Caravan of Mercy SSP Jan / Feb 2013 – Day 8

I wake up after some nice restful sleep for my mind and body, the same kidmat hospitality from the ustaads here. Ustaad Abdul Aleem is taking good care of us. Fresh coconut water and orange juice… After breakfast I go downstairs for a wonder, amazing to think this place started 12 years ago with just two rooms, slowly with guidance and steadfastness it has become a Madressa for 400 kids… over 300 residents. They sleep and eat in the same place. They pray in the balcony hallway, no matter the weather..I’m happy to see this place, a real rewarding satisfaction felt through me, good is being done here, there are about 40 orphans residing in this madressa….I’m downstairs in the small security covered spaced next to the gates, I see a kid sleeping in his fathers lap…Moulana next to him and on the phone, Moulana is discussing with someone about the cost and condition of the kid… The child is ill, the child has lost his vision in a year, suffering from some sort of dry eyes illness (Johnsons Syndrome) which has lead to him being unable to open his eyes so his father must carry his child around with a blanket over his son’s eyes, the child is quiet… I think he is use to his condition….The father does not have enough money for his son’s operation…Moulana takes his details and will try to help iA. The cost is estimated at £1000 pounds.. I know Moulana will help through Caravan of Mercy….Moulana tells the father more important than medicine is duaa… Ask for Allah’s help. . Moulana tells him to ensure he prays his 5 times salah and make duaa…. This is sad…..really really sad…his son cannot see any more within a year, a ‘real’ start to the morning…… the father lives with his mother. Moulana asks him do you take care of your mother. Tells him always take care of your mother… her duaa’s will iA cure this…this is only a test from Allah… anything you need ask from Allah and Allah will provide a way iA…Moulana is trying to educate them…I realise his most important effort with charity. The purpose is to safe guard peoples imaan… educate them…this is all dawat… Giving aid is a means for dawat…we all give dawa..from our characters, posters, books, verbally, dua, caring…its all dawat…if done within the sunnah… I’m emotional from the blind child…May Allah give us easy tests.. I need his guidance for all tests..

We go to the place where we giving out blankets..I say ‘we’ but I’m doing jack,…. I’m just taking credit..I’m getting credit for free…top up here on rewards and mercy from allah..I hope Allah has mercy on me. I’ve been consuming a whale of wealth just on me…and then I want mercy.. Allah is most merciful..I’m still elgible…phew….. This place is where Doctors office is. The doctors building is small, the building is the size of 6 single beds…and within that he takes a small space for his treatment room which is the size of 3 single beds… This doctors’ office only has one doctor…a doctor taking reduced fees of 30 rupees per visit…for people who can’t pay, their fees are provided by Caravan of Mercy…10,000 rupees allocated per month for this…that’s around 120 pounds per month allocated for a village of over 5000 people, the doctors’ office is for all and Caravan of Mercy pays for the poor… Next, a few steps to the building opposite and I’m at the chemist, the chemist is a half filled cabinet… This is the village nhs because people come from far…some from 15km plus to take advantage of the health service in this village..makes me wonder for the people that come far then what do they have in their village… This is ridiculous..everyone deserves to be cared for.. And can be if only we cared..

Next up is my stage show…it has to be..it puts smiles on local faces.…I could them then I’m James Bond and I would be treated the same..I’m nobody to them except someone from abroad..There is not much western connection in this place.. unlike gujarat where there are so many non resident Indians connecting and helping their local village. Our chairs are nicely positioned on the stage.. I need a chair, everyone else should stand..I’ve been suffering so I need to sit… These locals should stand and watch my stage show of giving out blankets to the locals..what an exciting stage show for them… I begin to hand out the blankegs.. first one is an old man around 60, IM HANDING HIM A BLANKET!… I’m embarassed..he smiles with joy, He is happy…next another person around 30..i carry on giving..Im speechless, shocked and embarrassed, I dont want to give it out anymore… pass me some good blankets,.these are pretty lame blankets..but I guess the funds for blankets and the need to spread to as many recipients as possible determines the choice…….i look at the next recipient and it Ustaad Aleem…..He is my age..what a smile of happiness like I’m giving him a prize…. all they are getting is a blanket…some of these only earn 1000 rupees a month.. Time to meet a Haafiz Asjadul-aalam….he became haafiz in 6 months and is ten years old…Masha-Allah…These blankets were given out late..winter is almost over…the funds came late..I was too busy at costa ordering a Caterac coffee…next time I wont delay…it’s not right..it’s just blankets! Oh Allah please forgive me..I’ll try to give…better put in ‘try’ because I still don’t trust myself that I’ll give when I get back..I need to be committed… I won’t put my coffee first…

Next stop is to an open field 5 minutes down the road in the caravan, the sewing machines, cycle transport all displayed in front of the stage..a great set up…better than our weddings.. less than the cost of our weddings..and it’s not about just two people getting married. The sewing machine, cows, cycles, lined up.so strange to see this..it’s new to my eyes..Even though I have done it before over the past couple of days….people’s livelihood on display…recipients watching and waiting, they have got their ticket…They put in an application and it’s either accepted if we give enough in charity or they will wait until we do….it’s a show of a lifetime…I speak to Jehangir…an educated local….a cycle Rikshaw generates an income of 100 rupees a day…a sewing machine will generate around 150 rupees a day…an average of 5 people in each family….cost of rice is 31 rupees per kg for the lowest of low quality…each person needs 600grams per day.. I try to play with these nunbers to try and find the formula…I can’t…then it hits me…charity…we need to give more…we need to give it for their Islamic education, general education and economic development… A motorise cycle Rikshaw will earn a family of five enough to easily survive…but I’m not sure if we want to spoil them so much so they can easily survive…carravan must spread the charity to more people rather than less but also achieving self sustainability ….we are just too busy in our suffering with our mobile phones, cars, matching cothes etc that we just don’t have the time to acknowledge what’s happening here…you need to be here..come here next year.. I’m sitting down next to the stage, at the back side of it…I don’t want to go on stage.. Not this one… I’m a fake.. I don’t give in charity, More of my life has been spending on me and suddenly I am someone that my brother and sisters, mothers and fathers think highly of.. I’m not giving..I’m taking credit…tea man comes over and gives me tea…he has not forgotten me even thogh I’m sitting in the corner away from the stage focus…we have forgotten them.. ignored them, been too busy for them and sometimes not even bothered to discover that they exist…. let’s change iA…for our sake if not theirs…

The cows are given to widows who are on their own… 10 to 17 rupees income from the milk sale per cow per day… That’s enough livelihood for a widow “alhamdolillah a widow will make her day with that” says jehangir… is he for real? I’ve never heard Alhamdollilah (praise be to Allah) said with such reality and belief.. A family of 5 needs around 200 rupees per day to survive, Islamic education and other needs….We need to learn the formula..

