Caravan of Mercy SSP Jan/ Feb 2013 – Day 4

Fajr Azaan going off.. Plenty of time, have a bucket bath first, killed the hot water, and missed namaz. I don’t feel that bad about missing namaz….

I hope someone from Tabligh comes and gets me to sort myself out…

The caravan is being loaded. Before we depart Moulana Abul Hassan, local trustee of the markaz takes me to the blind school/madrassa opposite. I’m looking forward to seeing people that can’t see… I don’t realise the gift of eyes and I missed fajr today…. I feel I’m just acting living life under a false pretense. Kids are praying in Brail… I can’t help but think they will never be able to use a smart phone… I shake each of the 30 student’s hands… The most gifted people I met…

I tell Moulana don’t forget the ketchup for the BBQ. He rips into me saying you’re worried about ketchup when people don’t have anything to eat…? The touching experience from the past days has already left my conscious. Too much messed up and selfish thinking this morning.

Moulana is frequently giving us snippets of karguzary (stories of real life experiences) from his previous experiences or telling a joke, it seems he has an airplane full of stories and jokes, he tells us in his serious but not so serious manner that when he was in Pakistan he saw a kabrastan (graveyard) 1km long… Moulana Aziz responds and says if it’s full of Pathans then there must be a lot of ‘Jugggrah’ underground there. The lively caravan fills with laughter…

We stop at the gas station and have some Amra fruit sprinkled with spicy powder, and oranges to take away. We drive over Jamuna Bridge, the eleventh longest bridge in the world. Over 4km long. Another knowledge transfer from Moulana Zahruddin, he slightly stutters and speaks in a rhythmic style which, strangely, is really nice to hear him speak. This guy is seriously smart. He does contracting as a webmaster doing programming. He created the web site for Caravan of Mercy. Never studied IT and knows something about everything we have talked about so far. He takes time from his work to simply help. He does not get paid. Sirajgonj is his City but he has been with us from day one and will be with until we leave Bangladesh, I hope he comes India, I hope every Moulana comes with us… Need to upsize of the caravan….

We are now near the Sirajgonj Islamia madrassa and I am seeing vast flat lands, with pockets of natural raised land as far as the eye can see. The roads are always built on high man-made land. The actual flat lands are about 12 feet below the roads. Moulana and Saleh Bhai tell me about the floods during their previous visit, they show me where the water level reached during the rainy season and I try to picture everything around me and replace it with choppy water with a couple of boats with Saleh Bhai and Moulana travelling on one of these boats. I fail to imagine this.

Reached the madrassa, this is where Moulana Talha and Zahurul live… We’re greeted with respect and given royalty status. Quick program planning which finished with Moulana saying juldi juldi (hurry hurry), and it’s time for elevenzies (11am) snack time. They give us fruits and fish! We set off to an island in the Jamuna River to a settlement called Doulatour-chor.

It’s is a big island that has many settlements. .. It’s an half hour ride in a diesel powered boat, the noise of the engine reminds me of the people snoring in my room last night and Suhel, our Sunday league midfield dynamo, slow, skilled and experienced, I expect a phone call from him shortly as soon as this blog is out….. Our entourage are all Moulana’s, about 7 Moulanas (Saleh Bhai included as a moulana) a mufti and 3 of us boosroogs (me, Ronnie and Sajid). The boat has a canpopy in the middle which shelters us from the sun above, it’s like a dining room. The floor, roof and pillars are made with bamboos. We relax in the boats dining room area .the floor is cool, a near warm amazing breeze and an authentic experience. The scenery is beautiful, just slightly spoilt only by the dust in the air.. There is no desert here, it all from the many brick making factories and dry dirt.. Moulana Munshi mentions all the people on the island gesturing his hand all the way from left to right gets flooded and people evacuate the islands. … and have to come and live on the banks (generally on roads built on higher ground) They would continue to live there for two or three months, it’s hard to believe….Where we are going is not an island today..it’s vast land as far as the eye can see…it becomes islands when this region is flooded, if the flood is really really really bad, as opposed to yearly really really bad, then there are no island as well, we have KitKat and Twix bought from Morrisons that my mum and sister packed, never gonna moan when they pack my bag full with food next time.

