Friday, August 26, 2016

Mast Maula Musaafir

Was it fun?

This is a question someone asks me the other day, after I complete a seven-mile run. It is a question frequently asked by many who I encounter. I guess it is out of politeness and a conversation starter perhaps, because nobody really cares a hoot if I run seven or a hundred miles, yes? Many runners will simply say yes, but I am always at a loss as how to respond. It is never fun in the literal sense, obviously. The feet hurt like hell; the lungs gasp for air, and the unceasing wish is for the torture to end. Soon. I question my sanity sometimes for repeating this routine for the last twenty-five plus years, pounding away around 1,200 miles every year. That’s over 30,000 miles already, more than the distance around the world by about 5,000 miles! It is only when the adrenalin hormone kicks in at about the mile three mark that the ‘feel good invincibility’ perception gets going. Yes, it’s fun then, I suppose. It’s a fantastic way to keep the weight off and be able to eat the kinds of food I love. More importantly, running helps me meditate for almost the hour it takes me to complete the seven miles, think over life’s challenges and focus on possible solutions.

Runners, according to a Runner’s World magazine study, have a different mindset than most sedentary humans, only because the running process releases unique rousing hormones that affect the brain’s discerning process; one reason, according to the magazine, runners perceive pain only at a much higher threshold. Runners also tend not to take regular pain medication, even at an advanced age, and the dying process is more tolerable.  I can vouch for the pain medication but will have to wait for the dying part.

This lady, who asks me if running is fun, hails from Holland and surprisingly, to me, a Muslima.  I meet her in Mumbai some time ago at the same hotel I always stay in, The Leela. She is almost sixty, fit as a fiddle, and on an adventure of a lifetime. Her husband, a goora, leaves her for a much younger woman. But instead of lamenting and mourning over the jilt, she waits until her only child, a daughter, marries and then she takes off. Dipping into her savings and a generous divorce settlement from the wayward ex-husband, she buys the finest bicycle money can buy and begins cycling, not looking back. What’s so special about that, you ask? Well, Raihana, her name, has no destination! She pedals away on her bike wherever and whenever she desires, with no planned destination. She stays back in places she likes and moves on when she tires. She has been all over Europe and is now in India, planning to tour Asia until she runs out of money or drops dead.

These people are called Mast Maula Musaafir in Urdu, a phrase I pick up from a Bollywood movie, I believe. I envy Raihana for weeks until Allah slaps me around silly and reminds me that He has bestowed me many similar favors. He cannot present all His creations the same adventures, but His giving is always there, in varied means. So I wind up the envy and look at the opportunities Allah has bestowed upon me with Comfort Aid International. It is impossible for CAI to have achieved the levels of success without His helping hand. Period. 

As I turn the last few chapters in my life, I want to dedicate my efforts towards two critical goals within CAI operations - orphan care and education opportunities for the poor and destitute. CAI has about 460 orphans that directly or indirectly benefit from continues CAI donor support. Since Allah has repeatedly admonished us regarding the care of orphans, this benefit must continue or even expand. As I must have earlier asserted, my third novel will, insha’Allah, publish in about a year. Chocolates From My Beloved (title subject to change) will insha’Allah raise US$100,000 (hopefully more) towards the care and upkeep of these orphans. I want you to purchase an EBook copy of this novel for US$50, or a print version for US$100. You will have tons of fun reading it, but even if you think the book stinks, you will have done a splendid deed. So look out for excerpts of the novel coming your way soon insha’Allah. All proceeds (100%) of the book sale will go towards this cause.

An uneducated community is shameful and unacceptable. I assume I am greedy when I ask Allah to grant CAI at least twenty-five schools before I die. Why? He gifts thirty-eight so far! And the restoration of three dilapidated schools in Zanzibar, one in India and two in Pakistan. Now, I want Him to grant CAI at least twelve more for a total of fifty. I’ll be one satisfied banda then. I promise!

Imagine, the existing combined student strength of CAI donor schools is about 23,000 any given time. Even if we don’t count new enrollments from this cycle, that’s 23,000 children with a first-time education opportunity. That’s 23,000 humans, as parents, who will never allow their children to be illiterate. Assume, at a minimum, that 10% of these students break through and attain university status. Think of the potential! It takes but one or two of us to change the world and the human mindset…

CAI, with your continued help, can achieve this feat, and I can die having fulfilled my desire. I am not selfish, honestly. We’ll face Allah together, you and I, hand in hand. On the Day of Judgement and beat our chest in unison with pride, our heads held high. We were so-so in following your commands Lord, but we were mindful of your orders regarding the orphans, we’ll plead. And we were mindful as well, in educating Your creations, Allah. So that they could break the cycle of poverty and live dignified lives in Your service.

The orphans and widows and school children will all attest to this fact and Allah, who is Just, quickly Pleased, extremely Forgiving, abundantly Generous and eternally Merciful must keep His promise and gladly open that almost unattainable Door.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Vancouver – A Workout Vacation, Sanenes Included

I promise my teen daughter Zainab that I’ll treat her to a snazzy vacation if she has nothing but A’s in her first year of high school. She delivers, except for two Bs. Close enough. So I swap Emirates miles with Riaz in Vancouver and we are on our way flying Air Canada, to the pretty city. Air Canada is so much more refined than the other American airlines, I feel. I guess it’s their experience in catering to a much more multicultural clientele. Regardless, the crew treat us like VIP’s we aren’t. The flight transits through Montreal where we must clear Canadian immigration and customs. We face a tall, dour looking Quebecer woman officer who regards us as if we are a couple landed in her otherwise palatable bowl of soup.

