Thin Air of Rocky Mountain -3 (Pueblo, Colorado)
Pueblo Colorado (1982-1983)
In December 1981, Uncle Max assisted us to move to Pueblo, and upon arrival some Arab students were waiting keenly to offer us all the assistance needed. They were from Saudi Arabia, Libya and some other countries. We settled in Raintree Apartment, a housing complex equipped with all the amenities required including coin-operated laundry machines and heated indoor swimming pool.
Pueblo was a small city, with commercial district in the north and slums in the south. Across the river from Raintree Apartment was Pueblo Mall, a place that we frequented in the weekends as it was within walking distance. Unlike Boulder, Pueblo was a bit far from the mountain. It was barren and dusty. On a windy dry day, dusts flew all over places.
University of Southern Colorado
The apartment was about 3 km away from the university and I normally walked to the university. There were 2 routes that I followed. One was along the roadside, another was a short-cut across an abandoned farm land, which I think belonged to the university or the city. It was a quiet and deserted, and I used it frequently on my way back from the university, either alone or with friends.
University Southern Colorado (USC), Pueblo was a small campus of about 5000 students. It offered many programs in Engineering Technologies and none of Engineering Science except Pre-engineering. Continuing students from the pre-engineering program would normally be enrolled at Colorado State University, For Collins. Today USC Pueblo is known as Colorado State University at Pueblo.
Pueblo had a mosque located about few minutes walk from Raintree Apartment. It was a house with 2 rooms and a basement. The basement was large and served as the main prayer hall. The Arab students in Pueblo mosque were actively involved in dakwah. They visited other Arabs in their houses, nightclubs and various places to remind them about the purpose life and brought them back to the teaching of Islam. Sometimes they were successful, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they were welcome, other times they were ushered away by guns or dogs. Nevertheless, they were strongly motivated and stayed steadfast. One person that was always in high spirit and fully motivated was a Libyan called Rajab. When he delivered a speech, he was always excited. Sometimes, he was reminded, “Please Rajab, we want to listen to your bayan, not to be scolded…”. I liked him a lot, and I wonder where he is now… One day, when we were traveling together, I recited a do’a loudly in front of him, “Oh Allah, please put us in jannah together”, and he said, “ameen”. I’m still hopeful to see him in Jannah.
Another interesting character was Mohamad Basher, also a Libyan. He was a friendly guy who knew how to mix well with Malaysians as he had previous experiences with Malaysian student when he was in UK a few years earlier. He organized a quran recitation circle among Malaysian and taught them Tajweed and proper pronunciation. I think it was in February 1982 when Kaio brought the circle to our apartment. By then, nine others had join the circle as well as dakwah activities with the Arabs. Only Breng and I had not joined in. Since the circle was conducted in our apartment (Kaio was my housemate), Breng and I sat along out of respect to our guests. At the end of each session, Mohamad Bashir told us stories based on Islamic history while having mountain dew and potato chips. He was a master story-teller. The following week, I joined the group again, and again, and again…
Spring Break 1982 – The Challenge
One day, while sitting in the mosque after Maghrib prayer, Abdullah Bezzan (another Libyan) had a long discussion with me. He was telling me slowly and carefully about a rider and a horse. To be efficient, both the rider and the horse must be healthy and had enough energy to persevere long, difficult journey. Even if the horse was well-fed and strong, the journey wouldn’t be successful if the rider was ill and starving. After some further elaborations, he then made his point, “our body is the horse, and our iman is the rider. Both must be well-fed, and the food of iman is ibadah, dakwah and mujahadah”, said Abdullah. He was persuading me to join a week-long spring break “khuruj” to Kansas and Missouri.
After a long persuasion, he made a proposition. “OK, let’s take it this way, you come with us for 1 week beginning tomorrow, and if you don’t like it, we’ll never ask you to join us again. Deal?” That was an interesting challenge. I went home afterward and discussed the matter with Breng. We took the challenge…
Spring Break 1982 – Khuruj
The journey was supposed to begin in the afternoon but was delayed until dusk. That night we departed from Pueblo to Wichita, Kansas. The journey was indeed interesting and the weather was cold. It was foggy when we passed through Dodge City, and at that very moment I recalled characters such as Wyatt Earp from western movies. Wyatt Earp was a sheriff in Dodge City.
