening traffic, climbing back up again seems too much work, since I have already run six miles this morning. I contemplate jumping over the animals but quickly discard the thought. Sentiments about eating beef in India and getting killed for it fresh on my mind, I retreat. Fast-fast.

Raju, the child-adult from Bihar, gives me a toothy smile as I enter the salon; his nimble but strong fingers earn him a Rupee Fifty (75 US cents) tip with my every visit. I gather I am the first customer of the day, it being 10 AM on a Sunday and by the sedated look of the place. People in Juhu are affluent; early Sundays are time for sleeping in or eating paratha or dosa breakfasts leisurely.

Kaise ho, Saheb, Raju greets me affably, springing to his feet and getting the paraphernalia ready for the pedicure. He knows I come only for the foot massages, since my head, with its lush invisible mane, needs no maintenance. As Raju works in to ease the aches of today's six-mile run, I relax and enjoy life's small pleasures and fall into a sublime trance. I open my eyes at the rattle of the doors opening; it is the salon owner. Mr. Das wishes me a rapid Namaste but his face sours when he realizes I am the only customer. So he quickly starts trying to change his fortunes by appeasing the gods. There are arrays of different gods, decked in gold, sitting and surveying us all from a specially built shelf close to the salon's ceiling. Mr. Das kicks off his shoes, filling the air with an evil stench of unwashed feet. He climbs on a stool and decorates each god with a bunch of chameli flowers, which helps mitigate the assault from his unwashed feet. All six gods accept the gift, except for one. The bunch of chimelis will not stick to one god, try, as Mr. Das wants. He tires after a few attempts and discards the bunch. He then lights up two candles but yet again, is not his day. One lights up nice and bright, but the other refuses to take the spark from Mr. Das's burning matchstick. Affronted, Mr. Das utters a curse, uproots the misbehaving candle and crushes it between his fingers. He then lights up a bunch of agarbattis. The gods must have forgiven him, as all smolder up, emitting a cloud of pleasant smoke, purging the foul stench of unwashed feet altogether; I breathe easier. He offers the burning agarbattis to each of the gods, muttering a prayer.

Hmmm. Now where have I seen this before? Ah yes, we Khojas do exactly the same thing, at various zarihs. I have seen this with my own eyes at Pala Ghali mosque in Dongri and here too, at HIC, Sanford. So this is where we picked it up. No problem. Bhai Bhai, we are, no?

My good temperament after the pedicure and foot massage is rudely broken as I wait for a rickshaw to take me shopping. A street cur and I both jump through our skins when a wedding band starts up close by with a crash of drums and trumpets; the onslaught is sudden and earsplitting. The cur yelps in fear and scurries away; I try and steady my wildly wavering heartbeat. The wedding party begins winding down the street, causing immediate traffic snarls. There are about fifty people, both sexes, flailing their arms around and swaying their bodies to Bhangra music, which is catchy. Were it not for my (utmost) self-restraint, why, you would have seen me bopping around Juhu that day. The bride and groom are seated high under a rainbow umbrella mounted on a wheeled cart drawn by two smartly festooned horses. The sherwani-clad groom has a silly smirk pasted on his face while the bejeweled and garlanded bride looks around with a bored expression on her face. A plump woman in a sari that bares a generous midriff lifts a coconut high in the air and slams in on the tar road. It's supposed to shatter, but alas, does not. It bounces instead and goes soaring away, ricochets off a parked vehicle and disappears into a neighboring garden. The plump woman looks crestfallen, as if she'll start weeping tears any second. Another coconut is thrust onto her fleshy fingers. Her face clears and she raises her arms and crashes the nut with gusto. Bingo. The nut shatters and people pick up the pieces of white flesh and feed each other. A portion is sent up to the newlywed couples as prasad.