They all coming one by one as their names are called out to pick up their livelihood, . lifetime achievement award handed at the middle or end of their lives…Alhamdolillah..

These people, I’m not sure if I’m included but I hope I am with Allah’s mercy, will be given jannah by the most giving Allah, iA.,.reminds me of a hadith Moulana taught me..the poor wll enter jannah 500 years before the rich..will I be hanging around settling my accounts for 500 years, worried for that long which way my scale is gonna tip…..unless Allah showers his mercy on us…No one looks sad here.. they are all happy….Alhamdolillah..

Still sitting next to the stage, Ronnie gives me the ticket slips to hand out to widows once their name are called out..I’m gonna sit and do this…can’t be bothered to stand..too tiring..they’ll come to me and collect their tickets..luxury giving..I do it in the uk unknowingly..putting money in the charity box….epitomised by me here..I’m representing..I’m getting rinsed with self-embarassment in my thoughts.. I feel bad.. selfish..I’m still thinking about me and my feelings…. An old man comes taps me on my shoulder..he has one leg.. should I consider him fortunate?..I don’t know what to think, my thought process is confused. He is asking for money..I tell him “later”…brother Abdbul Gafar shuffles him away ..I’m too busy giving to the poor, writing this blog to put my hands in my pocket…I got big notes only…other people might come to ask…I’ll give him something later iA….please forgive me Allah for my laziness in the midst of giving..I just realise some one is filming me… start acting..pretend to look serious and upset than I am..i have the,luxury of acting..not these people…the rubberband holding my slip is getting loose.. Insha Allah it will stay tight for longer next year when the caravan is back again….not all the women are muslims..it’s the poor…the nation of poor…some of them are better off than others judged by seeing if they are wearing slippers or not…most had slippers..does that make them well off? I’ve just tuned myself to busy my thoughts around the competition of wealth , who is more well of than the next widow and forgetting that they are all poor…shaytaan is right on my shoulder…I’ve given him a good seat on me…..I’ve finished handing out the widow slips..I did all of them.. Be proud of me..i did it all whilst sitting down..luxury giving…

I receive news that our caravan that broke down in Bangladesh is still being repaired and they are still on their way home..Mamajee has not reached home yet…

We hear a couple of ‘success’ stories from previous recipients of Caravan of Mercy donations:

A widow who was given a cow two years ago..today she is no longer begging and able to feed her family, another widow who received a sewing machine, she has stopped begging and is now able to feed her family…another person 62 years old, he put in an application for a rikshaw. Today he recieved his 100 pound Rikshaw…

Another person who got a sewing machine three years ago, today he has 5 people working under him and he is becoming a donator to caravan of mercy..

Caravan gave out 35 ricshaws, 35 sewing machine and 35 cows…Alhamdolillah…Caravan of Mercy is the means of doing great work but there is soo much more to do and so many more places to reach…

The one legged man is stopping us..he wants to speak to Moulana..I noticed he also has one hand…he wants to get his daughter married…he is asking for money, 20000 rupees…the groom family have asked for that amount as a type of dowry..Moulana refuses and says we will help but not here…break the marriage..don’t get her married there..it’s wrong..men give dowry not women…The poor father lingers…keeps asking…it’s too real..too stupid that tradition has overtaken common sense and islam…but he is a father and this happens too often…he wants his daughter married…he says he will break his daughters rishta but is still worried what the village people will say..he travelled far hoping to get help here hoping there will be something for him…

Moulana has asked him to give his name and register with Caravan of Mercy…iA something will be done

We notice people taking home their livelihoods, the cycle transport helping someone take their cow strapped to it, some helping others carry their sewing machine… It’s nice to see this…Caravan of Mercy have helped this area in being the means of providing livelihood and education through these event..

We pray zuhr namaz in the local mosque…it’s less than simple… We have a lunch dawat from a local brother…the food is lovely…the kitchen is an outdoor kitchen…Sajid bhai has a different perspective on this and decides to send the picture of this kitchen to his wife asking if this kitchen will do for their home…it was a clay cooking stove moulded in the ground…

Next visit was a school that just started this year… three teachers who have not been paid for last 6months…the teachers remain for the benefit of the kids.. There are kids eveywhere, on the kids I notice the mixed traditions such as tikka on their forehead of Muslim kids…traditions being confused, accepted and carried out.. the absence of islamic knowledge amongst the older generation resulting in the introduction of confused traditions being instilled into their kids from an early age…. Islamic knowledge needs to be clearly educated to them right now…Caravan of Mercy is setting up maktabs and madrassas and they have plans to introduce an English curriculum education… Whatever size school is built here it will be filled…

We stopped over at a paan shop to get some sweet pan….At a single lane cross road accommodating four way traffic, there is a guy trying to make the traffic at the cross road flow, He has been doing this for past 30 years voluntarily…people just give him a tip as they drive past… Everybody is staring at us as we walk to the pan shop, everybody is starting at us.. Sajid says we stick out like a sore thumb.. Ronnie asks why is that? (With his big DSLR camera around his shoulders)..

We’re back at the Misbahul Uloom Education and Welfare Trust and we have a football match with the kids…5 v 5…bare foot football match…I keep my slippers on…the ground is stoney…Saleh bhai is goal keeper, Ronnie is in defence, me and Sajid in midfield, and Moulana is striker… The kids raw with applause every time we do anything or score… Amazing crowd, most crowded stadium I’ve played in..more people here than the stadium in Dhakka…we win 5 goals to 3 and that’s all that matters…not going easy on them…The kids come and shake our hands..all of them.. I probably shake around 100 hands… They make us feel like celebrities..the kids are soo happy to see us and meet us… An amazing character of these kids.. They are taught so much respect and humbleness here

The lamb has been slaughtered….bbq prep time…. we went to the market and got the grill, chilli sauce and ketchup.. Ronnie has cut some chips and put masala on them.. We’re set.

