Thursday 31 August 2006

Syaer Hari Kebangsaan

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Wahai semua rakyat Malaysia,
pembaca Choc-a-blog samalah juga,
hari ini hari yang mulia
49 tahun merdeka sudahnya.

Kak Teh bangun di pagi hari
di negara bekas penjajah yang sejuk ini
semangat berkobar “Negara ku” nak nyanyi
suara tak keluar ketawa sendiri.

Sudah lama di perantauan
namun anak Malaysia, masih ku tuan
tak kira di mana arah tujuan
kesetiaan kepada negara masih ketahuan.

Walaupun hari ini hari Merdeka
tak boleh berehat sebab terpaksa kerja
negara bekas penjajah mana ada cutinya
tak ingat kah depa, hari ini harinya????

Tak apalah pembaca, Kak Teh undur dulu,
mencari makan sekadar sesudu
berpestalah anda kibarlah bendera tu
kuatkan suara, nyanyikan NegaraKU!!!


Monday 28 August 2006

Memories of Merdeka

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As I was washing the flask to make tea for the journey to Brickendonbury for the Malaysian Carnival last Saturday, my mind took a nostalgic trip down memory lane. There I was, standing by the sink in my crisp, newly ironed uniform, washing my bluish green tupperware tumbler to fill it up with iced tea and then carefully wrapping it with a small Good Morning towel and finally securing it with a rubber band. This I placed safely with egg sandwiches Mak had prepared for the long hot day we school children had to endure lining up the streets for the Merdeka day celebration. Sometimes, it was merely to catch a glimpse and wave our flag to the motorcade taking the Sultan and the Sultanah to their own celebrations, or sometimes to stand in the parade grounds, to listen to speeches after speeches. Mak's sandwiches would have been long gone by the second speech.

The reason we endured the long hours of standing by the roadside was because at the end of that long day, we were rewarded with free tickets to the cinema. That made it worthwhile. Even if some fainted along the way.

My earliest memories of Merdeka was of Kak Cik rehearsing enthusiastically and with such feelings, her speeches for the 'Pertandingan Syarahan'. It was 'the bulan bahasa kebangsaan' which started with inter school competitions and culminated at national level. Kak Cik made it to state level and had a table full of trophies to show for her success. I enjoyed watching her on stage. Thinking back, how well, how confident and how proud we were then speaking our own national language. And how easily too we slipped into English.

Anyway, another event that marked the celebrations for Merdeka Day was the arrival of the Filem Negara vans in the small town of Yan. We knew that this meant free movies on big white screens out in the padang. Of course, like the free cinema tickets, we had to endure an hour of government propaganda clips, which we would while away chatting to friends or eating kacang putih. But yes, I remember these very well. Mak would make her excuses to Pak and we’d have a family picnic on the lawn, in the moonlight.

Later, Merdeka Day celebrations also meant lots and lots of practice of the Scottish or Irish Dance. Scottish or Irish Dance at a National Day celebration? Yes, I am afraid so. While other schools like the SAS showed off their lenggang lengguk mak inang, we from St Nicholas Convent (hooray!) jigged and hopped and weaved in and out in our kilts and funny berets. We stood out of course but we made it a Merdeka Day with a difference.

Then, of course, when I got myself into the school band, we marched from our school, the Sultan Abdul Hamid College (another hooray!) all the way to the stadium, all the while playing the angklung or the drums. Those were the days, eh?

After that as an adult, I don’t remember much, except that during one celebration, in the throes of early courtship and romance, we walked hand in hand to watch the performance at the Lake Gardens. Everything became a blur then. Not that I ceased to be patriotic but other matters took over.

Matters that took me to London. Ironically, it is here, eight thousand miles away that this feeling of patriotism made its way back into my heart, where even a glimpse of the National Flag or the soulful tune of Negaraku would bring tears to my eyes.

The Malaysian community in the UK has always celebrated the National day in Brickendonbury at the vast and green fields of Tun Abdul Razak Rubber Research Centre. This is a great place to meet other Malaysians other than in Oxford Street. There’s usually lots of fun and games and food galore. Malaysians and friends from all corners of the UK would come in coaches and cars and vans to join in this fun ala Family Day.

One year, I decided to test my culinary and business skills and with some friends we set up a food stall.
I made mee bandung, sardine rolls and currypuffs while my friends made capati and keema mutton. What a fun day we had , with people queueing up to get more and more and by the end of the day, it was declared the best mee bandung this side of the English Channel.( Well, that would be easy, wouldn’t it?)

