Saturday, 25 July 2009

A note at one something...

It is nearly a week since I left my sayang mamas at home. It is past one am and I am all alone in the lounge in Bangi, listening to Mak coughing softly and stirring in bed. Just chatted with Nona in London who has stomach pains, phoned Ena after reading about Yasmin Ahmad’s death in her blog (Al Fatehah) and sms’ed my husband who is also sleepless in Gombak.

My sleeping pattern is a bit haywire at the moment. Since arrival, I have been sleeping at odd hours; during conversations with siblings, during drives to shops and everywhere. My nights were spent finishing off some urgent work. When AG was here during the first few days, we raided the kitchen at night and YM’ed and skyped with the children.

It is strange, this feeling. I am home and yet not home. I enjoy the time I spend with my siblings and sibling in laws. We always have so much fun (and food) when we are together but there’s an emptiness somewhere. I am missing the sayang mamas – yes, those with the whiskers as well.

I have called home several times to see that everything is alright. Sayang mama number two is in Cairo and has called several times too.

We’ve not seen many friends since arrival but we have been to so many restaurants and gerais. To date, I’ve had soup perut, mee bandung, nasi kerabu, lontong, mee goreng, durians and more durians!

Alhamdulillah, Mak is alright. She is full of beans today as she had all her loved ones around her when everyone gathered for Azril’s farewell before he left for Geneva. She remembered everything and everyone.

Regular blogging with resume once my jetlag is gone and once I’m done with durian.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Another Goodbye

"Kita jumpa lagi, ya," he said. "Yes", I said, sadly.

It seemed like a repeated scenario, only the main players are different.

Every time I see Encik Usop, he was handing out an envelope. There's our small community of friends, Niman and husband Zainal, officers from the High Commission, Malaysian Students Department, and a sprinkling of others; familiar faces. Alas these days we meet on more sombre occasions, but all giving support and sympathy in anyway we can.

Yesterday, braving the heavy rain, we arrived at No 4 Pinchin Street in east London, and I joined Ustazah, Niman, Zailah and the mother of arwah in the small room where they were giving arwah her last bath and preparing her body before she was laid to rest in the coffin.

It was my first time. But moments and experience like this are humbling moments that make you think that whoever you are, wherever you are, and whatever you do in this life, you still return to The Creator when your time is up. It is a reminder.

The sisters from Hj Taslim Funeral Services who helped with the bath expertly did their job, treating arwah with respect and utmost dignity. There were many other rooms, with similar tasks being performed, but most didn't have the support that young arwah had. I had mistakenly gone into one room where there was only a lone worker giving someone the final bath.

It is moments like this that reminds me of the closeknit community that we have here in London. It takes an sms, a phone call about a sickness or death, and everyone will make sure they are there to give support.

I heard about arwah's sudden illness three weeks ago. By then she was already in a coma; induced coma. She was here with her parents on holiday and they were about to go home when she was taken ill. She was rushed to the hospital and stayed there in ICU till the end. She was only 12.

It was Zainal, our bilal and his wife Niman, who told me about them. They kindly took charge, looking after the family, bringing food, lending a shoulder to cry on. When the word spread, many friends visited and gave support. We held tahlils and doa selamat sessions for her recovery but she lost the fight on 6th July at about 5 o'clock.

When news spread, we were there again on 7th floor of St Mary's hospital. Only three weeks ago, I believe, we were there when news arrived that Ustaz's mother in law had passed away suddenly, after a sightseeing tour in London. I remember on the train journey to White Chapel mosque, my husband reminding me again of the doas for solat jenazah. This time, as we made the journey to East London, I needed no reminder. In the small room next to where we had given arwah her bath, we did prayers for her.

It was just last April, the same familiar faces were at another hospital, another mortuary, another cemetery, burying a friend. Al Fatehah to all.

As the jenazah was driven away to the airport for the flight back to Malaysia, I reflected on what had happened in the past few months.

Over the past few months I have learnt quite a few things. Living abroad, especially, you need the support of people around you. It helps to be a member of the Kesatuan Khairat, with people like Encik Usop, ever ready to hand out a contribution in times when you most need help. You need people who knows the ropes, who to contact, what to do. Haji Taslim of East London Mosque Funeral Service is the most important contact point. After the necessary is carried out at the hospital, doctor's certificate, coroner's report, Haji Taslim takes over preparing the jenazah. The High Commission and the Students Department are here to offer help too, especially when it involves Malaysians who are here for a visit. Ustaz Erfino and his wife, who had recently suffered a personal loss, are always around to offer their help and services.

Over the years too, I have realised this help and cooperation is extended not only to members of the community. People who were at first strangers became firm friends as we share grief and sympathy.

As I write this, the jenazah is being flown back for the burial. To the family, please accept our deepest condolence and sympathy. Semoga Allah mencucuri rahmat ke atas arwahnya dan ditempatkan bersama mereka yang beriman. Al Fatehah.

This is a blog entry by Ustaz Erfino: Al Fatihah to Adik Hanis Suraya

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Note to self ....Not yet!