Tomorrows plan is straight after fajr leave for a village called Teturia to do nikahs…I’m stuffed with food, we’re in the minority…

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Caravan of Mercy SSP Jan / Feb 2013 – Day 7

Last morning in Sirajgonj… the journey of departure is always upsetting… having to say good bye to people that you only have known for a short time but travelling together with a common cause brings us closer quickly

Breakfast is served…my brother would love the food..fruits all the time..fish and prawn all the time…today’s breakfast menu is fried eggs, boiled eggs..Amra fruit, Banana, Cauliflower veg dish, Daal veg dish, Pitta rice dish, Papaya fruit, some other fruit, biscuits, tea, yoghurt desert, water and I’m sure I’m forgetting something..They want us to leave on a full stomach..I just discovered Moulana Abdul’s wife has been cooking for us all this time including today’s breakfast…We thank him and his wife.. She must have been up early making all this and I just assumed it was all part of the madressa kitchen activity, the unseen efforts, the energy of the charity work delivered by the women…

…I hate long good byes..in fact I hate good byes all together…I prefer say nothing.. just leave….. It’s sad…. We are exchanging numbers with the locals….not sure why….having a friendly chat is not possible..I don’t speak the same language. Our good byes are completed. Moulana Zaharuddin, Moulana Aziz and Mamajee coming with us but all three of them plus the driver will return back from the border..

I’m still looking around and trying to imagine, left and right, all filled with water..so is Ronnie..his imagination described to me as the longest bridge ever…

In the caravan we talk about our experience of the past few days, I mention I still find it hard to believe, some part if me still believes that these guys have got together and telling us a made up story of floods..Moulana has seen it first hand….I need to come here in the raining season..i have seen the poor but not the yearly coupling struggles of being poor and flooded..I agree to coming here during the floods and doing this work…..next time it will be less road and more boat traveling for distribution….looking forward to it….tourist character is still in me…

Moulana tells some of his stories…when he was Kenya there was no rain for three years.. animals in the field just dried up…a person lost 300 cows thru water starvation…A 75 year old man said he has not seen anything like this in his life.. Moulana says don’t look at their health or clothes ..you don’t know what they are going through just by looking at them..you must stay here for one two months to taste their struggle…we talk about extremes of these places, too much water in one place and no water in another….moderation is important especially in our lives…..make sure I use just enough water..don’t waste….I’m getting better..I used one bucket for my bath today.. Little things that I must improve on in my general way of life….but at home I’m in the shower for ages just because it helps me think….an ignorant extravagance..just to think I’m wasting water because I enjoy warm over me whilst in kenya they don’t have water for their sustenance let alone using water to have a bath…

Moulaba says in ghana once he was handing out money as food was too difficult distribute due to the logistics at the time..he said one lady ran to the village and said hurry, there are people handing out money..go quick..I’m thinking that’s what I would do and almost forgetting to forgetting to try and realise the actual events…

Around 60km into our journey and Moulana tells me Caravan of Mercy have installed water pumps in villages around 20km in….We stop for some suger cane .. Even in the last hours; Moukana Zaharuddin caring character for kidmat is embodied in this one stop, on our last journey with us he gets out, runs, negotiates with the farmer, brings back the suger canes, cuts its and gives us suger cane strips…he won’t change for life..I will …I got it easy so I only do easy things for us and others… We must change..we need to accept we can be better..I need to stop comparing with people at the same as us or who have more than us but look at how we can be like someone better than us who has less than us especially in areas that directly involve the quran and sunnah. This will silently, unknowing to us, help the ummah…the sincerity and intention of any effort is effective through Allah’s will, he knows everything and with his mercy and blessing on the day of judgement he will (iA) reward us with rippling effect of any sincere intentions or good actions.

Ronnie and the rest are calculating our time spent travelling in the caravan…The total is approximately 48hours in the space of 7 days……we have grown closer…it’s the end of Bangladesh but the start of awareness, stories to tell, improvement..I hope I remember all this.. I don’t remember many journeys.. little bits here and there.. this journey had more memorable moments.. I need to keep it in me because I’m still too strong in world desires, there is too much world in me.. not enough of bangladesh floods has filled my heart..my banks are strong… I must break them and build it again with Islamic bricks…

I’m hoping this jouney last another 48 hours. This journey will be gone. Everything becomes the past…only experience left, lessons, we hope we can interprete, spread and remind mysef why I am lucky and fortunate… I live a kings life compared to people I have been in touch with… If I visited Banglasdesh on my own I would not have seen this life as I have no reason to go to these places and even if I did I would be at a shop buying something, a place where these poor people won’t be…Caravan of Mercy has contacts to survey villages to try identify the poorest among the poor…This journey has put me in touch with them for a little while…

Our caravan breaks down..i dont think it wants us to leave……it’s the age old common problem..the ‘dynamo’ has gone… the driver and the mechanic are trying to fix it..the rest of us are going the chemist for some tablet tea.. the.We are near the border, the signs that we are close to the border are apparent…the indian movie songs are on the TV at the tea station… more hindi speaking people…our temporary caravan has arrived… It’s a smaller one… Mamajee will need to stay behind…that’s too soon to say goodbye to him..i want that extra 20km journey with him…I’m gonna miss him..I started as his guest, he became our guest and host, he became a helper on this caravan of mercy project by the will of Allah., he became the media for caravan of mercy, he then took over the media….but most importantly he has made intention to go 3 days jamat when he gets back, Moulana tashkeeled him…… Tears begin to flow from his eyes as we say our byes.. We all gonna miss him…

