Saturday, 30 July 2005

Popping the question

She had that kind of glow on her face that unmistakeably spelt love and even before she blurted out the news, I knew it. She is engaged to be married. Young and in love. And even more exciting how and where the question was popped to her. They were on a trip to Paris and what can be more romantic than to climb up Eiffel Tower with the one you love and have that Top of The World feeling. And it was there that the ring was produced, a little bit big for her slender finger, but it was fine. More importantly..the question: Will you marry me?

Awww, I almost cried, not because I was all sentimental but it triggered back memories of that fine night in the island of Penang. I remember, it was almost New Year and I was waiting for THAT phone call. It came. We talked about mundane things, nothing mushy, mushy because we were never like that. So, it was between,” Er, I met your friend Karpal Singh at The Old Bailey. He was defending this person, bla bla bla...Oh, by the way, will you marry me?”

I will never again be able to look at Karpal Singh without acknowledging his presence in this proposal. But I swear I could hear the ships hooting from the harbour, heralding in the new year and of course celebrating my moment.

While I was gasping like a fish out of water, he proceeded, “Er, if you don’t say yes, I’ll ask the next person.” How romantic.

Now that is not too bad. Someone I know actually wrote in her blog about how her intended went to the loo and asked his friend to ask the question for him. Coward!!

Oh, well, we can’t have too many romantics in this world, or else everyone will be floating in the air, with silly grins on their faces, can we?

Take this for example. Now happily married and with one cute little girl, the husband proposed while they were crossing the street! How’s that?

A friend was asked the question when she and her then boyfriend were sharing a packet of hulas - you know those ring-like crisps. One of those hulas became a temporary engagement ring.

But I am proud to announce that romance is not yet dead. Quite alive, actually especially in people of a certain age.

Not too long ago, my husband and I were asked to chaperone a friend who was meeting a cyber mate who has become very special to her. They had been conducting this online relationship, webcam, chat and all that the cyber world can offer and it was finally time to meet up. She was so nervous and needed a lot of support and encouragement and we were to offer that. Afterall, it was just natural that we were the ‘orang tua-tua’ in this situation.

So, off we went to meet them at where else, Holiday Villa for a spot of Malaysian buffet for our American friend who had flown in the day before. When they arrived, it was evident that they were already a couple – somehow, you can see from their faces, the body language and all. We ate and got to know each other. Lots of giggles from my friend who was supposed to have this very sensible head on her shoulder. Then too much giggling and nerves, she excused herself and went to the Ladies. It was then that we were roped into this conspiracy. He was going to pop the question, he has got the ring and we were to record it. He even had his camcorder with him and I have my digital. Kak Teh never travels without her now battered digital camera.

She came back all tersipu-sipu and Kak Teh was shaking in her sarong as if she was the one being proposed to. Thanks to Canon , they make very stable cameras.

The moment came. Cameras rolled. He took out the blue velvet box and opened it very slowly and from then on, everything went into slow motion. Her jaws dropped, her hands went to cover her face which was fast turning the colour of her tudung – red – and for a while, we didn’t know whether she was laughing or crying. The Kedah Malay word for it was – selop. She selopped for a long time and we were all quite worried.

Posted by Picasa

But my hats off to mature men and this one really knew how to formulate his words, even without going on bended knees. She said, “Oooh and aaah, and Oh my God!” which meant yes, of course.

So, like Karpal, we became part of this happy couple journey into coupledom. She, and she knows this, has become an important part in my life. Someone who knew me from my writing days and followed my writing career and we became friends online too. We met up and since then, she has become a precious part of my life and a source of strength for me in my journey into the world of academia. I wish her and her man all the happiness in the world and thank you for making us part of your important event.

ps Please sharelah with me how you got hitched!

PPS I have given a lot of thought to this. And have thought of the ideal way AG should have proposed to me...sitting under that big tree in front of Ho Peng in Light Street and Danny standing by the Juke box to play on cue Alleycats singing 'Hingga Akhir Nanti'. AG in flares and big Afro do would have helped a lot!

Saturday, 23 July 2005

Her Best Friend’s Arab Wedding

Half an hour before boarding, I received the call. She sounded happy and excited. It’s the last of a series of calls that we exchanged before R, my sayangmama number two, left for Cairo. She is attending her best friend’s wedding, a childhood friend from schooldays. R left with the groom as her friend, Aisha left day before yesterday with her parents.

Needless to say, we are excited for her and want her to experience and see Cairo and experience a different kind of holiday that she was used to in Europe. She had been to France with the school, Spain and Portugal with the uni, and now she is going to have a taste of the Middle East.