And what is your business in Canada, she asks, turning the pages of my passport stamped full of Afghanistan and other unsavory visas.

I want to joke that I want to meet Justin Trudeau in Ottawa but decide it won’t sit too well with her temperament, so I state the truth; vacation. She regards me doubtfully but then looks at Zainab and decides I am harmless and lets us enter Canada. It is a five and a half hours’ flight to Vancouver from Montreal, did you know that? Geez!

Riyaz, the profusely friendly and generous host, meets us at the airport and drives us to the Sutton Hotel in downtown Vancouver. The city is an immediate delight; immaculate, well planned, multi-cultural, friendly, courteous, safe and much more – yes, all that. And expensive. Vancouver is in British Columbia, or BC. The residents sometimes joke it stands for Bring Cash; they jest not. A fifty-year-old home, no more than 1,500 square feet, can sting with a US$3M price tag. It’s the Chinese money; everybody tells me; parked here for safety.

There are tons to do in this city, but since both Riyaz and I are workout enthusiast, I agree for a six-mile run early the next morning. I am ready for the run at 06:30, but realize it’s drizzling. So I call Riyaz to inform him, in case he hadn’t noticed.

So, he says, nonchalantly, I’ll borrow you my raincoat. Come on down.

Rain is almost like grass for Vancouver residents; part of the landscape, not something to fret over, especially for recreation. Every hotel has courtesy umbrellas; all I have to do is return it eventually. Riyaz stays just about two blocks from the hotel, so I make it in less than ten minutes, slightly shivering as it is about 59F; Orlando was 96F yesterday. The six-mile run is invigorating, the light drizzle and mist not a problem in the raincoat. The terrain is a mix of asphalt, dirt, and grass. The city streets are probably the most user-friendly I have seen, to pedestrians and especially to bikers. Dedicated lanes for cycles and vehicle courtesy towards walkers make it a delight to walk, run or bike – no excuses. So the streets teem with people, walking, running and biking, young and old. A bike ride of over 23 miles with Riyaz and his friends one morning throughout Vancouver is a highlight of my activity. We ride through some of the most expensive real estate in this world; prices in the range of sixty plus million C$ for a not very big home! But we also ride deep into forested woods, huffing and puffing up steep hills and down again, the cool breeze making my invisible tresses dance manically, making me feel like a teenager all over again.

We eat, of course. A lot. We meet Riyaz’s wife Sukaina and his mother, with whom we have dinner daily. One such destination is Jambos, a restaurant famous for its Indian style E. African fusion foods. So famous, three Canadian ex-prime ministers have eaten here. Sautéed grasshoppers, or Senene in Kiswahili, is part of the menu, and I order some. But these, though palatable, are starving skinny, with very little meat in them, a far cry from the plump, juicy ones I had at Anar Visram’s place in Bukoba. I would have thought the reverse would hold true, no? Maaha Zainab remarks that they taste like roasted papads; Riyaz tries some but is not impressed; the others politely decline.

The week flies by, as is the case when there is so much fun. We work out almost every day; Riyaz and I and Sukaina and Maaha Zainab, just so we can splurge later. Riyaz lends me his Smart Car, a tiny toy like vehicle that zips along with surprising speed and is agile in parking almost anywhere. There are a bunch of these in Vancouver, operated by Car2Go, offering a novel concept in car rental - rent is by the hour; the car can be picked up or dropped off anywhere in the city. No going to a rental company, no parking fees, one way or return and just drop it off anywhere.

A visit to the Khoja Masjid in Richmond is wajib, so is one to first cousin Shamim and Murtaza Walji nearby. Shamim and I literally grew up together in Arusha and Tanga. I still remember stealing five T shillings from Shamim's pocket money and splurging it on sugary scones at the cake shop at Muzaffer Guest House in Arusha building. Sorry Sista, hope I am forgiven, but the scones were yummy. Burb.

We round off our final two days with a climb to the top of Grouse Mountain and a visit to Victoria Island. The 4,000 feet climb is taxing and requires a lot of calories. I am concerned Zainab might not make it to the top, and I’ll have to turn back with her, but she makes me proud by completing it.  Our final day is spent in Victoria, across the water in the Pacific Ocean. We experience first time take-off and landing on a sea-plane, landing in Victoria thirty minutes later. Victoria is a stunningly beautiful island, surrounded by an amazing assortment of colorful flowers and roses and lots of sea animals, including killer whales, which we are lucky to see many.

Vancouver is home to the University of British Columbia, set in a scenic landscape of 30,000 plus acres of prime land granted to the University by the State. The place is massive and impressive and requires above par grades for entry; my hope is Maaha Zainab will consider this place for her degree program.

You might err to think the British Columbia government is paying me to sing all these praises; I am simply awed. Thank you Riyaz, for a one in a lifetime treats.

The rains hold off the rest of our stay but pour as we are about to take off for back home. What luck! Alhamd’Allah.