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.


Zendra-Maria said...

James Allen once said, "In all human affairs there are efforts, and there are results, and the strength of the effort is the measure of the result".


Kak Teh said...

zendra, wise words at this time of the night...and this zaharah too would like to share the wisdom.

She did very well - 12 hours in the sea - that is such a brave thing to do.

Kak Elle said...

KT I agree with Zendra there will another opportunity for Zahra.

Pi Bani said...

12 hours in the cold sea - to me that's already an achievement!

Madam Tai Tai Again said...

Hi Kak Teh,

For the younger Zahra, perhaps this is not her time yet. With her determination, I'm sure one day her dream to conquer the English channel from Dover to Calais will come soon. Nonetheless, for her great effort - Well done, Zahra!

For the other still young Zaharah, we need you to carry on bringing us stories and anecdotes of Malaysians in the UK. Your stories never failed to touch our hearts. Keep up the good work, Kak Teh!

Justiffa said...

Knowing when to stop is also courageous and a true measure of her strength.

Semoga she'll persevere (as will zaharah) ;)

KG said...

kak teh,

she's still very young and sure the next time round she will conquer the channel...reading about her sends goosebumps to me...hmm so many things i havent conquered, but moi already past 41 ha ha!!i too have to model her!

the other zahara...think you hv done very well!!!

Typhoon Sue said...

Will this Zaharah ever try to do what that Zahra had tried?

I can't swim one lap of the swimming pool without my arms giving up on me.. and i didn't even have cold water to deal with! So, in my book, little Zahra did tremendously well.

Pak Zawi said...

Kak teh,
The experience from this attempt will help her in her next attempt. Success will come her way in due course. Beside others helping and supporting her, she will definitely remember the support from her namesake whom we know as Kak teh.

Kak Teh said...

Kak Elle, she is indeed very determined to come back. There wll be another opportunity, Insyaallah.

Pi Bani, that is true. I wouldnt have lasted two minutes. Although the sun was shining the water was cold.

Kak Teh said...

MTTNM, Her resilience is something I shd have! But I dont have her energy and her youth, argggh!

Cant wait to meet up!

Justiffa, I think it was very courageous to make that decision to stop. She must be thinking about a lot of things - not just her own personal goals - but those people who sponsored and supported her. But am sure, they know she tried her very best.

Kak Teh said...

KG, what are you talking about? You ahve conquered the kitchen and that is no mean feat! If I can make and spell profiterols (sp) I'd be a very proud mum today!

Sue, I dont think I can survive in thew bath tub for too long even! I cant swim, period! What she did was just fantastic. Others had given up earlier.

Kak Teh said...

Pak Zawi, I can never go and just be a journalist - and report and come back. I tend to be more involved. and this time, I had to make the mee goreng - the least I can do. hehe!

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Both Bintang Zuhrah are already winners in my eyes.

Kak Teh said...

Puteri, this bintang oredi malap. Judge for yourslef when i see you soon.Insyaallah!

mamasita said...

To Zahra and Zaharah..both of you are a great both made me touching!

Anonymous said...

Kak Teh: Like your namesake, I am very sure that you will up and about in your old hyper self once you are well-rested.

I can't imagine being 1 hour in the sea, let alone 12 hours! You can bet that we will hear ALOT more from this determined young lass. And the same goes with you, my dear. We need our weekly fix of juicy missives on the going-ons in Old Blighty.*grins*

Kak Teh said...

mamasita, it is a story of a young girl full of energy and enthusiasm, chasing her dreams. It is also a story of an older zaharah on the wrong side of 50, energy spent, enthusiasm waning. I wish I was her age again...not that I want to swim the Channel, but I'd like to do more daring things.

Andrea, I cant imagine one hour soaked in the tub! I'd get sea sick too..hehe!

Memorable trails... said...

K Teh, Your story made me cry at the very beginning.But towards the end of the post,seeing your beautiful pics and caption, you made me laugh.You have touched my heart and other s too in your own peculiar way.
You are one great lady Zaharah.
To Zahrah..what you had done although halfway is a great achievement already.

Kak Teh said...

Thank you madam gold, I feel a lot better already. But seriously, sometimes I think I am too old to be chasing after stories. If I am back home, I;d be assigned to a desk job, editing, slashing and ruining other people's stories! haha!

Chahya said...

Zahra and Zaharah,
Keep on inspiring!

DrSam said...

reading your story about the young zahrah reminded me of a strong-willed lady in 'Ibu Melayu Mengelilingi Dunia'. Very inspiring and made us all very proud - both of you.

Unknown said...

I'm glad I come to your blog today kak...

Am feeling sad... and reading this suddenly surge my optimism for the hope...

thank you kak. Both Zahra are gems!