We reach the border… strange feeling.. the border is a basically a big pillared gate… then it’s some 15 metre gap before the indian border gates which shares the same style…there are about 5 open borders between Bangladesh and India..It’s always scary, even though you have all the legal entitlements to stand where you are and enter India, the process, the atmosphere and people around make you feel you still are doing something dodgy and they will sort you out to get you through.. A local comes and becomes our agent between us and the immigration office right in front of us, we let him be and help us.. we want to leverage any advantage he may have to smoothen our crossing, before we know it we have 5 guys helping us filling in our immigration forms..… Strange feeling for me to be at the border.. a border separating similar or same people, the end of a country and start of another..a countries gate but i notice there is only a handful of people crossing either way since I have been here, about twenty minutes….i expected it to be busy,like the airport. Its just like the gates to governement gardens, people are having a look but no one is queuing up to get in….i have interesting and strange conversation with stranger…he may be a local, departing or new arrival , he approaches me and gestures a handshake so i respect the gesture..he then says “india”. So i stand waiting for the rest if his sentence , trying to create context and sense, may be he wants directions to india…im looking for the rest of the conversation, may be its written on his head somewhere..i cant find it so i respond back with “india”… He positiviely and negstively nods and walks away…..we are almost done and then its done and suddenly we are rushing, why are we rushing?..does the border have opening and closing times? Does our exit stamp expire?…i dont argue i just quack along, i dont want to be left here on my own, . We say our goodbyes to the moulanas staying..good this has to be a quick goodbye, no time to think..looking forward..making sure i dont get lost between the borders, take a wrong step and the whole indian border police misunderstands me and gives me any grief…..we are rushing carrying all our luggage…whilst crossing the space of 15 metres between the two borders, I take a moment to feel my foot on the ground and try understand my feelings, and imagine as much as i can…ive heared border control stories on the news.refugee stories has alway driven my imagination to what it would be like on the ground..this does not compare.i know….in between the gates i’m not in Bangladesh or In India, I’m neither here or there…I’m no longer departing or arriving ..This piece of land is the complete agreement that there are no agreements..reminds me of the something ronnie told me, burma rohingas stuck in a river border..shaikh hasina refuses them entry into bangladesh and burma has kicked them out..they are stuck in the sea …i prefer not know what happened to them…lucky I’m british…thank you allah fior providing a fortunate life and easy tests….i continue to imagine; If charity was land, then this place represents the amount of charity between people and countries compared to the vast land of the country….I have arrived in india, 2mins to cross a country and the rules have changed.. I leave Bangladesh with an experience and tourist filled two words…’Unbelivably true’; the place, the floods, the people, the suffering, the poverty, the hospitality all unbelievably true… Im in India,..a local comes and guides us to the immigration office.. same thing, different country.. trying to make some money…we again leverage his knowledge to smoothen the process of our arrival…

There are Ambassador cars, Mahindra cars.. We catch a cab (Mahindra Scorpion) to Kolkotta, smooth ride, we notice the trees just seem so much fatter, older.. We stop at a masjid for namaz…A local person at the mosque greets us and places his hands together.. mixed traditions

We have to drive thru kolkatta..is calcutta the same pkace as kolkatta..not sure..it has taken us over 3 hours just to get through the traffice of Kolkatta… I hate the traffic.. cars don’t move but the horns keep going..it feels like the horn inside at the back of head…i need a tablet tea..

surprised of the length and route …we travel thru long and poor roads..my lower back is hurting .. Make me think there people are all over the world and living out their lives unable to reach out…..the poor can’t reach out to us, we need to find them… We reach Lalpur 6 hours after the border crossing, misbahul uloom education and welfare trust, It’s a boarding school, kids all looking out of the communal balcony.. they greet us.. make us feel famous…celebrity status…

We find our beds and we are all knocked out sleeping in no time. Tomorrow is handing out blankets, Transport cycles, Cows and Sewing machines…need a day off..

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Caravan of Mercy SSP Jan / Feb 2013 – Day 6

Fajr time… only had around two hours sleep… Day and night is confused with the travelling… Looking forward to tea, it’s been a long time since I have had tea often with such purpose… Coming out of our tin building and see people are already here… They are about 2 hours early or am I two hours late… not sure….. To the left is a concrete and tin roof mosque… First Saf is filled with the dulabhais, they are dressed and listening to taalim…. Emphasis is placed to give deeny knowledge to people receiving any help… it’s an opportunity to teach, this situation gets there attention… Moulana wants to ensure Islamic knowledge, Islamic importance, Islamic infrastructure is able to reach and continue for them…

I go for a bath, there is big bathroom with a water pump inside… Sajid is in his loonghi, soaped up having a bucket bath… Ronnie is next in line for a bath which is a water pump… next it’s me. Moulana Talha and Moulana Munshi are here running back and forth getting us some stove heated hot water to mix with the water pump water…there is a small roomed toilet…it has a string for a lock… this is all unusual to me but I’m no longer surprised…just got to deal with it….I have to put my loonghi on for the first time in my life, I have avoided it successfully up until now… but now it’s not avoidable.. This bathroom is a shared bathroom…..it’s pretty easy, but I don’t like it…

In this small courtyard… Moulana performs the nikah’s… Mufti Aziz gives a little talk in Bengali.. I feel the power of it even though I don’t understand it… makes me wonder; we have mufti’s all over the world, some are travelling all over the world spreading deen, some are travelling all over their country to different villages trying to spread deen but spending the same amount of time as one would travel all over the world.. The village Mufti’s are unknown to us… Allah knows them…

This time I try to get a better understanding of the dulabhais (grooms)… Myself and Moulana Zaharul ask 2 basic questions… how much they earn? and how many members in their family?… I know from an earlier conversation that a bag of 100kg rice feeds a family of family 6 for about a month, A bag of 100kg rice cost 3000 Takka’s they eat rice 3 times a day…

These are real people, working hard, no pride, full respect… we look forward to our dinner, we live to eat… they eat to live. I have seen the difference now… The earning average of the grooms is 4000 Takka’s with an average of 5 people in each family. We take a couple of pics… Each of us handing out the starter pack to a groom… more modest in our picture taking today… but still I feel bad… Marrying under these circumstances… your marriage is from charity… they don’t see it this way… but I see it and feel it as I have never been put in a position of needing charity… alhamdolillah… I just can’t understand how they do it… these are real people…

We go to the river bank for a spot of sightseeing… its lovely view…peaceful. You need to be here… I could walk for hours here… I’d like to set up camp here… so peaceful… no politics… dealing with politics between husband/wife, family, friends, or at work that pays me well, but not enough for my bought on debts, is my time consumed worries.. we work hard in the uk… but we are safe…

There is a clinic here for pregnant women….

