Saturday, 12 October 2013

12th October 1984 - Memories

29 years ago, on 12th October, 1984 Afzal came to us as a bouncing 8lbs 12ozs baby, crying his lungs out with a big, husky voice, filling the still and quiet Bentong night, as though making sure his arrival is not missed! By December 1984, Afzal's details and picture was already in my international passport, getting ready to depart for the United States of America, to join papa who was doing his Masters in Eugene, Oregon. He was 11 days shy of 3 months old when we set foot in the land of Uncle Sam and the Star Spangled Banner.

Afzal at 1 and 1/2 months at Subang International Airport, ready to depart for the US.

Afzal is the only child among my five children who enjoyed the priviledge of having me by his side 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 2 years. And as fate would have it, he is also the only one who lived away from home the longest and furthest. He went to Lembah Beringin to do his A-levels at the age of 18, then proceeded to Sheffield, U.K when he was 20 to pursue his first degree and only came back when he was 26. This is by no means my effort to establish some sort of record. It is just my way of going down memory lane, reliving my life with Afzal.

1st month in the US.

Afzal started primary one at SK Tanjung Aru 1, in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Both his brothers went to school there too. I remember his first day at school.....the classroom was in a mess. There were broken tables and chairs around and Afzal ended up with a good chair but a broken table. I found him a good table from the class next door. During recess, I was shocked looking at the height of grass in the yard surrounding the canteen and most green areas around the school. It was even higher than the shortest student....I bet if this is anaconda country, one could easily be lurking in those tall grass. Nevertheless the school had some of the best and coolest teachers. I remember one day seeing Afzal sharing his water bottle with a teacher and when I asked him about it, he said "that's normal ma...he drinks from my water bottle many times". I tell my husband that I do not mind if the school building is a bit dilapidated and not as modern as long as my children can learn in it.

Afzal was awarded the Half Colour Award for Best Student at La Salle Secondary School, Kota Kinabalu in 1994 - with brother, Andi and teacher, Juliana.

After UPSR( Primary School Accessment Examination), despite scoring 5As, Afzal was not offered boarding school anywhere and he was placed in SM La Salle to start his form 1.(Actually all of my children only attended day school, but they still fared well in their studies and all finally ended up in university, and I credit all that to Allah's beautiful plannings) Off course Andi and Jep were already seniors there! Ironically, in primary school, Afzal could wear long pants, but in form 1, at La Salle, he had to wear short pants. He was not comfortable at all wearing the short school pants being sold in the market because they were about 2 inches above his knees....He kept telling me that the school's ustaz was fighting for Muslim boys to be allowed to wear long pants! Meanwhile, until that finally happened, I had to resort to buying long pants and cutting them off to the length that Afzal is comfortable.

All siblings' day-out at Crocodile Farm, Tuaran. My beautiful children.

As I look back at those years when my children were growing up, I could not help but thank Allah for the beautiful enriching experience. I would not trade it for a different one. Afzal, like his other siblings, went through humble beginnings, where schooling is concerned, but, managed, to succeed and fulfilled his dream to become a doctor. Today would have been his 29th birthday. On this day, I pray Allah place him amongst those promised Jannah. Till we meet again my dearest son, I have memories of my beautiful life with you.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

No. 42, Filey Street - The Attic Room


   November, 2005 marked the first time I visited the house at number 42, Filey Street, in Sheffield, United Kingdom. Like most homes rented by single boys or men, the house is humbly furnished and probably only cleaned 3 or 4 times a year ( I'm exagerating!). But somehow, this humble house is a home that I will treasure for always.

   This was Afzal's home for 5 years until he came home in February, 2010. For more than 4 years he took up a small room in the attic - the smallest of 5 rooms in the house! One had to climb 3 flight of stairs  with 2 landings before reaching Afzal's room ( I cannot remember exactly how many steps we had to climb, but it is a steep climb). The only window in the room opened out looking into Uncle John's garden ( I do not remember if Afzal actually told me his name, but I like to remember him as Uncle John). There were several occasions when I saw Uncle John tending to his small garden, even during the cold winter mornings, though I had never actually met him in person. In the far distance, one could also see the ArtsTower (I think that's what it is called), Sheffield University from this window. Once, in September, I even saw a neighbour holding a barbeque! I remember in December, 2008, when I was there with Jep, I saw a black cat scaling the perimeter wall that served as a boundary between houses in that Broomhall neighbourhood and I was frantically calling for Jep or Afzal to come to the window to witness this seldom seen phenomenon in the UK (honestly, I did not see any cats in the streets of London or Sheffield as I see them in Malaysia!)...but none could share the moment with me for both were down and out - Afzal from chemo and Jep from food poisoning.