We reach the island (going to be local and use island for description). It’s a big island. It’s sandy… Could start a resort here, make some money… we have to walk as there is no land transport here. I see a couple of huts on some naturally higher land to the left. That’s where we are heading, why do they settle if they know it floods? Moulana mentions it’s because they can either farm and feed themselves, live and work for others whilst others don’t have anywhere else to go… The land I’m walking on would be under water during the rainy season but right now lentils, rice paddies and peanuts were being grown. This place looks beautiful, dry, light brown and cracked land with rich greenery and crops. Mamagee is recording this whole experience. Not sure how much memory he has on his Chinese Nokia lookalike phone…Moulana notices this and appreciates mamajees enthusiasm and energy, Mamajee tries to educate me on everything that is growing on this land…I learn a lot from him about Bangladesh, language is a barrier though, one word at a time…but I don’t understand why he needs to hold my hand while he talks or walks with me, I’m on an island and can’t run anywhere. From now on I’m gonna try and keep my hands in my pockets. We reach the village resort and climb around 7 feet into the village level. It seems we have just come off the beach and we’re now on the resorts complex, this is a decent size resort complex of 50 by 150 meters approximately. All the homes are plain huts, made of tin, straw, bamboo and cow dung.. Village workers are out to see us but there are no tourist here except us.. If Caravan of Mercy and other charities don’t visit this place then Allah will knows best how the resort would survive. Moulana Talha tells me his home is about a 3 hour walk that way, his parents live there. I ask him what he does during the rainy season. He says we go to my brother’s house in Sirajgonj. Moulana Talha tells me this in the most natural and un-worrying way; An overflowing river flooding his home each year does not affect his mood, worries him, depresses him or makes him live life in state of constant need.. This might be because he is a moulana, but we have observed the poor people and generally poor people here are not sad. They seem content or happy or it’s just not their character express sadness. I think Moulana Talha is poor.. Not just as poor as the other poor people here but my observation still stands. In the UK I think I have security; the NHS, police, social security, job centre and Tesco Express. So the government does not motivate me to be religious or to be appreciating as I have my needs fulfilled, unless, as Moulana previously mentioned, you must make effort on your imaan….

Moulana is seriously worried and concerned (It’s his constant state on this trip) to help and is talking to Mufti Nazirulislam.. I walk on and notice the lambs and goats we gonna give out. They have been delivered here before we arrived. Who paid for the goats to get here? Admin cost or Lillah cost? You can’t use sadqah for delivery cost, the unknowns to me; logistics costs for charities becoming apparent, the need to give supporting lillah or admin cost for logistical costs otherwise try delivering zakat or sadqah ourselves..I’m still looking at goats, they are far more interesting today because they serve a higher and wider purpose than my lamb burger. This bakri (Goat) will provide more help to the Muslim Ummah than I have…Saleh Bhai comes and he tells me families will use the goat for milk to sell or consume. When they reproduce, they will sell the eldest and use that money, but they will not eat the lam or goat with their family.. It’s an asset for them. Emergency asset to cover the cost of hospital fees… Ronnie has caught up, points at a spring lamb and says he wants to bbq it.. cracks me up, but Saleh Bhai is saying the truth, but I find it hard to believe and need a second hearing..