This scenic river is around 300 feet wide… there are bunches of bamboo in the river.. we meet a local named Haneef, his home is a mud hut with tin roof…he works to survive, feed his family, his mother and father. His parents are living opposite separated by the open kitchen in the middle..he rents his house from the land owner… he had land before… three years ago… but his land got washed away… he shows where house use to be.it’s about 100 foot into the river…but his land is now has river flowing through it..the land touching the river is corroding each year and changing shape like like a trails of a travelling snakee.. the river is getting more and more into the land….. we see this along the river side, land about to break away, half of the foundation of previous homes still remain whilst the other half is the river..amazing but sad truth only because these people are poor and do not receive sufficient help otherwise it would just be amazing…..Haneef, after the floods can’t even go back to his normal life even if he wanted to build his house again..his land does not exist..there is no back for him, ‘back’ is a luxury for him.. he is forced to move on and make a new life with only what he sees around him..he can’t just escape…he can’t buy a plot of land…next year there may be him, his landowner and his neighbours looking for a new place to live if the river gets fatter or changes shape…. Haneef and his neighbours can never plan long term or go to ikea for shopping and think about the house furniture, plan for long term is not possible, but haneef is still smiling…….in one house house they have a rice beater,..no packaged good here…..

we pray Asar namaz in a local masjid and want to head back to Sirajgonj as soon as the hartal (strike) is over…it’s a 6 hour return journey back.. Looking for mamajee as he did we went for a bike ride on his own and before we left for sight seeing.. I get the mick taken out of again..he comes back just in time so luckily it does not not delay the caravan departure…me and sajid begin to have the same conversations about the driving….the driver is a nutcase..but he is a good driver…

The journey is ok.. we have a few stops having little cups of tea here and there..I think of them as ‘tablet tea’ purposeful and prescribed by me…one every two hours…

One of the stop we have a bhel pure type veg dish… leaves are used as spoons, newspapare for plates..reminds me how nothing goes to waste in these parts of the world.. We are trying to upload our previous day blog… it’s a struggle and Ronnie sorts it from Bangladesh, using tetherd internet from my mobile, blog site from his mobile using a 3g internet connection whilst travelling moving left to right, back and forth, up and down…

6-7 hours later..dinner time.. and moulana tell us his Albania story and how hospitable they are…Crash out to sleep..

tomorrow is travelling to kolkatta.. another 10-12 hour total journey time..I’m looking forward to the experience of crossing the border…

Sent from Samsung Galaxy Note

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Caravan of Mercy SSP Jan / Feb 2013 – Day 3

Journey was long yesterday..we had a comfortable van..that helped. We stopped over in sylhet for a dawat from a contact of moulana. They went all out, to the extent that moulana noticed there was no fish on the dustarkan! (fish is always on the menu) A can of coke, bananas, yoghurt desert and tissues nicely folded in each glass, . We appreciated it. We arrived in Dhaka at sunrise prayed Fajar and crashed out… We woke at noon, had enough sleep. Today is a day off. Not for moulana and his direct team. They are connecting up the dots in their accounts and getting it formalised. Teaching the locals the need and method of accountability. We are taking a tour of Dhaka and guide is moulana katakut…gangster name…funny guy… He shows us the parliament and other ministerial buildings.. Takes us to the central mosque. It is a grand mosque..we pray asar there..feels good to pray in jamaat here. We then took a stroll in the neighbouring market which is also adjoining to the national stadium.. We find a stall selling a fruit we’ve never seen before, after much dliberation with mamajee and the seller we conclude that these are over riped coconuts which have formed into a sponge, nothin goes to waste here….tastes like coconut flavoured wafers..really nice.. Was a first even for Sajid who is in the business of importing fruits and vegatables. In a short walk we also have peanuts, guava, chana,chikoo, boor and some hardened jelly thing.. We saw an entrance to the stadium but got warded off by security saying there is a domestic league game on so no one is allowed. Ronnie (Yusuf) waved his big camera and we told them we are doing a documentary on Dhaka and we were in..you don’t need a Ferrari to open doors here.. The gate was media only and we were surrounded by other broadcasters recording the football match, we took a couple of pics of the mostly empty stadium. Next tourist visit was to main markaz HQ (Khakrel) … It looked relatively busy.. My Mamajee was curious to this place. It’s his first visit here. My first tabligh outing was twenty years ago, it instilled a lot of core principles which shaped me to this day, i heard about the simplicity of this place then and twenty years later i am here to say its more simple then i envisaged. I no longer seemed a foreigner..except for my clothing.. People here from all over the world, i begin to stare at the foreigners in almost the same way the locals have been staring at us. People i know from london who have been 4 months jamat have been through here. Started remembering Riaz Tai, the Ibrahims, Abu, Yunus, Ishmael, Yunus Bhai and YB. We prayed magrib here. My mamagee is suprised to see the mix of people and starts asking people where they are from… He tells me this place is international… He begins to say salaam to everyone…Ronnie gets queried in markaz for wearing jeans and t shirt.. Me and saleh bhai continue talking about the simplicity of this place.. Moulana Talha, a local caravan of mercy member, starts to tell me he will go back Home after we leave..he just got of the phone from his wife i think as he started the conversation. i think his wife is missing him.. I told him go Home if he is missing his wife..he says how can he go Home when he has such big guests referring to us..i tell him we are not guests, we have flown all the way here to meet him, he is the the big person not us…I’m getting good at this ‘bigging’ up conversation..it seems every conversation involves the setting of making yourself seem low and the other person of great respect..to ensure pride is removed, be humble, in conversations..Moulana Talha is humble… Pride is something that’s only owned by allah..we can not have it and i think that is why every conversation has the pre-requisuit of a humbling sentence.. We get back to the hotel, i mean markaz..it has good facilities and seems like a hotel with the treatment we receive…there is a dead body being loaded into the markaz ambulance..but all seems pretty normal.. Moulana is still connecting the dots with his ground team. Mamajee is requesting that ronnie teaches him tajweed. So they do.. I receive a watsapps message, someones tells me to choose an orphan to sponsor…i mention shajalal..need to speak to moulana about this . we go downstairs for some fresh air and a new load of funeral boxes are delivered. This place is too real.ironically i start thinking, i appreciate my glazed life in london. We go for a walk..sajid bhai yells at a driver to stop, its a red light! He mentions they think differenty here, he is right they do, we think differently to them, we think differently to each other. If we think they dont think normally and normal is based on the majority then it us that are not normal for there are more people in the east then there are in the west. Four of us take a rickshaw ride to the Sat (7) Gumbad (Dome) Masjid, a 400 year old Moghul style mosque. There is also a school behind it hosting 1300 students! It’s past midnight and it’s closed. We get back on our waiting cycle rickshaws and head back. This approx 3-4km trip has cost us 70 pence for both rickshaws…….! Time to sleep as we have a long journey ahead and an early start, leaving straight after fajr for Sirajgonj where we are expected to begin distribution as we arrive…. Inshallah