Hmmm. Now where have I seen this before? Ah yes, we Khojas do exactly the same thing, at various marriages. I have seen this with my own eyes, including that of many mines. So this is where we picked it up. No problem. Bhai Bhai, we are, no?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Magufuli / Daladala / Jamtan / Me And Rai

Magufuli rocks – For now

Dar is the same, if not with more unruly traffic. The gajjar chicken, mishkaki and nundu remain robustly lip smacking. Remnants of the recent elections can be seen in half torn posters of candidates everywhere. The victor, John Pombe Magufuli is on a refreshing rampage through all government agencies, firing corrupt officials left, right and center. Like a cowboy on a mission, the guy walks to public departments and kicks butts with a vengeance. He has cancelled national independence day celebrations, banned business travel (pole sana Emirates), printing Christmas cards using public money and holds meetings with government officials with snacks of roasted karanga and a bottle of water (pole sana pricey caterers); many bellies will certainly shrink. Insha’Allah. All good stuff, of course. Culpable corruptors in the business community fret with acute discomfort, look on with shifty, nervous eyes and fervent knuckle cracking.

Let's pray this uchangamsho does not fizzle out. No?

Jamtan? Allahmd’Allah

I am travelling through Senegal for a school project; CAI, yet again, giving me so much. Accompanying me from Dar es Salaam is Murtaza Bhimani and from New York, Abbas Jaffer, who flies from NY to Paris and on to Dakar. Commitment for CAI, this, I say. With senseless mayhem in Paris and Bamako, Mali, I am a bit uneasy for Abbas but he has no issues alhamd’Allah. Kenya Airlines flies us at an unholy hour of 5 am from Dar es Salaam and deposits us at Nairobi from where the flight to Abidjan is delayed 5 hours; we are offered no nourishments. In Dakar, we are guests of Sheffif Mohammed Ali Aydera, a remarkable personality who has done wonders for the poor in rural Senegal.

Senegal has been and is a stable country since independence in 1960. I can immediately see this solidity transferred into the infrastructure and people of the country. Clean well-paved roads, minimal honking and driving discipline of vehicles are evidence of a people matured in self-government.

Aydera’s NGO, Institute Mozdahir International, is well oiled with the local government. Murtaza and I are whisked through immigration and customs painlessly and then deposited into King Fahd Hotel, gifted by Saudi Arabia, which strangely, has enough alcohol and bacon in their restaurant to seriously inebriate and clog ten blue-whale arteries. Abbas is escorted in the same fashion a couple of hours later.

Senegal, West Africa in general, is pricey and I get multiple toothaches from price shocks during our short stay here. Breakfast next morning, which is lavish, I admit, set us three about US$70! Aydara picks up the tabs but still, my teeth protests. We have ways to go so we hit the road and drive about 430 miles towards Kolda, where CAI will insha’Allah sponsor a middle / high school for poor students in the area. Although Mozdahir has set up several elementary schools in the Kolda vicinity, there are no higher-level schools. It is a long, tedious drive, so the night stop at the house of a local Amir near Kolda is a welcome relief.  We are fed a greasy mix of roasted chicken and French fries then given an air-conditioned room to retire - what luxuries yaar!

This place, just outside Kolda, is a Sufi town, subject to Sharia law, independent of government rule. The azaan comes on an hour early, for salaat ul lail. And there is an hour of very loud zikr after fajr salaat. From the loudspeaker. Sleeping is impossible. Smoking can bring about 100 lashes, and it is not smoking banghi or ganja I speak of. Murtaza lights up a cigarette and is promptly reprimanded. Aydara informs us it is only because we are his guests that Murtaza is not having his skin ripped apart now. We depart soon after sunrise. In a hurry.

It is from this point that our trip gets to be really interesting. We stop at a village where Aydara is revered as a saint, with people kissing his hand and chanting Aydara, Aydara. This man, you see, is a Sayyed, his father was a local Imam with mystic powers and aura. The father predicted that his son (Aydara) would bring about a change in the village and country by proclaiming the real mazhab. That prediction has come true. We stop at the grand Imam Ali center, under construction. A man, sporting a portable megaphone, breaks out into different poems about Ahlebeyt (A). He is at it non-stop for hours afterwards.