   When I first visited 42 Filey Street in 2005, it was just because I wanted to see where Afzal lived. I did not even sleep in the house. Instead, I stayed in one of Afzal's girl friends' house further down the same street. The one thing about 42 Filey Street that made it an extra special house was that it was right in front of a grocery store that sells halal products - Yafai! It is so conveniently located that I loved cooking at 42, Filey Street because most of my cooking needs were just a few metres away ! I remember when Afzal first brought me to the store to buy chicken. He first greeted the shopkeeper in Arabic. We then proceeded to a basement-like part of the store where the butcher was and the butcher said " many kilos? skin off? small cuts?..." Afzal replied "..yes, the usual..". Afzal said his housemates and he did a lot of cooking to save on expenses, besides it helped satisfy their cravings for Malaysian food.

  When I started coming to Sheffield to care for Afzal, after he got sick, there was no question as to where I should be staying in other than at no. 42, Filey Street. December, 2008, marked the first time I slept in this house, but not in the room in the attic yet! One of Afzal's housemate, M (Ahmad Khairudin) had gone back to Malaysia on holiday and had graciously offered us his spacious room (it's the master bedroom). We stayed there for a week before actually moving to the attic room.

   As there were 3 of us, and it was winter, my boys decided that I get the bed and the two of them slept on the floor. There was enough room for just the 3 of us, besides the basic study table, chair, closet and small cabinet for Afzal's knick knacks. I remember Afzal said, "don't worry ma, I bought a lot of duvets which was on sale, we won't be cold sleeping on the floor!" However, being at the top most part of the house, it takes effort to move up and down, especially when one required something from the kitchen which was on the ground floor. As such, we kept enough food and drinks in the attic room when we retired for the night but were still not tired enough to sleep.

   As I laid on Afzal's bed, occassionally looking at him, sitting at his study table (on his good days in-between chemos), revising and catching up on whatever he missed as he prepared for his exams, I could not help but marveled at how Afzal must have loved his attic room. The walls and ceilings were full of wise words, quotations, quranic verses, birthday cards, family and outing pictures, phone numbers and exam schedules. But what touched my heart most was a piece of paper detailing his targeted savings from the day he started receiving his scholarship to the day he was supposed to graduate and return to Malaysia. He made a list of all his committed expenses - house rent, utility bills, food needs, donations (I found out that he sponsored a child through monthly deductions from his bank account) and calculated an estimated amount that he could save monthly and bring home when he finished his studies. It suddenly dawned on me that this was the reason why he had never asked my husband or me for any additional money to support him while in the UK. The only money that I ever gave him were when he first left Malaysia in 2004 and during his yearly trip home during his breaks. Sometimes I wondered if there were ever anything he liked or wanted but did not buy them because he was on a tight budget. When I queried him about it, Afzal said "I do go shopping Ma, but I wait till there's a sale on and I only buy things that I need not just want!" I remember he used to nag my daughter who loves to shop for shoes..."How many shoes do you need Aiysha?"

   I did say Afzal stayed for 5 years at 42, Filey Street. Well, after he finished his exams, he had to give up the  attic room because the contract had expired. However, his gracious landlord allowed him to stay in the living room. All his housemates agreed to give up their living room so that Afzal did not have to move out while still receiving treatment and undergoing medical training. That is how much blessing Allah bestowed upon my son, living on foreign soil. I only saw Afzal's landlord, Mr. Abdullah, twice during my visits there, though we were not formally introduced. On occasions when I stayed at 42 Filey Street, I never failed to help clean up the place, especially the kitchen, trying to make it look more like a home to all the occupants whom I considered as my children too....and I could not help but noticed Mr. Abdullah's surprised but pleased look when he saw the gleaming kitchen floor (I had scrubbed it back to its original floorboard colour the day before) during one of his visits!...and that made me feel so good.