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Caravan of Mercy SSP Jan / Feb 2013 – Day 2

Today was a long and filled day. Food prepping for the nikahs started early..Biryani was cooked..it is cold. My feet are cold. Did not bring any socks. Only got champels.. The kids are doing more for us then we are for them..shahjalal is one of those kids, a humble kid, who does everything from tea making to setting and cleaning our dustarkan. he cuts the cocunut and bringz usfresh juice in a glass.i offer itto him but he refuses in a manner that tells “how can i drink fresh juice when you are our guest”..he is insistent and does not drinks so i finish it.. Its wicked and sweet. Moulana had also organised fir the madressa to be extended to include toilets as kids currently have to go in the field. He dug the boundary point kicking off this extension work…we all took turn in doing a couple of digs.. It feels good to be witness of a defining moment in the building work.. However each smile, each conversation with the poor or orphan can be a defining moment for us on the day of judgement with their duas being accepted by the mercy of allah.. the kids continue to do kidmat and i wonder who is looking after who… they definateky have eaten less than me and spent more energy than me…they have so much energy and the whole day just seems like it’s still morning for them… The grooms arrived..new clothes provided for their special day. they all looked serious, maybe they cant wait to get home to their wives..they must wannt punch the guy on stage hogging the mic and making them wait..everyone wanted to have a go on the mic, ronnie and saleh bhai seemed to be struggling to stay awake on the stage, we weree being recorded for national tv….finally Moulana provided them with some talk, letting them know increase your imaan thru effort..if you shout children then your wife won’t shoot out children..effort must be made..everyone got the point. the grooms all looked Peng,a recently new word that i discovered in London. If my my cousin riz and firoz were here then they definatly would have pissed themselves laughing on the fashion . A groom with a pink hat, burgundy shalwar, black matrix shades and a blue coloured converse style shoes.if.all items individually on a shelf might have a slim chance of looking good but togrther, letz just say you definaty you knew he was a groom. We then have discussion adjacent to the mdressa where moulana is speaking to some diggers to set the foundstion of a new mosque able to accomodate 600 musallees. The exact qibla direction being worked out using ronnie’s iphone, we lined up in a saf so moulana can count and work out the width required for this masjid, the land is donated by mufti aziz of muslimpoor, the masjid cost is donated by a member of our travelling group, brother sajid of leicester. May allah grant them jannah. The mosque will be called majid siddique. We speaking to shajalal, kidmat kid, and ronnie says to shahjalal insha allah you will be the imam of this mosque and shahjalal aged no more than 14 says ameen and insha allah with conviction. not like the way i say it when tablighi gusht come round my house. We walked 15 minutes to the river bank where the 30 boats allocated for distribution lined up wjth their new owners. These simple boats are for the poor. The people who already use this type of boats to feed their families are elgible for sadqah or zakat anyway but these are people who cant even afford these boats, and guess what i dont think they are the poorest, i dont think the caravan has reached that far yet. Another quick photo shoot. People will be able to see their donations delivered, a satisfaction to us and for people wbo give, their donations hand and recorded delivered. Some ofthese will ridet heir boat home,about 30 to 40km away we walked back to the madressa, im geting the mick taken out off from the brothers because my mamagee (my wife’s uncle) is taking ssssppppecial care of me. He is deinately printing his character in,thd group. A funny and caring character.. We reached the madressa and moulana gets bombarded with bangla tv channels. An amazing speech all from quran and sunnah…Moulana does ikraam with the bangla tv limelight and introduces me as the groom of bangladesh from a village called chittamongol which we invented on our way in. Next, the ditribution of wedding ‘starter pack’ : some ,clothes, cutlery, cooking utensils and bedding for each newly wed. They each come and take and we continue to take photos like we are something special..may allah keep us grounded and give sincerery in our actions..please make dua..its so easy to be engulfed in giving and forgetting that we are actually giving bedding and utensils!!..we are not giving things that are famikiar to us as gifts for weddings… i ignore another reality check opportunity, it comes easy to me. Please Make dua that it stops.. Its time to pack and depart this poor place filled with lovely people, in total 230 itrms were donated, whether it was starter pack, boat, bike or something else. Lots of smiles.. Time to move on. So free that i can ‘move on’ . Depart as easy as i arrived. shajalal has been following me. He is sad we are departing. He is yateem. He looks up to us. I turn my back on him and easily depart, he will contine to be yateem. …in a couple of weeks he will be no more than a distant memory for me. For him we wont. He’ll remeber me. I hope he does. Especially when he makes dua. I need it. Next stop il make sure ill introduce myself to every orphan multiple times. motor biking back now.. the same view…looks amazing…the land gets filled with water so much so that the floor and sky look as one,as described by a local to me… ive done about a kilometre and i see my dhulabhais (brother in law in bangali, decided to call all the grooms dulabhais) walking and carrying his starter pack with his family members…and then i see another dulahbhai…i think we have almost done 5 kilomertres and i see another dulabhai walking with his starter pack. i did not even walk 50metres in total on my wedding day. Not sure how his first night is going to go after that walk! I spoke to moulana and people come from as far as 30km by foot and boat for nikah and starter pack.. The local moulana aziz’s worry and concern reaches far. Well we on our way to dhaka, My mamajee bought me socks so my feet stay warm…We had some freshly made jalebies and our driver is a nutcase.. The caravan contiues…