The year after, I decided to do a repeat performance, but while I was stirring the gravy, I realised my heart was not there. I was looking longingly at my friends playing netball and those in the musical chair. It was then that I realised that business is not my thing. I left the gravy to boil and joined in the fun in the musical chair, winning second place. There!

For quite a number of years I was the MC for the day, but this year I decided that I wanted to have fun instead. Once I was even asked to coach a group of children to sing patriotic songs, and oh! how it touched my heart to hear them sing Setia...

Last year the bombings and fear of bombings saw to it that the carnival was cancelled. But when we got news that it is back on this year, I decided to go. As Ewok had already booked a place to sell her ice cream, I booked a place in her ice cream van and together with my son and another friend, we left early Saturday morning for Hertfordshire. The weather in the morning wasn’t very promising. It started raining and we were worried that the ice cream would not sell. But how wrong we were. The queue to the ice cream van started at 9 and ended when all the other stalls had packed up to go. Picture this, ewok assisted by two Mak Cik bertudung selling Yorkshire Da*le Ice Cream.

I met a few bloggerfriends such as Newkidontheblog, marlinda, atok, kak ngah and Ibu71. And guess who else I met? AlexYoong! It was eight years ago that I was Alex’s companion to a Merdeka Celebration at Four Seasons Hotel in London. And that drew a lot of attention from other Mak Datins present.

But one Merdeka Day will remain clearly in my mind. That was the year Princess Diana met her tragic death. I remember it so clearly because I heard the news as I was on my way to cover one of the celebrations with my cameraman. Instead I ended up doing a coverage of the crowd in front of Buckingham Palace.

Well, Selamat menyambut Hari Merdeka everyone, wherever you are!

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Sunday 20 August 2006

Tribute to a Special Lady

During the last few days, we sat in Kakak’s living room, enjoying a bit of snacks, flicking through old albums and generally talking about this and that. Once in a while I half expected Kakak to poke her head through the window between the kitchen and the living room, asking us whether we wanted any tea or if there was enough food. She never did. And then reality set in. She will never walk through that door to the living room again or ask me if I need more sugar in my tea because just last Monday, we buried her in the place she wanted to be – the Garden of Peace.

The last few weeks had been a difficult time for all of us – especially for Kakak’s family that she left behind and for my children, whom she looked after since they arrived into this world. But it had also been a time of reflection and a time to start growing up. Since the doctors diagnosed the Big C five months ago and since watching her succumb painfully to the dreaded disease, we had all seen the changes in ourselves too.

Kakak came into our lives at a time when I desperately wanted to pursue my career and at the same time be a supermother. In other words, I wanted to be a Superwoman – and Kakak afforded me that. Life before Kakak was a bit of a shamble. I’d take our first born to work, meet up with a nanny ( a different one most days) at the office, breastfed him on demand and did my work. On certain days, my husband would take him to his office when I did my live daily broadcast . But we knew that this couldn’t go on and and we needed to place our trust in someone to look after our son – and Kakak fitted the bill perfectly.

Kakak came to London from Singapore in the late sixties, joining her newly wed husband who had served in the British Airforce. Their four children and our fast growing family of four soon grew up together as a family – a kind of extended family away from home.

Kakak and Abang saw to it that the children were well looked after, well fed while we pursued our career. From the day she scooped our eldest (who was then one) into her arms, we knew we had found the right person. When the rest came she was there to take charge. It was a pleasure to see the children so happy and contented in her living room. Most days, she’d prepare us dinner and on other days fried noodles or beriani ayam ready packed in old Margerine containers to take home. When we had assignments abroad, we didn’t have to worry about who would look after the little ones.

During weekends, we’d ferry Kakak, her children and ours to the mosque for their religious classes and more often than not, the evenings would be spent in her living room watching old Bollywood movies, eating fried noodles or keropok.

It has been about 24 years since we met this family from Singapore who had made such a difference in our lives. The last few years, we had been more concerned about Abang’s health and our children, now not needing anymore nannying, took turns to look after their ‘uncle’ and run errands for their ‘aunty’. After all we live only 10 minutes away from them across the A40. Kakak had complained once in a while about migrane and chest pains, but it was Abang that we were worried about as he lost the use of his fingers and finally his mobility. Kakak’s medical tests didn’t show anything. But the last few years, I admit shamefacedly, that I had not looked in as often as I should have because I had been pursuing my studies. But my children still visited while I phoned once in a awhile. But I never detected the change in Kakak.