The surrounding, the ambience at the Radisson Hotel where the award ceremony was held was a far cry from the sea front where sea gulls squawked as they circled gracefully over the famed white cliffs of Dover. Just over twenty hours before, we were running along boats berthing at the Dover Marina. The air had turned chilly and I only had a thin cotton blouse that I had won on both days there. I was cold and looked quite a sight. But for the gala dinner at Radisson Hotel, I had to make an effort. Even then, it was an effort keeping awake and trying not to fall flat on to the plate of grilled cutlets before me.

Had I fallen flat on to the plate, I would have been news. But I didn’t. But I was so tired that I didn’t mind resting my head on the table, surrounded by bankers and financiers talking about sukuk and shariat compliant thingies. My head was still full of seagulls, sea breeze, waves lapping the sea front, and most vivid of all, the sorry sight of Zahra, my namesake, limping out of her boat after a futile, albeit brave effort to swim the Channel.

She had braved twelve hours in the cold waters, fighting the currents; she had crossed the French territory but not before strong waves forced her towards Holland; a long way away from her destination.

I was in the kitchen of the caravan in Varne Ridge, preparing fried noodles, when Lis got the sms from the pilot boat that Zahra had been persuaded to give up. I wasn’t totally surprised that she had to be persuaded because Zahra is one plucky lass. She wanted to do the whole length, she wanted to feel the sandy beach of Calais on her feet and reach the destination reached by so many before her. But she didn’t and she couldn’t…not yet.

The caravan site at Varne Ridge

The noodles I prepared were for the group that accompanied her on the pilot boat. They must be famished after more than twelve hours on the boat. Then they were also her siblings and many more who had come to give support. I felt, I needed to do so – after all the caravan with the small kitchen had been ours for the day. We nipped into Asda to get the necessary things. Before that we had a tough time searching for internet cafes to send our stories. We found one in Folkstone but then again my ftp was interrupted a few times and I almost gave up.

Doa selamat for Zahra

The night before, we arrived Dover at almost midnight. Encik Arof, Zahra’s coach fetched us and took us to our caravan. Zahra had gone to sleep in her caravan. She needed the strength and the energy to see her through. I couldn’t sleep and had to catch up with some other work. At about 3am, there was a knock on my door – a party from London had arrived. The guests were from the Malaysian High Commission and the Malaysian Students Department. I played host and made them tea, while we waited for Zahra and her family to get ready. After subuh, we gathered outside the caravan and after a brief doa selamat, we left for Dover Marina.

Zahra was initially and understandably nervous. When we reached the Marina, her mother took her aside and mother and daughter had a few quiet moment together. That seemed to work and we saw a more confident and cheerful Zahra.

I hugged her a few times before she boarded the small boat. With her was her father, her coach, the pilot and observer from The Channel Swimmers and Piloting Federation, a cameraman and Qabbin from Kelab Ekspedisi Ekstrim 7 Benua. We gave her a quiet send off. It was too early in the morning to be shouting Malaysia Boleh.

The view at Samphire Hoe

We then rushed to Samphire Hoe “one of the few places that you can truly appreciate the drama of the White Cliffs”. That is also the place where we hoped to catch a glimpse of the boat and Zahra making her swim. Well, just about.

After more than half an hour, I realised I was looking at the wrong boat!

Zahra, we were told started the swim at 0607 on 1st July 2009 from Shakespeare Beach.

Our work had just begun. And without any sleep and without internet connection, it proved to be a long day.

A drive to Folkstone and I found myself at Starbuck café and after three top ups, managed to send my stories. By then I was beginning to feel that I am much too old to be doing this. I felt really exhausted and tired. I have done my time, I've had my fair share of innings. But for now, I know I had just enough energy to cook. I wanted to cook for Zahra for when she returned. Then perhaps I will hang up my laptop and let it go to sleep.

We were told that she stopped the swim at 6.20 in the evening. When I saw the boat turning to berth, I caught sight of Zahra underneath piles of blankets. She looked sunburnt and tired. My heart went out to her.

Zahra on arrival

She had to be helped out of the boat and arms linked, I walked her back to the car.

She repeated many times that she could have made it. Tears ran down her cheeks, and mine. More tears ran down my cheeks when I saw the video recordings of Taib Suhut, who captured the moment she was persuaded to give up. As Paul the pilot cajoled her, Zahra waved frantically, signalling that she wanted to go on.

Paul said, “ You have done very well. The channel will always be here for you.”

Zahra tried to climb up. Then her legs gave in and she fell back into the water. The waves were quite high. Once on board, she was inconsolable. She felt she had let her supporters and sponsors down.

Zahra had done 12 hours in the water; with strong currents and high waves. The day before, three swimmers had given up in lesser time. I know I will see Zahra again. I will wait for her return to conquer the Channel, Insyaallah.

I spoke to her the next morning. She was chirpy and back to her old self. She had also eaten the mee goreng, before going back to have a swim at the harbour. Zahra is not about to give up.

Posing while waiting...

Maybe this Zaharah too shouldnt give up... not yet.