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Caravan of Mercy SSP Jan / Feb 2013 – Day 1

After meeting the in laws, being treated as royalty, we travelled to Sunamgonj, a four hour car journey, a short boat ride crossing the river and then on a motorbike for twenty mins to get to the school (madrassa)… A two floor building housing 140 resident students of which forty are orphans… nearby locals also come so approx 300 students…

This place was a plain field before the efforts of Caravan of Mercy… We joined the group while they were eating… We then went to the village on a motor bike, before leaving Moulana calls us over and I’m thinking what does he want to show me. He introduces me to a kid who has such a bad skin condition that I’m too scared to shake his hands.. In that one instant I was measured as a bad person and feared that its not safe for me… I’m looking at this kids who is crying tears, but these are not tears but fresh puss from his eyes.. Caravan of Mercy has paid for his treatment in Dhaka.. I then see a mother crying for her daughter who has no hands, I’m shocked and Moulana replies ask from Allah, we don’t provide nothing, emphasizing we are only the means.. We then set off on our motor bikes …seeing the pockets of people living all over…seeing the land that is filled with water every year.. Taking tourist pictures… small mosques where Caravan of Mercy pays for the teacher so kids can learn for free… Realizing knowledge is a part of the starvation here.. we then an Aaqiqah for Moulana grand daughter. I also slaughter a cow and we have a BBQ.. The kids do non-stop kidmat (Hospitality), excited simply to be within our company and this, simply feeds them with happiness.. just seeing us.. There are Christian missionaries here too in the village with their setup…they could either see us or them.. without Caravan of Mercy it would have only been them..

 

 

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Caravan of Mercy SSP Jan / Feb 2013 – Day 5

Today is going to be an easy day..just visiting places and doing things we have done already.. Nothing new to think about… I did not have a shower this morning, Fajr namaz first.. I Went to sleep in the clothes I was wearing all day yesterday…a beautiful short walk to madrassa for Fajr namaz.. There is a grave that i walk past, its Moulana Abdul’s (our cook) father. Moulana Abdul’s father started the, madrassa in this area. Today there are 400 becoming haafiz and/or aalims. Caravan of mercy have been sponsoring 30 orphan kids for the past 3 years, wuzu khana, ramzan food distribution and water pumps around the, area… Ronnie, cuts a cow after namaz.. Moulana confirms we having a bbq tonight..Wicked..

First stop, girls maktab..about 40 girls praying.in this maktab and is coming under Caravan of Mercy donation from next year.. Moulana tells me a lot these maktab start-up but don’t have enough money to continue. He tells me of a story where somebody from South Africa y established 600 maktabs but a lot of them have closed down due to financial problems…the kids all stop…Moulana requests one of the girls to pray…lovely sound and tajweed… Moulana is impressed….this is a well run maktab…. There is a water pump here provided by caravan of mercy serving the area….Moulana asks where is the mosque here…why don’t they use this place for namaz as well and have a imam to stay here…Mufti Nazrulislam says it’s too expensive making a quarters for the imam, setting up electricity etc… Moulana accepts…this makhtab is on the road side on the opposite of the river banks, this whole road is packed with people during the rainy seasion..I can begin to imagine this…

We stopover at the cournish ‘ghat’. A sort of public place, undisturbed view of the river bank line, the place is empty…I stand facing the river, the river bank curls round from my left to behind me and then in front of me before curling back round..It’s impossible for me imagine the water lever bring up to the edge of where im standing..the river is currently 20 to 25 foot below me…there are loads of square blocks at the bottom of the bank to stop the river from punching into the bank during the raining seasons the bank is sloped intentionally in a way to guide water from left to right to try and stop the water entering the Sirajgonj city… In the center of this port area, people are putting up some stuff, I think they preparing for a visit from Shaikh Hasina, the Prime Minsiter. District Comissioner told us this when we went for tea yesterday to his home, he is currently helping prepare an entourage of 1500 people and 60 cars to cater for this visit.

Went to Mufti Narziulislam Makhtab to see the kids. The kids are given English educatiin here too..nothing like uk but it’s,better than nothing. Kids say synchronised salaam as we enter…we hear two girl praying.. sounds amazing..they are about 6 -8 years old.. this is amazing….Maktab is getting ready for women sewing class.. It’s almost ten am.. Sajid seeing someone having a shower from a water pump..It’s cold at ten here. We are taken back at the thought of having cold showers every morning…some things just hit you a little at the right time and moment, this was one of them….

We then go to another makhtab. I don’t know where I am, all I know is where ever I am, where ever I have been this past morning, wherever I look gets flooded….so I’m told…still, a part of me does not believe what they say about the floods….a part of me thinks all the Muftis’ and,Moulana’s,have got to together and made up a story and then played it to me..i know,this is not true….The Quran is a fact., but my imaan in it is low.. in the same way the floods here, the sufferings here is a fact..but my belief in it is low, not yet convinced…does it need to be convinced..what if I’m not convinced and then on the day of judgement I discover it to be a truth fact….why is not what I have seen enough to make me act for the better. I choose to believe something else is true, the made up truth allow’s me to be lazy without feeling guilt…..Shaytaan has worked for a long time on me. So any initiation of a good action coming out,of me starts with me believing or convincing myself the fact to be a lie…this can’t be true, you don’t need to do this..I need to beat this thinking out of me… There loads of Saree factories here as I walk to this maktab …manual weaving machines Ronnie,tells me there is one person doing four things on the machine, says this is the definition of ‘manual skilled labour’. Whilst walking I see fantastic bamboo bridge made by Red Crescent from the Arab world, it looks strong….survives flood but the bamboo effect makes it look comical..about to drop….