Having spent her primary and secondary school at The King Fahd Academy, a Saudi school in London, she is quite fluent in Arabic and quite wise to the ways of the Arabs. That is the least of my worries, at least she’ll be brushing up her Arabic with the locals. In some ways, she is more Arab than Malay. At one stage, her sense of dressing, her manner of speaking were so Arabic that we questioned our decision to school the children there.

Anyway, I was excited at the thought of her visiting the pyramids, the Al- Azhar mosque where the nikah will be conducted, and the busy and colourful market place that I have heard so much about from Maknenek and Nefertiti. Her father had actually hitchhiked to the Middle East during his student days and had plenty to tell.

Before she left, she had packed her kebaya’s and other traditional Malaysian costumes as she wants to wear them at the function. A touch of Malaysian in an Arab do! I know it’ll be fun. From what I gathered from Maknenek’s account of her own wedding, its also hilarious! With lots of dancing and yoddeling Arab style! And so I gave her my digital camera to record everything. I dont want to miss anything.

But this morning, I woke up to the news of another big explosion - car bombs – in Sharm el Sheikh- killing 49. This is another place she is visiting.

This has been one of the worries when she announced sometime ago of her decision to go to Cairo. This place has not been very safe for tourists. Although she will be staying with a family there, she will still be visiting touristy areas and I have this tight knot in my stomach that will not go away.

While she was in London, we sms each other to check that everyone is alright, in the wake of the current development. I worry so much about the whereabouts of my children. And now, I have this extra worry as I watched the images on TV.

My phone just buzzed and it was an sms from her. She is in Cairo having landed safely there, Alhamdulillah. But I want her to take the same plane back. I want her home now. I didn’t hug her hard and long enough when we parted.

Take care, sayang mama Posted by Picasa

R in my graduation kebaya, doing the ulit mayang, with brother,with sister,
looks good in my wedding dress, and happy celebrating my birthday.

After the Nikah ceremony at the mosque yesterday, R and wedding entourage had lunch on a boat cruising down the Nile. How nice!
Trip to Sharm-el-Sheikh has been cancelled.

Wednesday, 20 July 2005

To My dearest MobileMom,

A hint of a headache, a slight cough and tummy upset, I moan. My back hurt, my knees jammed and I complain. My pain threshold is so, so low. Am such a moaner. Thus, when I found you, I wanted to hide in shame and embarrasment. I admire your positive attitude in spite of everything that you have to endure. All those needles, scans, X-rays, proddings, medications would have sent me up the wall, round the bend and God knows where. And we are not even talking about after effects yet. It must be aweful.

Mobilemom, it has been six months since you were diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer and since then you have been sharing with us your ups and downs, the endless visits to the hospital, the treatment, the chemo, your fears, your hopes.

Your entries have been a source of information and now even though I can't spell, never mind pronounce mesothelioma, I know that it is nasty. I know that, no matter how difficult or how lousy you feel after each chemo treatent, you can come back and pour it out on to your blog and exorcise it all out of your systems. It is a kind of therapy, this blogging and it helps. You have turned your experience and your blog into an info board for all of us to understand. You even have a 'how to apply for visa' entry for those seeking treatment abroad. And for all this, I salute you.

In eight days time, you will be flying off to Australia for a major surgery on 2nd August. And my prayers go with you.

I read you all the time. There were days when I couldn’t put down any comment because I was too choked with emotions, there were days when I had to go away for a while and come back, put on a brave face and cheer you on. I am not very good when dealing with this. And I am not handling this very well either, MM.

Thus I will make this very short. When you go, please know that my prayers and that of other fellow bloggers will accompany you. We will pray for your well being. We will not pretend that we understand what you are going through but we will be around to cheer you on when you wake up from that surgery. And we want a full report on your blog about this. I dont care how incoherent it might sound, especially when you are still drowsy, but I want to know that you are okay.

Your courage, your resilience, your positive attitude and the love you have around you will see you through, Insyaallah.

Please be okay, MM, promise me that.

With lots of love and Dua's
Kak Teh

Sunday, 17 July 2005

A Week In The Life of a Muslim Woman in London

The article below was published in the Sunday Mail today:

The no: 9 bus from Trafalgar Square was really packed and I had to shove and push to get in. Usually, I am not even aware that I am different from the rest of the crowd, be it in the train or the bus or walking along the streets of London. But the tragedy two Thursdays ago has changed all that somewhat. Instinctively, I looked for another hijabed lady, a Muslim face or anyone I can feel connected to, but in that crowded bus, I found none and I felt the gaze, or perhaps I thought, I felt the gaze was on me.

But one gaze from one particular person, sitting by the window, made me feel very comfortable. So comfortable that I introduced myself to him and started pouring out everything in that No: 9 bus full of strangers.

Terry Waite Posted by Picasa

I told him about the can of beer that was flung at our car, splashing the liquid all over the windscreen, about the verbal abuse from a passer by and even about the lady who moved to sit somewhere else when I sat next to her.