We walk around the settlement, we were taken to a home, the residents is elderly woman looking after her elderly husband…he has problems…she has his problems….but she does not complain… She is only asking for assistance… Not help…I’m negotiating whether to give 500 Dhaka or a 1000… Why am I negotiating with my money and rewards from Allah… I leave without giving anything as I don’t reach an agreement in time…I feel bad. The party has moved on…

I notice a kid here with a 4 inch scar on his chest.. I query this and find out he got this when he went for a swim in the river and a floating bamboo end met his chest.. Saleh Bhai pulls out a Twix from his pocket. He had decided not to eat it earlier on the boat ride but saved it for later to earn rewards on his Twix rather than eat it like the rest of us. He tells the kids to share…did my sister think this packet of Twix will be shared with kids in a village this far away and this poor who have never probably seen a Twix wrapper before. My sister gonna get loads of thawab (rewards) because she simply bought the Twix because she cares, she cared for my trip and to please Allah. I realise just being caring can you get you rewards you will only discover on the Day of Judgment. Allah will account for this Twix in his most merciful and most giving way on the Day of Judgment…I ate my Twix! But Saleh Bhai beat the Moulanas’ on this action. That made me smile. I feel it’s possible that I have a chance to maybe stand amongst the people dedicating their lives to the cause through the mercy of Allah, The Twix story just showed me..May Allah makes us more caring…

After everyone has completed wuzu at the four water pumps in the settlement, we pray Zuhr namaz in the mosque… It’s a tin.7 metres wide by 6 metres depth… There is no electricity in the settlement … The mosque is almost packed…about 20 people.. Moulana and Mufti Nazirulislam discuss sponsoring an imam for this mosque, this mosque does not have an imam,.someone comes for Jumah prayer only..Moulana discusses and decides Caravan of Mercy will pay for an imam and madrassa for kids to learn Quran.If he did not then these people will not have access to islamic knowledge. (Allah knows best)..Who would want to come all the way and be an imam in this settlement, I understand the reasoning… Caravan of Mercy gonna have to pay a higher wage to get an imam, a reluctant imam accepting for the higher wage, It cost more money to get knowledge to the rural areas, the cities are not a problem… Moulana negotiates with the locals, Caravan of Mercy will pay for the Maktabs cost but the poor must get together and help by feeding the imam, each day a different family will share their food with the imam.. Moulanas tactic to get the locals involved. The locals agree, I see them so happy…..they agree to a deal to have less of something they have minimum off for the sake of deen. Islamic education for this village has just been secured… I feel something fuzziness in my nose and I think I might just shed a tear………… But no tears. I’m too strong to be broken by this. It’s not sad enough, defining enough and happy enough… What will it take…. Caravan of Mercy is starting ten Maktabs in this island area.. No way near enough…. There are 68000 villages in Bangladesh. After namaz, the Caravan of Mercy workers do the goat and cow recipient list and begin to distribute… Photo shoot time…the pics make me look like I’m doing loads of stuff to help the poor but done nothing except for taking credit and smiling in pics…Everyone wants a pic taken…it’s sad really I know but it’s enjoyable for me to be here and I want a pic to remember it, and then another pic and then another… I am making the poor stand, a mother, a sister, all poor people hold their sadqah, smile for the camera and I’m in the pic with a tourist grin and the audience will say Masha Allah..they delivered, the Caravan of Mercy guys are doing great work rolling of their lips before saying the ummah of prophet (saw) is suffering and needs my help……I’m getting angry at the situation, I’m the worst from the audience….I try to take contentment in that the pics are needed to prove Caravan of mercy’s accounts and to create awareness abroad. It works for me…

There is small tin and cement building about three times the size of mosque. It is a school built by the Government..but no schooling happens or ever happened according to the locals..I guess the government built it for favouring statistics,…I think the government does not a care about these people, they not even accountable as these people are not on the system…these people are only on the charity organization’s systems.. I know them better than their Government..I feel this way…

We head back and look forward to the boat ride back…relaxing and peaceful..until the workers turn the ‘Suhel’ engine on…

From the river side, back in Sunamgonj, I look back and think that journey took 45 mins because we had a boat waiting…Moulana Zahuddin says the biggest problem is getting pregnant women to hospital during labor …

Me and Ronnie catch a cycle Rickshaw back to current base. We buy three bottles of coke for me, Ronnie and the driver..I think the driver will refund it as soon as he drops us off..

