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.


Friday, July 29, 2016

In Memorial To Abdul Sattar Edhi – Walking In His Footsteps?


My hero, the person I have admired and wanted to emulate the last eighteen years, indeed since the inception of Comfort Aid International, Abdul Sattar Edhi has died, aged 88.  This holy man, may Allah bless his soul and grant him a very lofty place in Jannah, was a prime example of someone who followed the seerat of our Aimaas (A). He helped everyone in need, no questions asked. He did not ask for an ijaza, did not favor the sadaats, did not care about the discoloration between Sunni or Shia, Christian or Hindu. He helped, bas. Only because he was a real Humanist, in line with our Prophet (S). I will miss him, certainly, so will the orphans, the widows, the poor, the destitute, the sick, the abandoned dead…

Abul Sattar Edhi did not care about politics, about the injustices of world powers, about far-fetched conspiracy theories. He rolled up his sleeves and went to work, aiding and giving. True, he did not give from his pocket, but the abundant recourses he did have in his heart, of compassion and love, he gave with an uncompromising and unrelenting passion.

It is easy to sit in an air-conditioned or heated room, connect on to Facebook and lament about the world's ills. Post photos and or videos of global injustice and cry foul. As long as my ass is safe and secure. And then, when I feel a sense of guilt, marvel at the few and far between individuals who have the guts and conscience to go out and do something meaningful for a change. And sing their praises. Sure, that can be done, because talk and advice (unsolicited most times) are free. I might also take the trouble and attend a demonstration or two to make a stand. Or to see my photos on Facebook later perhaps? Khoob. It’s a beginning. Perhaps?

In India – Seven CAI Projects.

India is probably one of the most tolerant country in this crazy world of ours, in spite of many dark spots of religious violence that has marred the image in the last 67 years since independence. Considering there are more than 100 different religious sects and sub-sects practicing their beliefs in relative harmony, this is remarkable. One of the many reasons I like this country and consider it my second home. There is a sense of bindaas, a commoner, as soon as my flight touches down in Mumbai.

On this rare occasion, I am wrong, thank Allah. Mumbai and India, in general, are blessed with abundant monsoon rains this year, replenishing lakes and potable water reservoirs, giving farmers renewed hope and reasons to smile after a long time. The streets are cleansed of accumulated grime from the last nine months. Cleansed as well is the subpar tar that is supposed to hold most of Mumbai streets together, so the invisible potholes under the stagnant rainwater make the auto rickshaw shudder in alarm, its shocks protest rudely, loudly and my nerves rattle painfully. Alhamd’Allah all my teeth are still intact and healthy; else dentures would be flying about or worse, swallowed. The driver, his scalp shaved religiously clean except for a tail of coarse hair at the apex, curses the Mumbai Municipality employees, their parents and their entire progeny with choice explicit Marathi words. I understand Marathi very little, but still blush scarlet, even through my Allah blessed tan, at the selection of sleazy words he uses.

Flying in an aircraft during monsoons can be unnerving, for me, especially during landings. I want to be able to see the land below me when dropping, but that is impossible during Indian monsoons, until the last few seconds. So the final fifteen minutes or so, when the aircraft slices and rocks through thick pregnant rain-laden clouds will see my teeth clamp up, reciting multiple soora Ikhlaas. I know my fear is irrational, even after hundreds of landing under my belt already alhamd’Allah. Even though I am aware the pilots discern what they are up to with their computers and guiding equipment. Nevertheless, a computer is still a machine… So takeoffs and landings to seven CAI projects cities this India trip are not too comfortable.

CAI sponsored Sikanderpur school is up and running, with the first batch of 75 kindergarten kids in attendance. This school, in a remote UP village, offers poor students, especially girls, whose parents were reluctant or unwilling to send to far-flung facilities, an opportunity towards a quality education. Another CAI sponsored school in Hallour, again in remote UP, is well into its second academic year of excellence in education to poor students hoping for a better future insha’Allah. Our 1,400 student school in Sirsi and the 600 student school in Phandheri are robust, setting new records in excellent grades achievement. CAI built and maintained orphanages, both boys, and girls, in Sirsi and Kolkata, are prospering. Alhamd’Allah. My dream for a technical college for our children who are not academically savvy to progress into college or university settings remains a distant dream. So far. CAI is looking into a new school project in Halwana Sadaat, another deprived area of UP where the thirst for education is intense, that CAI is more than interested to quench if the project passes apt due diligence scrutiny.

At the Zahra Boys Home in Sirsi, the orphans join me in my daily exercise routine, breaking into a sweat after fajr salaat. We have done this bonding every time in my last five visits. This is an excellent opportunity to lose myself in innocent banter and laughter. High on surging hormones after the exercise, we sit and chat; I give them a pep talk about the importance of education and good moral character. Then I ask them what they aspire to be after graduation. To my shock and pleasure, a boy says he wants to be like me. As I gape at him in astonishment, others too, out of politeness perhaps, chime in with similar sentiments. Wow! Do I want to cry or do I want to weep! Even with all these seemingly progressive achievements, I remain, strangely, restless. It is because of this guy Abdul Sattar Edhi, I know. His demise has brought the transient nature of my life into focus again, even though the Quraan admonishes this reminder at me every morning. It has awakened a sense of urgency in me, to do more. I want us at CAI to do more, much more.

We face human tragedies daily; carnages of war, death, misery and unimaginable pain; the cruelty of human on fellow humans, as they shred and burn flesh with bombs, cut down lives with guns or mow them down with trucks. All in the name of a kind and merciful God.