   Now, not one day passes by without me thinking of Afzal. As much as I have accepted his passing as the will of Allah, I cannot help but miss him terribly. There are so many things I wished I had done with him or for him. Remembering his beautiful smile will always bring tears to this tired eyes. However, it helps to reminisce on how he had lived a fruitful and enriched life at 42 Filey Street, and Allah willing, I would like to revisit this home again some day!...Mama.

Friday, 5 April 2013

A PTD Working Mother

Andi said, maybe I should write a post about being a working mother and especially the challenges of being a PTD officer...well, here goes.....

Mama-PTD Batch DPA 3 1981

It is not easy being a working mother, especially if you are in the Management and Professional Group ( Civil Service clustering of services). Expectations come from all sectors - your boss expects 100% commitment to your work and your family expects you can spend time with them as and when they want you to! So what is left for yourself?

When I decided to get married, having children was something natural that goes with getting hitched. I love children and family life. I love the thought of raising a family, caring for them and building a home....I had an inkling it was not going to be easy, but I never realised it was going to be hard work! It was a situation of "I clock-out from my "real office" and clock-in to my "home office". When others can come home and relax with a cup of coffee and banana fritters, I have to take over my baby from the nanny, put on my apron and start dinner, while still remembering to breathe! But then again, that is the price women have to pay for wanting to have a career besides carrying out what have been destined....being a wife and mother! How do I maintain my cool and not lash out on my family? - I keep telling myself how lucky I am to be wanted and be depended on by my children!

When I held Andi, my first-born in my arms after he was born, I could not believe that I actually was responsible for such a beautiful creation. It was the same feeling with all my children, only more intense because I then had not one but more tiny ones to care for. I am sure all mothers feel the same way towards their off springs. With that feeling also came these concerns "Can I really look after this tiny baby? What if I screwed up? What if he gets sick or something?....and the list of "What ifs?" goes on.....

And then there's the question of who is going to care for them while my husband and I are at work? Back when my children were young, it was possible to scout for domestic help in villages. We still managed to locate young unemployed girls willing to take on the job. But they did not stay long though.......... In between looking for replacements, we put our children up at my mothers or talked my mom-in-law into staying over longer then usual during her visits or placed them in day-cares. All of these options had their own challenges which we had to face with a lot of patience and tawakkal. And before we know it, all our children outgrew the need for babysitters. The one principle my husband and I stood by was that, no matter how difficult it was and no matter what options we chose as measures to solve our babysitting problems, we made sure that we were always there for the children......

I am a PTD (Administrative and Diplomatic) Officer and have worked in various Government Departments and dealt with numerous professionals ( doctors, allied health professionals, lawyers, teachers, town planners, IT people, fire & rescue personnels) who settled for nothing but the best from me.....While I carry out my duties, I am also responsible to upkeep the good name of the PTD that added to the pressure and stress. How can I be a good civil servant and at the same time not neglect my big family because as a civil servant, I have to put my service before my family.

Like everyone else, there were ups and downs, successes and failures, near misses and glorious achievements, frustrations and accomplishments....but at the end of it all, I believe that if we are honest in what we do, whether its taking care of the family or carrying out our official duties, in shaa Allah, all will turn out fine. We just need to be ready to sacrifice and give-in more, making the best of situations while not expecting for things to always turn out the way you planned.

Tired I may be by the time I reached home, but the smiles on my childrens' faces telling me how excited they are at seeing me home is enough to give me the strength to go on. And at work, the knowledge that I have contributed, even though a little in achieving my organization's success and along the way solved my customers problems or fulfilled their needs is satisfaction knowing I have been useful.

I used to envy housewives who have all the time in the world to care for their families, plan their day to accomodate their schedule perfectly, with priority being given to their childrens' needs. However, when I think about it, their working hours may be theirs to command, but their purchasing power is dependent on how much their husbands can afford to give them. Unlike working mothers who draw their own income, housewives' limitations come in the form of their ability to fulfill their children's material needs.

As such, I believe that no matter how difficult it may be, working mothers are still blessed. The challenge to care for your family will turn into rewards that you will reap in no time. An understanding spouse and supportive family members help lessen the responsibility. Like what Afzal always said, trust in the beautiful plannings of Allah. Everything that happens, happens for a good reason which we may not be able to comprehend right away. All the challenges that Allah bestow upon me till now, I accept with humility and I believe that I will continue to be tested for I am but a mere human who errs................Mama Afzal
Andi- PTD Batch DPA 1/2010