Back at base camp, just been resting for ten mins after lunch and Mamajee is calling me, it’s time to distribute the passenger and transport rickshaws…I rush out…forgot my jacket…Mamajee grabs my hand and takes me to where Moulana is… The passenger and transport rickshaws are lined up..not all the recipients that will get the rickshaws are here. They are in Markaz on 3 days Jamaat. A condition by Moulana before they can take away their rickshaw..we will distribute it tomorrow so today is simply a photo shoot with the District Commissioner,….we take all sorts of pictures..the bike’s handle, wheel, badge, us on the bike, next to the bike, all the combinations possible of people standing next to each other on the left and then right.. The District Commissioner, who had late lunch with us, invites us to his home to eat.. next we pray Namaz…Just finished doing wuzu in the wuzu khana donated by Caravan of Mercy as the current wuzu khana cannot support the load of all the taps being open during busy times..I do salaam with the a kid at the madrassa and next thing I know is 15 plus other kids come and do salaams with me like I’m giving out sweets…Moulana arrives and mufti makes two of the kid do quran qiraat just like that…Masha allah..really nice voice and excellent tajweed even though my tajweed is bad I think I can recognise excellent tajweed.. After namaz we go to Mufti Naziulislam’s house, he has a good covered space. Women are seated. This is where he runs girls madrassa and now a women sewing class. This is the Women sewing class just set up by Caravan of Mercy. Caravan of Mercy will provide the cost of the sewing machine and cost for the instructor… Mufti Nazirulism has provided the space where his parents use to live for this work. His parents have passed away.. There is a sewing machine at the front and the class is going on. Some are widows and some ‘just’ poor, some are old and some are young. They will each be given a sewing machine as soon as they finish the 2 -3months course to avoid them selling it if they were given it today..Caravan of Mercy has provided 30 sewing machines. I’m impressed up, Caravan of Mercy tries to think about everyone and tailors the charity to achieve self-sustainability for all from local stories and experience.. We take photos of us sitting on the sewing machine and have a go on it. A nice laugh. We are far away from the problem of these women right in front of them..

We then make our journey back to base camp, but mufti Nazirulislam wants to show Moulana another flood hit maktab… this time it’s where Moulana Munshi is employed to give Islamic education and leads prayer. I can see the grey tin building in the distance on natural higher ground.. we take a walk to it by carefully stepping down 12 feet-ish and walk along the ground where more Lentils are growing..I know because Mamajee has just educated me… Nothing goes to waste…even the land is used for the period of time it is available and that’s why they live on the same place after the floods. It provides for them a job. They are definitely making use of Allah’s gift at all times. My experience is defining my understanding of Rizk. After around 150 metres we reach Moulana Munshi’s maktab, along side it I climb up to the height of the window of this tin building…I then ask molana zaharuddin..if I was standing here last year, would I drown? He says,..yes.. Scary! Mamajee is filming on his camera…memory has still not run out.. We pray magrib here. There is a good feeling in praying namaz in these difficult or remote places but I don’t take time in my prayers… the floor is too hard.. no carpets… no electricity here….back in the van and Mufti Naziulislam wants us to stop somewhere else…it’s a maktab just for adults! ..most of us either filiming or taking photos….They are learning alif bear ter cer…there are elderly people here too..but everyone over the age of 18…my dad prays quran in written gujerati..I’m touched by this that the elders have not been forgotten. The place is 70% full of students.. Moulana wants to start more of these and is currently putting donation boxes in chip shops and other takeaways in Leicester to sponsor Maktabs. One shop each Maktab hopefully.. Your change at a takeaway could contribute to many people being educated…Moulana mentions he needs to see the areas which needs it most and people that can attend, and other criterias before choosing the fortunate locations to sponsor..I wish I would donate more to make his donation allocation decision making process easier and less stressful and have more people islamically educated ….i-Allah we will….

