When we first wanted to meet up with Roslan some time in July, he didn’t want us to visit him at home. It was so difficult to get him to even answer our calls or text messages, what more to allow us to visit him at home. He didn’t want our visit to cause curiosity amongst his neighbors, he said. He didn’t want them to find out that he had HIV, although we assured him we wouldn’t be mentioning anything about HIV.
We respected his wishes and arranged to meet outside, so we could arrange for financial help, particularly for his children’s schooling needs.
Since he didn’t bring along the supporting documents, we gave him the list of documents we needed and told him to bring along the photocopies of the documents on the last Tuesday of the month, when we were scheduled to go for our clinic duty in Taiping Hospital.
But on the last Tuesday of July when we planned to start our clinic duty in Taiping, the clinic was cancelled as the doctor had to go for a meeting elsewhere.
By mid-August, when a few of us arranged to visit another family in a nearby town, initially we wanted to meet up with Roslan again, to get the documents. But he never answered our calls, and neither did he reply our text messages. So we gave up since we were not supposed to visit him at home anyway.
But a few days later, a male colleague of mine who had been liaising with Roslan before this, received a text message from an unknown number. It was Roslan’s wife, saying that Roslan had died earlier in the month. My colleague then called to find out more, but the lady sounded quite distraught and didn’t really want to talk.
Sensing that she may not feel comfortable talking to a man, I took over the case. I started off by sending a text message saying who I was, then I called. Roslan’s wife, Maya, did sound like she was on the verge of crying, but she was willing to talk. Initially, when I asked if I could visit at home, she was quite reluctant. But when I asked if we could arrange to meet outside, she said she didn’t have any transport. Well yes, she has her late husband’s motorcycle, but she doesn’t have a license. The furthest she dared go on the motorcycle was to her children’s school nearby.
Maya was actually reluctant to allow me to visit her at home for the same reason her late husband refused to allow us earlier on. When I told her that I’d be going “biasa-biasa aje, naik kereta sendiri”, she finally agreed to let me visit.
I know in this case, I’d need to convince her that the visit would be discreet, so I decided to go alone. Besides, for first visits I prefer to go alone as usually I’d be able to get more info that way. When I bring another volunteer along, the new clients, especially the ladies, don’t seem to talk much.
But Maya stays in an unfamiliar territory to me, and since I couldn’t bring a friend along, I had to depend on Mrs G…
Well no, Maya’s kampong is not listed in my GPS. So what I’d usually do is I’d ask for the nearest landmark, possibly a school. In Maya’s case, since she said the furthest she dared ride her motorbike was to her children’s school, then the school shouldn’t be too far away. And yes, the school is listed in my GPS, so all I had to do was set the school as my destination.
I managed to get to the school without a hitch. Then I called Maya to get further directions. Apparently, the junction I had to take was the junction right after the school, just follow that road and find her house number. Sounds easy? Well yes, quite easy… but as I was driving into the kampong, I was praying hard that there wouldn’t be any cars heading out the opposite direction! You see, it was just a small kampong road with paddy fields on my right and a big drain on my left!
I finally found a mailbox with her house number, and her house was across the big drain. Maya was already waiting in front of her house. The titi (small bridge) in front of her house was not accessible by car. Maya then showed me a bridge that was accessible by car (the width ngam-ngam just nice for the car). Reversing all the way back wasn’t easy especially on such a small road. I then saw a small piece of land a bit further up where I could make a turn, so I took a turn there, only to find out that the ground was wet and soft… and when I wanted to reverse out, only the wheels turned, but the car didn’t move! Alamak! Would I have to make a scene and get the kampong folks to help me out? Keeping my cool, I maneuvered the car by taking a different angle, and this time I managed to get the car out (phew!), drove back to the titi and then on to Maya’s house.
Then only Maya told me, “Tanah tu dulu sawah kak. Sekarang depa nak buat surau… baru semalam tambak.” Adoi! No wonder la my car almost got stuck!
Anyway, Maya, a mother of 4 girls, age ranging from 7 to 13, told me of how she and her late husband had kept their HIV status only to themselves and their close family members. When Roslan died at home almost 2 months ago, initially, the kampong folks didn’t know anything about his HIV. Roslan looked normal, no skin disease or the likes for people to suspect anything. But then came the people from the health department, in their uniforms and in the Jabatan Kesihatan van, and making their presence felt by all and sundry. They even told the family members to go out to buy clorox, for those who were bathing the body to wear apron, boots etc. And all these they did in the open. No discretion at all.
In the end, all the kampong folks found out Roslan had AIDS. And Maya had to deal with questions like “Laki engkau dulu ada main perempuan ke?” and the likes.
No wonder Maya was reluctant to let me visit earlier. She probably thought I’d appear in a similar manner. But when I appeared today, alone, and in my own private car, Maya seemed comfortable with my presence, and was even willing to talk about everything, from day one when she was first diagnosed.
Right now Maya survives on her late husband’s savings. When her husband was still alive, she had totally depended on him to pay for the family’s needs. Now that she has to handle the money herself, she’s worried how long the savings will last. I asked about their main source of income.
“Kerjakan bendanglah kak. Hasil dapat 2 kali setahun. Kena bayar sewa lagi sebab bendang tu sewa kat orang. Harapkan duit jual padi sajalah. Ikan, sayur saya tak risau sangat. Sayur boleh tanam kat belakang rumah. Ikan boleh cari dalam parit depan tu. Adalah ikan sepat, ikan puyu, ikan haruan pun boleh dapat. Tapi beras kena belilah.”
“Beras kena beli?” I asked.
“Ye lah, padi kami jual kat taukeh tu, senang sebab benih padi selalu kami beli dari dia, hutang. Bila jual padi kat dia, dia tolaklah hutang tu.”
“Dia jual beras tak bagi harga murah sikit ke?”
“Harga macam jual kat orang lain jugaklah kak.”
Sigh… I guess it will be difficult for her life to improve if her family continues that way. The only thing to ensure a better future for her children will be proper, undisrupted education.
And so, that’s what I will concentrate on – to help her children with their educational needs. The family obviously qualifies for our Children Education Fund. But if possible I want to arrange for sponsorship for the girls.
Whatever it is, I’ve already broken the ice with Maya. Except for the distance, there shouldn’t be any problem visiting or communicating with Maya after this. She seemed receptive enough, although I haven’t asked her yet if she’d mind me bringing along another volunteer during my next visit.
After getting all the necessary supporting documents from Maya (to help her apply for financial aid), and after finishing a plate of mee goreng and a cup of tea Maya served for me, off I headed home. This time, there was no longer a need for the GPS. It wasn’t hard to find the expressway…