The look of horror and sympathy registered on this very famous face.

“I am so sorry,” he apologised. And this comes from a person who suffered four years in solitary confinement as hostage of Islamic Jihad, an extremist group in Beirut, when as the envoy of the church, he went to negotiate the release of some hostages there in the late 80’s.

Why should I expect sympathy from someone who had suffered so much at the hands of Islamic extremists? But this was Terry Waite, who still tirelessly works with the Muslim world.

“I am so sorry that it happened and I sincerely hope that there will not be any backlash on the Muslim community,” he continued over the head of a very small old lady sitting next to him. He was on his way to catch a flight to Jordan and there was a massive traffic jam.

“I believe that the attack on Iraq has a lot to do with this. A lot of innocent people died there but I am not saying that it justifies the killing here. Nothing can justify the killing of innocent lives, “ he said.

We parted at Hyde Park Corner and he wished me well, assuring me that the Metropolitan Police are doing all they can to prevent any form of backlashes. And God knows how much I need it as the last few days have done much to change my feelings as a Muslim, a hijabed Muslim woman, living and working in this country.

I have donned the hijab for about three years and had never once received as much as a dirty look from non Muslims here. London is indeed a tolerant city, and I hope it will continue to be so, although the past week’s experience has left me somewhat scared.
Kak Teh as of three years ago.. Posted by Picasa

Last week’s tragedy took me to all the places where the bombing took place, King’s Cross, Aldgate East, Edgware Road and Russel Square and I must have been the only female hijabed journalist around, which of course drew a lot of other foreign media to me to ask me about my feelings and opinion as a Muslim. Walking back to the car with my cameraman, we were hassled by a man in his 30’s. We got in the car in time, escaping the missile of beer can, which hit the window, spilling its contents all over. I was shaken, but my Italian cameraman kindly assured that the can was aimed at him. He was also his protective self when someone hurled a verbal insult while we drove back from north London, saying that the insult was for him. Yeah, right!

Interviewed by German TV in front of the Central Mosque Posted by Picasa

I didn't have him to protect me when I took the bus two days ago. Although, nothing was hurled my way, a dagger look was enough to make me feel uncomfortable. The owner of the icy pair of eyes soon moved to sit elsewhere. Among those three acts I described above, perhaps the last one has the most lasting impression on me, making me feel like I have never felt before in all my 25 years in London.

The mood changed quite slowly. The first two days, people were too stunned to react, and sure enough as Reverand Robert Wickham, standing vigil daily at King’s Cross Station told me, the out pouring of emotions will come later. And now with the suspects, all Muslims, being detained, fingers pointing to Muslims, reports of mosques being smeared and attacked, as a Muslim, one can’t help but feel vulnerable and defensive.

A friend up north in Aberdeen confirmed the feeling. Sometimes, it is also a feeling of self doubt and oevrly sensitive. When someone moves seat, was it me, or did she do that to everyone? When my bag was searched at the entrance to the office, was I being paranoid and too quick to play the religious card? And on the other hand, when someone was overly nice, you think, is he trying too hard?

But speaking to friends, you get the general picture. Someone got stoned, a few got verbal abuse and one or two had their hijabs pulled - very much like the backlash in the aftermath of 911.

Looking at the suspects being rounded up, the one that died on the no: 30, my heart went out to their parents, to the families of the victims. "We are all victims," said Terry Waite. I couldn't really bear to look at the pictures. My own son is around that age, and I worry about him being stopped and subjected to searches and interrogations. During my drive around London, I have seen too many young boys being stopped and searched. This is after all a very difficult and dangerous time.

A week after the bombing, a remembrance ceremony for the victims of the blasts was held at Trafalgar Square. I felt I had to go and indeed, there were many other Muslims who made the effort, to show that we are not part of the barbaric act and we do not condone terrorism. We wanted to show this other face of Islam that the world is fast forgetting.

Young British Muslims against Terrorism Posted by Picasa

London is very much my home where my neighbours holler out ‘Mind how you go,” and “Take care,” as I leave for work in the morning, where the news vendors chatted and exchange banters with me as I make my way to work, where my children have sleep overs at their friends’ place during weekends.

Balloons of Peace In The London Sky Posted by Picasa

When I came back from a two week visit to Paris last year, I breathed a sigh of relief as I stepped on to the British soil. I felt so free and secure and so very much at home. Now, I am not sure anymore.

Friday, 15 July 2005

Good Luck to the MERDEKA RALLY

At exactly 3pm London time 48 Malaysians in 11 4WD and 7 motorbikes were flagged off in front of the Malaysian High Commission in Belgrave Square. They will be heading towards Holland and crossing several countries and Insyaallah will reach Malaysia on 31st August!
God, how I need stories like this! The flagging off ceremony was so much fun, so exciting. I nearly phoned home to ask the family to get their own dinner as I was really tempted to go! The dissertation can wait, the cats can go to the neighbours and I'll blog along the way. What fun!

