Those of you who had been following my blog when blogs were the "in" thing back then, may be familiar with the name Lin as one of the characters in my blog. Can't recall? Try Mr Darling's ex-wife instead.
When I first started blogging in March 2007, Lin was not yet in the picture. She was referred to Buddies during one HIV clinic in 2006, but I wasn't on duty then and she told my fellow volunteers on duty that she wasn't ready to be assigned a buddy. So they just gave her my phone number. Her contact report prepared by the volunteers on duty was then filed under "Buddies not required".
Some time towards the end of 2007, I got a text message in the middle of the night while I was asleep. Being the light sleeper that I was (and still am), the SMS tone on my phone woke me up. My reading glasses was nowhere near, all I could figure out from the message was that it had something to do with Buddies. I only properly read the message when I woke up in the morning.
"Saya Lin (bukan nama sebenar), Saya nak tanya macam mana nak join Buddies.'
I wasn't really sure if she wanted to join Buddies as a volunteer, or if she actually needed our support services. So I asked if she wanted to become a volunteer. And her reply came...
"Bukan. Saya ada HIV. Dapat dari suami yang tak bertanggungjawab. Saya rasa tertekan sangat..."
It took her more than a year after she was given my number by my fellow volunteers before she finally decided to take that first step to contact me. I guess she was so depressed she just needed someone to talk to. I am just amazed she actually still kept my number after more than a year. She had probably wanted to contact me earlier but found it difficult to make that first move.
We finally planned to meet up. And despite that being the first time we met, we actually hit it off on the right note from day one. She openly talked to me about her problems etc and at the end of just one meet, she said she felt much better already. Indeed, all she needed was just someone to talk to. With 6 children age ranging from 10 - 20, and her ex-hubby always finding excuses why he couldn't give more money for the children, Lin had a tough time trying to make ends meet. She herself only went to school up to standard 6, and never worked before. She ended up working at a restaurant, washing the dishes.
When she started with her first HIV medication, she had side effects so severe, she had to be warded for quite some time. She had to quit her job. But she's not a quitter. She just needed someone to be there for moral support, and that was where I came in.
When I first met her, the eldest just got an offer to further her studies at a nursing school. No. 2 was offered to study medic overseas. No. 3 was waiting for her SPM results. The other 3 were still in school. The monthly financial aid she was getting from Baitulmal was not enough. Buddies helped her out with the younger children's schooling needs. I also visited her regularly on a monthly basis, sending her groceries sponsored by members a club.
After her divorce, initially she stayed at her father's kampong house, together with her father. But her father had transferred the house to her eldest brother's name, thinking he'd be the best person to handle the property after he dies. When the father died, the brother decided to sell the house. Lin of course couldn't afford to buy it, so she had to move out, renting a house in the same town.
Lin started selling pisang goreng at a friend's food stall. Business was good, to the extent that the friend felt it would be more profitable for him if he sold pisang goreng himself. So Lin had to stop selling pisang goreng there. She then attended a 3 months course at Giat Mara, learning how to sew. She made full use of the 3 months there. From then on, she started making an income from home, using her sewing skills, mainly sewing baju kurung.
One by one, her children started working, including one who became a doctor. I even attended the wedding of 2 of her children. I visited her less and less since she became more and more independent and I needed to spend more time on other clients needing attention.
After a while we lost contact. I lost my phone, with her number in it. And apparently she too lost my number and was unable to contact me.
That was until about 2 years ago, when during a function with another NGO I was involved in, Lin's 3rd daughter who was there manning a stall, came to me to ask if I remembered her. It took me a while but I finally remembered that familiar face. That was when I got Lin's number again and we're back in touch, albeit occasionally.
I did visit her at her new home once during Raya. But last year with start of the Covid pandemic, we didn't get to see each other. No visits and no family day either.
Yesterday she contacted me, asking me how I was doing. And she asked how to go about if she wanted to donate to Buddies. She also mentioned that during her last hospital appointment, the ID doctor asked if she'd consider becoming a peer support for fellow HIV+ women. But Lin claims she's too shy to speak to others. I suggested to her that she join Buddies as a volunteer this time so I could guide her. I hope to visit her one of these days to convince her.
Whatever it is, Lin has certainly come a long way. She had to go through various trials and tribulations but look where she is now. From someone who needed help, to someone who wants to help others.
Lin is certainly no longer my client. She is now my FRIEND.
p/s By the way, Lin now has 9 grand children!