Back in the caravan…back to base camp hopefully..I’m not tired or sleepy..just can’t process this ‘on the ground reality’ and sad information, had enough for one day.my mind is tired…. it’s nice sometimes that this information is packaged and shaped through my tv channel..just enough to see the damage from a helicopter reporter..be amazed by the view..just enough to keep me entertained, carry a conversation with friends and work colleagues and pretend I care..the best bit is if gets too much I can just switch the channel to sky sports….this caravan channel is too much for me to feel the place, see the place, meet the people, try to understand their life and more, all in one day..Moulana does not let me change the channel..but he keeps us going and I’m standing by him as he is a dedicated servant of Allah and I totally admire his efforts. I’m not getting off the caravan forever i-Allah………Mufti Nazirulislam says lets go to the Sirajgonj markaz and pray Esha namaz there. I don’t care no more.. I’m given the rest of the evening to this work. I have tashkeeled and made intention myself..no more moaning….. The markaz is simple…looks like a rectangle birdcage as I approach it.. I sense and feel the tabligh sincerity and buzz as soon as I enter….peaceful.. People in groups doing taleem or something similiar…me and moulana sit next to each other.. I feel fortunate after today’s experience… There is an elder (Moulana Markaz – I don’t know his name) getting dressed, putting his kafni pants on with skilled loonghi use, I am told by a local he is a Tabligh shoora member. Everyone is looking at us..a brother asks me,where we from..are you here in jamaat…Moulana tells him we hear to do Nusrat, my concentration is going….Moulana talks to the elder (Moulana Markaz)..the urdu too pure for me to understand, moulana is offered to lead salat.. Moulana politely refuses…the elder asks again..it seems like there is a Moulana stand off… Moulana refuses..we are all standing.. Moulana markaz says we gonna wait for somebody to come before starting namaz..everyone in the markaz including us sit down and wait, except the Moulana and Moulana Markaz…the stand off continues…Moulana Markaz specifies to Moulana to sit down .Moulana responds with how can I sit when boosroogs are standing….the stand off ends. It’s a draw…they both slowly watching each other sit down …that’s my interpretation of last two minutes…I can’t concentrate….

After namaz me and Ronnie go to the caravan.. There is another adjacent building to the left of the markaz.. Moulana and Mufti Nazirulislam go there.. I can’t think no more.. Moulana has called us and we walk into the building where bayaan is about to start..we enter a basic room with a bed. The room is the size of two single beds.. Moulana is talking to Dr Yusuf..a Shuura member in Tabligh….they talk about cost of Catarac eye operation, how many can be done in a single day with multiple doctors etc…. Was this meeting planned..or guided by Allah…I’m day dreaming in and out of concentration…..Dr Yusuf says around 2500 Dhakas (almost 20pounds)..that’s cheap! they must do the opt in this building so I ask stupidly…..the price for check up is 100 Dhaka and another 200 Dhaka for prescribed glasses…just a little over 2 pounds.. . ..they discuss aiming younger kids as they have a lot of life years left in them…what a sad conversation but these tough decisions need to be made because we don’t give in charity enough..Moulana, Dr Yusuf and Moulana Zahruddin put in place the next step to provide help for Cateract sufferers and general poor people with their vision…. Dr Yusuf tells us a story, a non-muslim Doctor once told him..that because he is a muslim doctor, and as a doctor, it is his duty to ask and get signed physical and insurance statements by each patient..AND he must also check their spiritual condition as well before any operation, it’s in the definition of ‘Health’ something that Dr Yusuf was not doing.. Dr yusuf agreed so he started to do this and discovered 95% of his patients can’t say the kalimah…

Finally back at base camp… Ronnie cant’ believe the cost of an eye check up and prescription…he works in NHS so this surprises him more…he says its less than the price of a coffee to fix some one’s sight…I agree…next time we go for a costa, have a Caterac coffee……. We hear a 24year old Moulana give Quran qiraat…sounds unbelievable… Time to knock out….tomorrow’s plan is to visit some maktabs, give out 40 rickshaws, 30 nikahs and starter packs and 40 goats or lambs…I’m ready….

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