We stopped in a modest rest-area somewhere in the middle of farming zone for dawn prayer. Ablutions were made using water manually pumped from the ground. It was very cold and windy, and I shivered during prayer. Somehow, that event had a strong effect on my life. Never before had I really appreciate the importance of performing solat, except on that cold morning. Something had happened to my heart…
After Wichita, we moved on to Lawrence, Kansas – the home of Kansas University and later to Manhattan – the home for Kansas State University. In Manhattan, I met Ismail, and in Lawrence, I met Abd Aziz. In those days, there were few Malaysians in the region – Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, New Mexico, and meeting one would cheer you up for a day.
We then stopped at a small mosque in Kansas City – Kansas, and later, on the other side of the river, Kansas City – Missouri. In Kansas City Missouri, we settled in a big mosque. The Imam was called Imam Tayyib, who worked full time in the mosque. In those days, purposely built mosques were rare. In all cities that we passed through, mosques were actually houses or churches.
The Moon Generation
Mohamad Bashir was a superb story teller and his stories were both entertaining and motivating. Either in the mosque, or after the quran circle or in a cramped minibus while on “khuruj”, he would continue his story on “The Moon Generation”. It was the story of the rise and fall of Muslim nation since the time of the prophet to the various caliphates of later years. It was in that cramped minibus that we developed friendships and brotherhood… the 11 of us – Chad, Breng, Mat Pian, Bad, Ramzy, Ishak,TP, Kaio, Jadid, CikPah and Nazlee, the pioneer batch of Malaysian students in Colorado. I was told that the minibus was purchased by a member of the UAE royal famility. He was then a student in Denver.
Break up of the Group
In winter of 1982 Nazlee, Bad, Ramzy and Jadid moved to Corvalis (Oregon State University). Kaio and Ishak had earlier moved to Athen (Ohio University) and TP had moved to Madison (Wisconsin University). Recall that we had to move as we were doing pre-engineering in Pueblo and had to transfer to other university to study chemical engineering. Although computer Science was offered by USC Pueblo, some of the girls also decided to move. Niza, Meen and Ainon moved along to Corvalis. Naza went to Duluth, and Azlina transferred to Miami. So only few of us remained in Colorado – Me, Breng, Mat Pian, Cik Pah, Hana, Azah and Chah. My heart was still with Colorado.
In that winter, I accompanied the group that moved to Oregon. I was supposed to be a back-up driver for Chevy Impala and Nazlee was the main driver, but as the road became icy, the role was switched. Jadid was the main driver of the other car. From Colorado, we took I25 North to Wyoming before taking I70 West to Utah, and later to Idaho.
Somewhere after we passed Boise, Idaho, Nazlee proposed a “short-cut” and everybody agreed, only to regret it later. It was a smaller road cutting through a mountain pass used by loggers and truckers equipped with chained snow tires, and the roads were icy all the way. We had to drive very slowly as the road conditions were treacherous. Everybody were quiet and scared, and I drove all the way.
After a long drive passing the mountain, we reached a town in Oregon called Sweet Home, where snows had turned into rain. We sighed as a sign of relief. The worst had past, but in a town called Sweet Home, people were driving fast and crazy. (after all, they were in Home Sweet Home…). By the time we reached Corvalis, I had driven for 17 hours.
Ijtema’ in Los Angeles
From Corvalis, we went to Los Angeles to attend a gathering, an ijtema’ as we called it. It was held in a school. On one night, Sheikh Mabrook stopped me and asked, “How many Malaysians are coming to USA this year?”. I said, “maybe something like 2000”. He then said, “and you are still like this?” After that remark, he immediately left. I was stunned, speechless. What was the meaning of his saying? What was wrong with me? Was it my dakwah involvement? I thought so, because in those days, I was on the lower cycle of enthusiasm with regards to dakwah work. Or perhaps it was my dressing that put him off? As usual, I wore a checkered flannel shirt and a blue jean, and I had a long hair.
In Spring of 1983, life was different. Many of our friends were gone. Some MARA-sponsored students came to cheer up the Malaysian community. But they were different, not solidly together like those from our batch. The mosque had also moved to another location and we also moved to be closer to the mosque. I moved in a 2 room apartment with Breng and later to another apartment living with Mat Pian and two juniors – Mahdi and Abd Rahman in Bonnymeade Apartment, when Breng decided to get married.
.. and in the summer of 1983, I went home for a holiday… the next semester, Fall of 1983 I would be moving to Colorado State University, Fort Collins.
Some interesting places in Southern Colorado
1. Canon City and the Royal Gorge Bridge
Canon city has a beautiful suspension bridge named Royal Gorge. It has a prison that some of our friends used to visit, to provide counseling and making dakwah to some of the inmates. It has a go-kart circuit, but most importantly deers in those areas were extremely friendly.
2. Colorado Springs
The city is half way between Pueblo and Denver.
3. Pueblo Reservoir