I vividly remember a phonecall. Kakak, who was always bubbly and would speak endlessly about almost anything, was just replying to me in “aha, ha, and aha”. Yet I didn’t suspect anything. Our youngest who went to sit with her that afternoon came back and said aunty hardly acknowledged his presence. Kakak used to talk a lot. A goodbye at her doorsteps would usually last half an hour and if the weather was good, it would continue to the car. The first time she was admitted into hospital, it finally dawned on me. Apparently she had gone to her own doctor and then got confused. She couldn’t say anything. Her doctor suspected a stroke and when she was taken to Charing Cross Hospital, they found the offending lump in her brain and later two more in her lungs.

When I saw her that day, she was a little better although she still thought her year of birth was 1874. A succession of chemotherapy later saw some drastic changes; she lost weight and she lost her hair. Last May we celebrated her birthday in the visitors’ room on the eleventh floor of the hospital. She knew and we all knew it was her last. Although she was tired, she was happy to see most of the children she had cared for and her children and grandchildren.

There had been changes that had gone unnoticed. While she was in hospital, I cooked in her kitchen for Abang. Kakak had left clues that we had not picked up. Things that shoudn’t have been in the fridge were there, the usually organised cabinets were not as they should be. There was tea among spices and some important ingredients were nowhere to be seen.

It was two Thursdays ago that I got the dreaded call at work. The doctors were calling in her family and close friends as they didn’t think she would last the day. H was at work and quickly made his way there, R was in the library and hastily left, N and T who were at home dropped everything to be with their aunty. They were all in tears when I got there and we started reading the Yassin. Kakak was by the having difficulty breathing but could still acknowlege my presence.

When the morphine ceased to have anymore effect, she’d open her eyes and try to speak. That night I slept on two chairs by her bedside, listening to her breathing patterns and finally fell asleep only to be woken up by her attempts to pull off her gas mask. That afternoon, she was more alert looking at us intently, one by one. She acknowledged her visitors and squeezed my hand tight and even asked me what day it was. We whispered to her the syahadah and she moved her lips to show she understood. Once in a while she sipped the zam zam water that I brought back from umrah recently. By evening her legs had gone stone cold and the nurse told us that her body had started to shut down. We still harboured hopes that Kakak would stay on until the next morning when her son was due to arrive from Singapore. That evening, Abang, who had been in his wheelchair by her bedside since she was admitted, asked me to check on Kakak who had gone all quiet. She seemed to be asleep. I touched her hand, it felt warm and told Abang that Kakak was finally asleep after a restless afternoon. But how wrong I was. She went very quietly and very peacefully without us realising it.

It must have been around nine when she slipped off quietly. I didn’t cry and couldn’t cry as there were the younger ones, my children and her children who were witnessing their first experience of death. There were calls to be made. The nurses allowed us time to be with her and it was about 3 am that we all went home leaving Kakak in the mortuary during the weekend as we couldn’t register her death for burial.

That weekend saw me endlessly cooking and cooking in Kakak’s kitchen. It was my way of coping. We had tahlil every night since then. Kakak’s children coped admirably – got the death certificate and registered her death and then we raced through the heavy Monday morning traffic to East London mosque for the jenazah prayers. We then paid our last respects to Kakak before following the convoy to the Garden of Peace in Hainnault. It was indeed a peaceful and serene place – far, but nice. Many other members of the Malay community were buried there. Kakak would have liked that.

Kakak would have been pleased too to know that her surau mates were there. For the next three days, they sent food to the house, telling us that Kakak had cooked for them when she was alive.
Kakak’s next door neighbour who hailed from Pakistan told us how every Ramadan, without fail, Kakak donated to her village in the border with Afghanistan, sometimes enough to feed a whole village and even helped build a well in one. It then emerged news of her generous donations to schools around here. How little I knew of Kakak during the last few years of her life.

As we walked back to the car, leaving Kakak to rest in her final resting place, I thought back to the times she visited us at home. Everytime before she left, she’d say, “OK Zaharah, Kakak jalan dulu!”

Yes, Kakak, thank you very much and Al Fatehah.

Monday 7 August 2006

Can I tell it in pictures ...?

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I captured these images while on the march last Saturday to add my voice to stop the killing - of children no matter where they are. Stop the suffering, stop the torment. These are images we see on telly almost every hour on the hour, and most often than not I look away. I look away beacuse I feel so helpless. I look away because there is one other image that keeps playing in my mind, one that is so heartwrenching - A mother was in the boat leaving with a group of others for safety, her hand outstretch, she was begging the soldier to turn the boat around to get her three year old, (if I am not mistaken) left behind with her other son. Picture cut to two boys crying - hands reaching out to the mother as the boat sped away. The brother trying to console his three year old brother is a child himself. I cannot get this image out of my mind. I pray to God that the family is back together.