Senegalese greet each other very much like the Afghans, with anguishing long inquiries of health, conditions of the village, the people, the animals… A typical greeting goes like this:

Sallam aleykum Aydara.
Wa alaikum salaam. How are you? Jamtan? (Is all well?)
Jamtan (All is well).
How are your parents, insha’Allah?
Alhamd’Allah. And your farm insha’Allah?
Alhamd’Allah. And your children?
Alhamd’Allah. And…

And on and on and on. This is not to one person; it is to hordes of people. So all I hear are multitudes of Jamtan, alhamd’Allah, bismil’Allah and insha’Allah for a considerable time.

The village treats us with sheep slaughtered and barbequed that very instant. We dig in like feral savages and fill our bellies with some of the most delightful nyaama choma ever; I feel like a lion after a kill. Burp.

With the poet (very loudly) reciting… Be aale Muhammedin ureefa…, we visit village after village, with centers that have names like Zainul Abedeen, Mohammed Baqr, Fateme Zahra, Kathija, etc. All centers have a small basic secular school adjacent to it. Simply fantastic, makes my day. Sadly, none of them have desks and children sit on the dirt floor. But the fact that they are getting a secular education in such challenging conditions gives me much hope and I pledge 100 desks (one sits three students, $70 each) from CAI to be given to the neediest schools.

We recite zohr at one of these centers, which is packed with both men and women. When complete, an elderly man snatches the bullhorn from our poet and addresses Aydara.
You Aydara, he bellows, you are a noble man.
There is a mummer of assent from the crowd.
You are the son of a nobleman.
Aye, says Aydara.
You are from the loins of a worthy man, proclaims the old man. Aye, says Aydara.
We are your children.
Aye, says Aydara.
We are your flock. You are our guide. You take care of us. Our stomach rumbles without you…

Our trip back to Dakar is long and tiring; 430 miles is not easy to traverse, especially in Africa. We have to break for repose along the way. It is a bleak hotel in the middle of nowhere, full of mosquitos; there is thankfully a mosquito net to keep us protected. A rooster resolutely stops me from sleep, starting up at about 3 AM until his crowing gets lost in the call of prayers. I am so irate; I can easily have him for dinner. We get to Dakar late in the day for dinner at Aydara’s house and a 3 AM flight to Monrovia.

What Aydara and his NGO Institute Mozdahir International is nothing less that remarkable, especially in establishing schools that cater for the basic education of poor villagers. Since this fits in very well with CAI’s objectives, our hand will extend in supporting this extraordinary effort in West Africa, which goes beyond Senegal into Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso and Gambia.

Boe, me and rai all over again

Kenya Airlines is the dala-dala of airlines in Africa. We have no choice but fly this airline. Dar-Nairobi-Abijan-Dakar-Accra-Monrovia-Freetown-Accra-Nairobi-Dar. In less than a week. Enough to make kachoomber to all our body functions. The airport in Monrovia is at least 90 minutes from the city, without traffic. So both Murtaza and I are bushed by the time we check into the hotel booked by a foreign businessman well wisher. So when the hotel menu says it will set us back US$54 for a 12-ounce of local steak, I flip in fury, ready to pop an aorta. The only other option is stewed meat and rice (pronounced me and rai) at a dingy hole-in-the-wall setup in a rough part of Monrovia. Liberians cannot be bothered to pronounce whole words, so comprehension is a constant challenge. The food is palatable. I guess anything is when hungry. More importantly, it is halal, not easy for a visitor to go out and about looking. Monrovia streets are tough, not very hospitable for strangers in the night.

We are in Monrovia for no more than two days, here to audit and inspect an elementary school CAI sponsored. Apart from regular teething problems, the school is running very well alhamd’Allah. I am impressed with the teacher’s English. Why, they can be better than some CAI schools in India most times! Challenges remain, however, with the lack of textbooks that the Education Ministry claims they do not have. Funding permitting, CAI will try and help, Insha’Allah.

We leave for Dar the next day via the Daladala airlines.

Note: It is incredibly important CAI invest in and support secular education projects in the countries involved. Education is the only way out of poverty, misery and more importantly, an open mind. A mind that is balanced, tolerant and accepting of others that live in this world of ours. Allah, the Prophet and our Aemaas would expect no less from us.

View photos here.