There are lovely hanging raw cotton on bamboo washing lines….different colours.. they look lovely hanged out to dry, something put in movies to set a colourful scene …. We finally reach the makhtab, there are orphans kids here too, loads of kid but there is only one teacher……

Off to another place to give out cow and goats. We stop at railway line, walk over it and reach a slow drop in the land scape as we approach.. The madrassa and its’ coutry yard comes in to view.. a beautiful place.. Cows to the left and goats to the right..it’s green and trees cover the front of the madresa mango trees along the side of the court yard..one of those places you think you would settle after a hard life.. We don’t waste time here.. quickly get the recipient list… We continue to build our photo album…but we do less photos. I’m just tired or bored of taking photos whilst giving or may be I’m beginning to feel guilty.. Not sure which one yet.. …Moulana is asking each person their family size and condition before deciding to give a single cow or a cow with a calf..

Back at base camp, quick shower to get ready for the wedding day..the District Commisioner Assistant has come specially to visit Ronnie, he impressed the District Commissioner yesterday..they are chatting.. I sit to be respectful….I try to talk or say something just for customary contribution to the conversation but the DC assistant blanks me completely so I slowly and quietly leave the room unnoticed…when big people are talking small people should just leave…

Moulana is upset with mufti Naziulismal that the ‘starter packs’ are not ready… We help pack the starters pack suitcases, their ‘goodie’ bag… Each getting one quality loonghi, two ok loonghi..one good saree..two ok saree, Soap box, comb, a can of Hajr oil and some other stuffs….in addition to the bedding and kitchen utensils…Nikah time; back on stage with wedding hat again, Sajid and,Mamajee are also in the act….second wedding jokes ring around the stage…why are the dulabhais looking so serious so.. i dont know, hopefully us wearing the wedding hat on makes them more comfortable…as long I think it makes people smile then I don’t really care if I look a little stupid..I come off the stage to hear how the individual nikah paper is done and again the fun continues, I’m asked to sit down next my dulabhais and the hat is back on my head. Interesting perspective view from here; there are people on stage.. It’s my special day but these people are on stage..I don’t get to go on stage….ok kutbah time..who are these people..I got over ten people,on stage and I think I know two of them (if I was a local)..one,is,dc assistant saab and the other mufti saab, out of the local perspective..……I begin to miss my wife…I miss my whole family, my nieces and nephew.. weddings are family time.. I look to my right and I see there is camera here too, no wonder dulbhais are looking so serious.. I’m on national tv ..S***..this is going to be funny…hope my in laws don’t take it badly if they see me on tv sitting down as if I’m getting married again…

After Asar namaz we give the ‘starter packs’ out..I don’t want to take photos..I feel bad looking at the poor….really bad..I speak to Moulana about this..he tells me my feelings are right..but these people are so poor that they see these things as gifts…we try to make their day special that is why we should try to make them laugh, brighten up their mood and get involved with them…Moulana is good at this…he begins with shouting to the grooms who is going to give my Bangladesh damaad, referring to me, a Walima dawat.. Only one dulabhai raises his hands…everyone laughs..but they all raise their hand slowly..they are just nervous.. Moulana then each ask their names and knows the meaning of each person name….translates the meaning of their name and relates it to each of them…they all smile one at a time… He gets to a person..around 40 years old..Moulana shouts what’s your name in urdu receiving a reply “Shahjahan” …Moulana says “SubhanAllah, aaj shahjaahan kor Noorjahan mil jayegi” everybody laughs…Shahjahan can’t hold his laughter so much so that he has to cover his face….it was good to see this…there was so much charity in this effort of making someone laugh from Moulana.. This is Shahjahan’s second marriage.. when Shajhan tells us that his wife and kid are dead from his first marriage, we are all paused with shock and sadness except the locals, it nothing new for them,..how do you lift the conversation from here…Moulana says to Shahjahan they are not dead..they have gone to Allah…Shahjalal smiles ..

Shahjahan and Noorjahan jokes carry on..

Just before Magrib we hear there is a hartal happening tomorrow, no one knows for definite yet, after Magrib namaz it is confirmed there is a hartal (stike) on the roads so no driving tomorrow..we are due to go Kumirgram..plans need to change..

I’m just lying down writing my blog..Ronnie,and Sajid are knocked out jn the room on their beds…Mamajee,walks through the door gesturing somebody else to come in.. here we go..who is it… It’s national tv… Mamajee convinced them to interview me… Mamajee tells national tv who to interview, where to stand, what questions to ask, orchestrates my speech. I’m just spurring out words.. words that are true but I’m just saying them… Mamajee is taking over.. he is controlling the media now…whilst in the background Ronnie and Sajid are knocked out sleeping..

After Esha namaz we go for a bike rikshaw ride with the rikshaw drivers from the rikshaw distribution earlier today. The most exciting place to visit by my tour guide is a British built bridge with no pillars…

Moulana Talha starts the bbq, the attendees are Moulanas, future Moulanas, Muftis and us boosroogs. The bbq meat is lovely with spicy baked beans, this is our 3rd meal with no fish….everyone is dong kidmat..to the point that a student is followingme around with a plastic chair…

we do mashwera and decide we should leave for our 6 hour journey straight away as the (hartal)strike begins at 6am lasting until magrib time..we pack light and leave for Kurigram at 12am.. 270km towards the northen country border.. the caravan has been joined by a mini caravan containing all the muftis and moulana….

The driver drives like a nutcase, nothing new but we’re still not use to it..we are just bouncing from left and right from overtaking manoeuvres.. Up and down from bumps and holes, and back and forth from fast acceleration and hard breaking…The side window is opened to get dome fresh air in…then suddenly Moulana Shoaib is vomiting out the window, a big stripe of vomit down the side of the car… We do mashwera after mashwera.. apparently, Moulan Zaharuddin says, this driving is normal, so we carry on… I’m tired and sleepy… Knocked out and have a terrible sleep but at least I slept……i feel sorry for people who were awake during the journey… Made it.iRonnie tells me Moulana Zaharuddin has been slapping, pinching and feeding the driver to ensure he stays awake.. We quickly do wuzu using the water pump fitted by caravan of mercy..The water is warm which is amazing…local tells me it’s like that…during the day its cold and during the night it’s warm……

We knock out straight after fajr namaz…today’s plan is to do the distribution of cows and 25 nikahs…it’s gonna be a long day..

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