I will try and follow Abdul Sattar Edhi’s model in dealing with this brutality and injustice insha’Allah. CAI will help and aid, with compassion and love, all who are entitled to this empathy and affection. I have resolved to let Allah handle and correct the bigger picture; to deal into why or how or who of these calamities. We at CAI, and I, will roll up our sleeves and offer whatever solace that Allah makes possible our way. It’s the least we can do, no?


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Let’s Call A Spade, A Spade, Okay?

Mullah Mchungu calls after a hiatus of many months. After the hello, how are you, as if I care formalities, he tells me he misses Orlando and HIC in particular. He would love to do a Ramadhan here, eat the greasy iftaari every day, watch Mustafa Yusufali barrage through foolendi with trays of neehari and hear Kassim and Jaabir call out to serve hot chai.

So, he says nonchalantly, you enjoyed Sheikh Nooru, hai? I read your piece. Yea so did I, heard his uploaded videos daily. Great guy. I wonder if the Khojas in Sanford still call him a goolo or ghagho behind his back…

There is nothing to say, so I keep my mouth shut.

So what do you think about this lady that was jumped by the cops in Chicago last year? You guys wake up after a year and now call foul…

When I profess I know not what he is talking about, the Mullah snorts in contempt and ire.

What is the matter with you Kisukaali? I see your posts on Facebook so how could you have missed it? There was this lady all wrapped up in a burqa who the cops in Chicago jumped on. Because they got all jittery and suspicious. But this happened a year ago, and some people picked up the story without checking the dates and made it out as if it happened yesterday, connecting it to hysteria on the tragedy at Orlando! Granted, she should not have been jumped on, and it was wrong for the police to have supposedly strip-searched her. But I find her to be at fault. You know why?

I sigh and roll my eyes. Why, pray tell, Mullah Sahib?

The guy may be old, but he is astute.

Don’t you be nasty and pretentious with me, young man, I can feel your antics all the way here. Why? Because, you fool, if a person is all covered up in a black niqaab, is carrying a bag pack and wandering through the metro system, I’d bloody want her to be jumped, jumped hard and jumped fast. I’d want the police to make sure she was harmless. You do not want to second guess these situations, you want to act, and act pronto. The cops did just that. What if she was an ISIS lunatic and carrying explosives? As far as respecting Islam or human rights argument, that is all hogwash. Allah has not asked our women to wrap themselves in black, look and parade about menacingly. The lady is supposed to dress modestly, nothing more. In the current situation, she is lucky to have not been shot.

But Mulla..., I say feebly. I want to put up a defense for the poor girl.

No buts, not yours nor mine. Let’s call a spade, a spade, okay? She is at fault. We take a hammer, strike our feet with it and then cry foul! What bakwaas. And thank the USA system that she can claim and get redress. Her case is in court; she’ll probably get compensation and an apology. If something like this had occurred in a ‘Muslim’ country, she’d probably be raped and a rotting corpse six feet under.

It’s better I do not open my mouth now, so I uhmm and ahaa the old man, try to steer him away to more pleasant topics. But no, he is in a combative mood and continues.

And now I read about this nut who walks into an Ohio hotel dressed in a thobe like he is in Dubai or Jeddah and gets thrown on the ground and frisked by the cops. Again, I am not condoning what the cops did, but give me a bloody break Kisukaali. Why invite trouble, Baba? He is in the USA, in Ohio, in the midst of all the shootings and killings and other mayhems around the world wrongly attributed to Muslims and he decides to wear a Middle Eastern garb! How much wackier can he get? He is now suing for $200 million. Again, if events were reversed, would he be able to do that in his country. Let’s call a spade, a spade, okay?

Again, I do not say nothing; my life and limbs are dear to me. So the old killjoy continues.

And our maulanas here. Baap re! They think in terms of the Baniyas of India. Let me tell you a funny tale Kisukaali. A young Bania goes for an interview as a bookkeeper. He is asked to answer a simple question. What is one plus one? So he looks around, gets up, closes the door, shutters all windows, comes back and answers. Well, Sir, one plus one can be anything you want it to be! And he is bloody hired!

Mullah Mchungu dissolves in guffaws of laughter; I can hear him cracking up at the other end. In spite of myself, I find myself smiling at his infectious merriment, although I have yet to grasp his funny bone; I await his recovery. He does, eventually, telling me to wait so he can wipe his tears of joy away.

This young Maulana goes up the mimbur and tells me that our ulemas derive their rulings from the Holy Quraan and the Sunna of the Ahlebeyt (A). But, the Maulana continues, they can have all have different end results. Now it that daft or is that dafter. We have the same Allah (S), the same prophets (A), the same Quraan, the same Aiimaas (A), the same hadeeth and yet they can have differing and sometimes contradictory rulings! Now, let’s call a spade, a spade, okay? This is dumber than dumb. Isn’t is surprising we are in the mess we find ourselves in, Kisukaali?

I shiver and look around to make sure nobody is hanging around, listening in. This is dangerous territory and only this old hen can broach it. I stay mum. Still.

Want to stay politically correct, eh, young man? Fine. I have no such reservations. One plus one cannot be less or more than two. Period. Tell these Maulanas to stop using the Banya mentality in religion. It is confusing us! It baffles new converts and is dumbfounding our children who end up in colleges and universities using their common senses. People are making a mockery of us. Islam is a common sense deen, so let us, please, use Allah’s greatest gift to humanity – our common senses.

When I still stay mum, Mullah Mchungu hangs up on me, madder than a wet hen.  But not before cursing me in some colorful language I cannot print.

You are useless, Kisukaali. I don’t know why I waste my breath on you…