The cute WestJet Airlines stewardess asks me if I want to something to drink, so I ask for black coffee. I’ve just had a spicy guacamole jalapeno veggie sandwich so bitter coffee with complimentary cookies sounds might fine to me. The lass’s smile is infectious, so I take up the courage to ask for another pack of cookies. She bats her kholi clad eyelashes towards me and flashes a perfect set of snowy dentures.
‘Why, of course, sweetheart, you can have as many as you want!’
I glow scarlet as she hands me three packs. My, oh my! It’s been decades since anybody has called me a sweet anything. Feels nice. But then she punctures my puff by using the same term of endearment on the grossly overweight dude seated next to me, who seems to be having breathing issues due to his size. Oh, well.
Canadian stewardesses are better trained in customer service, I think, more than their US neighbors. I remember asking for an extra pack of peanuts once on United Airlines and the snob, in a loud and offensive tone told me to wait until all the passengers are served before she’d consider giving me extra. This was in an era when the poor peanut was not treated with the allergy stigma it is today. I’ve always had courteous treatment from the Canadians in general. Cultural diversity?
I am going to frigid Toronto for a few days. It seems 50% plus of my time as CEO of CAI is now spent on compliance issues, making sure the IRS is happy with our reporting and obedience. The pale hearty Canadian lady immigration officer regards me and then peers at my passport photo suspiciously.
Lost some weight, have we? Like traveling, don’t we? Is all this travel personal or business? What do you do?
She thumps my passport with exaggerated gusto and waves me through. My body goes through severe shock as it adjusts to the senses numbing 30F outside the terminal; I was in balmy 80’s just a few hours ago in Sanford. I sleep in a cozy room tucked away in the basement of my niece Fatema and hubby Shabbir Alibhai’s home in Richmond Hill the next three nights. Shabbir’s mom, Nargis Aunty, is a soopa cook, her spicy methi parathas are heavenly, and it takes an act of supreme jehaad to deny myself extra helpings.
I spend the three days in pursuit of making CAI regulatory compliant, donor meetings and enlightening two Khoja communities about the plight of the hapless Rohingyas of Myanmar (Burma), probably the most oppressed people in the world today; both Masumeen and Jaffari Centers agree to let me address their members. So, I present the case of these pitiful peoples at Brampton, under the evergreen counsel of Sheykh Jaffer Jaffer on Thursday; thank you Zuhair Ebraheem, for arranging it all. I present the same case at Bathurst next day, after Jooma; thank you Mehboob Shivji, for weaving the magic wand. Isn’t it telling that both these Canadian jamaats are (always) so open minded and progressive, ready to consider the world outside of their comfort zone; I pray that other Jamaats, closer to me, would want to be similarly enlightened.
Icy flurries and snow move in the second day of my visit, and I don’t like it. At all. I wear thermals, warm clothes, a scarf, an overcoat, cover my head, wear gloves, clear the snow from the car, scrape the ice from the windscreen and windows, shivering non-stop, wait for the car to warm up, drive on the snow very cautiously as if treading on eggs…this life is for the birds. I’m glad I fled both Toronto and Minneapolis when I did. I go workout in the excellent gym at the Bathurst center early all the three mornings. It has state of the art fitness machines and weights, sauna and steam rooms, separate for women and men; strangely, they are sparsely utilized. I get to eat sweet yellow-shell passion fruit after a long time; had them last eons ago; Fatema buys me some; at C$1.50 each; they are pricey.
I don’t know what they are called in English. We used to call them matunda back home in Tanzania. My daughter Maaha Zainab calls them snot-fruit, since the insides resemble a runny nose?
The best way to consider the future is to look at the past. So I spend some time chatting with Nargis Aunty, Shabbir Alibhai’s mom. She tells me stories from the past that has a soothing effect on me; I could spend hours talking to her and not tire or bore. I also meet Khairoon Bhabi; the lady tended to me when I was a vulnerable teenager and bestowed on me a motherly love I yearned for, ages ago, away from home, studying in Moshi, Tanzania. And I spend an enjoyable hour with my ex-mother in law, Shereen SS. Even at 82, she is all class - prim and proper, bless her. If you are ever in the dumps, spend an hour with her, and you’ll almost die laughing; your mood upped a million times over.
Leaving Canada, at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, the US immigration officer notices a Myanmar visa stamp on my passports.
Oh, she says, I’ve been to Yangon. What a beautiful place. What wonderful people.
Since the place is almost empty, I tell her about CAI and that I am on my way to Burma next week to feed the hungry Rohingyas.
She shakes her head. Yes, I’ve heard of their plight. Very sad. Welcome home and have a safe trip.
I’m glad I am returning home; there is a snowstorm headed for Ontario in the forecast for tomorrow; I’ll be depressed if I am here. The flight home to Sanford is uneventful.
I’m heading towards the Bangladesh / Myanmar border next week insha’Allah. CAI has arranged five trucks of rice, to be distributed to the oppressed Rohingya refugees trapped there, a simple act that will, insha'Allah, bring some solace to them. You can pray for them, of course, but if you feel charitable, please donate towards their cause at www.comfortaid.org.