There are couples, families, doctors, lawyers...what a way to see the world!
Let us wish them luck!

Ready, Steady,Gooooo!! Posted by Picasa

Good Luck, says the Lord Mayor Posted by Picasa

Wish us luck! Posted by Picasa

Vroom! vroom! Posted by Picasa

The Merdeka bikers Posted by Picasa

The Al-Bakri's Posted by Picasa

What a way to see the world, said Danial Al Bakri - the youngest in the team! At fifteen and already doing this kind of adventure! At his age, I was just cyclng around my town! Tu pun kena marah!

Tuesday, 12 July 2005

A Story to Be Shared

The last few days have left me drained, physically and emotionally. Especially emotionally. But in a tragedy such as this, there is always a light, a story that gives us hope and reinforces our belief in our faith. I had spent days and nights at the bomb sites – Kings Cross, Edgware Road and Aldgate and Russel Square. And a tragedy of this magnitude does get to you whether you know anyone or not who perished or were injured in the tragedy. Reading the messages at the Garden of Remembrance now set up at Kings Cross Station was enough to make me burst into tears and I was about ready to give up and go and crawl under the duvet and shut the world out. But I decided to pursue a story that I heard and that took me and my cameraman to North London, into the home of Pak Agus Warcoko.

Pak Agus, on that fateful morning, like everyone else had his morning disrupted by the closure of underground stations. And like others, he had to take the bus at Euston Station.

The number 30 – yes the one that exploded and took 13 lives – was quickly filling up and Pak Agus could only get a seat at the back. As someone who has never been late at work, he tried calling his office – he was until 5th July – the deputy general manager of Bank Negara Indonesia in London. Several attempts failed and as he tried one last time, he heard a huge blast and his mobile phone jumped out of his hand skywards.
The wreckage Posted by Picasa
“I automatically followed the direction of the phone going upwards and suddenly saw the sky as the roof was not there anymore. I instinctively looked down and saw that the seats to the front were all gone. There were body parts and blood everywhere. A girl behind me was in shock and a young man was bleeding. I felt my body and everything was there, Alhamdulillah. The only scratch I got was on my finger – from the force of the mobile phone flying upwards from my grip,” said Pak Agus.
This is where I sat Posted by Picasa
Chatting to him that afternoon was like chatting to someone describing perhaps just some skirmishes down the road – not the life threatening incident that shocked Londoners to the bones and made headlines around the world.

A Sky journalist who interviewed him was baffled at the calmness and serenity about him.

“This is all the will of Allah. He wants me to live. Alhamdulillah,” said Pak Agus who remarkably remained seated although all around him were either thrown off the bus or sent sprawling on the floor.

I wanted to know more. “What was it, Pak Agus, that you think helped you?” said I switching the mode to one of a tabloid journalist, searching for omens, signs and dreams that could have forewarned him.

Saiyaaa, “ he drawled in his heavy Javanese accent, “setiap langkah saya keluar dari rumah, akan saya iringi dengan zikir. Saya sentiasa berzikir dalam perjalanan keluar,” he said about his ritual prayers when leaving home.

Dan saiyaaa....,” he drawled again, “sentiasa dalam keadaan berwuduk, Kalo jadi apa-apa, saya pergi dalem imaaan,” he added.
Pak Agus & Ibu Tanti Posted by Picasa
I instinctively rubbed my hands, smoothing the goose bumps fast appearing. My cameraman shot a look as I was pushing the sound level unneccessarily up.

To say that Pak Agus emerged unscathed from the catastrophe would be stretching it a bit. Once in a while, he’d strain hard to listen to my questions. His eardrums must have been severely damaged as the blast, needless to say, must have been quite loud.

His wife Tanti, received an sms message about the bomb blasts and watching the news, she thought immediately of her husband. She rang him several times but there was no answer and the office too had reported that he was not around. She waited with a friend, in tears.

"Saya hanya mampu menunggu, menunggu dan menangis. Bila saya dengar dia selamat, saya bersyukur kepada Allah, bersyukur, bersyukur dan menangis,” she stressed as if one bersyukur was not enough to convey her gratitude to the Allah Almighty, while tears filled her eyes.

The story of Pak Agus reached his family very fast – via an Indonesian private TV station that reported him dead. It was only by chance that a nephew in Surabaya had heard his interview in the BBC Indonesian Service that they knew of his fate.

Next week, Pak Agus and family return to Jakarta. But this is one grim memory that they are taking back with them. But this is also one reminder for me, for us, of the power of zikir. Subhanallah.

Safe in the arms of his loving family Posted by Picasa

Saturday, 9 July 2005