THEY WILL ASK thee as to what they should spend on others. Say: "Whatever of your wealth you spend shall [first] be for your parents, and for the near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer; and whatever good you do, verily, God has full knowledge thereof." - Al-Baqarah (2:215)
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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Taiping & Taiping again…

After last month’s abseiling & white water rafting in Gopeng, a few of my adventure loving friends and I planned for another adventure – to hike up Bukit Larut (formerly known as Maxwell Hill) in Taiping, as part of our training for Kinabalu. And since my friends were coming all the way from KL/Selangor, I figured we might as well make it an overnight outing for them – on Saturday to visit some interesting places near Taiping, and on Sunday morning we’d hike up Bukit Larut.

So yep, last weekend, on Saturday, my friends came from KL, picked me up in Ipoh and off I went together with them. We had not gone far when a client called. Nope, it wasn’t the client-assigned MI ringtone, but the general tone. Wan, the Orang Asli lady called using another number, very likely her brother’s, because her own phone ran out of credit. She was supposed to go to Ipoh GH to get her monthly supply of ARV on that very day but didn’t have any money to come to Ipoh. After making sure she still had enough supply of ARV to last her for a few more days at least, I told her I’d get back to her on Monday.

Thank God after that there were no more calls to disturb my weekend retreat.

Our first stop was slightly north of Taiping. We went to Bukit Merah. First destination… Orangutan Island (hey, who says we’ve got to go to Borneo to have a look at Orangutans in the wild, huh?)

sat13 sat15 

Then off to Bukit Merah Ecopark… to have a close-up look at some other animals. Quite a number of them, including…

 sat83 sat89

We didn’t go to the Water Park though. After Ecopark, we went straight to the homestay in Kamunting which I had booked earlier, and after Maghrib, the next destination was the Taiping Zoo Night Safari…


Early Sunday morning was the much awaited hike up Bukit Larut. None of us had done that before. Yes, maybe one or two of us had gone up there by jeep many years ago, but going up on foot? We didn’t really know what to expect. But up we went anyway – the initial part through a jungle trail…


Then the next maybe two thirds or more of the way using the tarred road.


Little did we expect that we would have to walk uphill for almost 10km!! From what I’ve been reading on the internet, the average time people would take to hike all the way up was about 3 hours. But with lots and lots of photo-session stops, we ended up having to walk uphill for almost 4 hours before we finally made it to this signage!


No more photo session stops for me on the way down, so I managed to walk all the way down in 2 hours 35 minutes.

Just 2 days later, I was back in Taiping again. This time for clinic duty. It had been quite a while since I came for clinic duty in Taiping. The last one was 4 months ago I think. Only saw one case this time. 2 guys came into the room, the older guy looked Chinese, the younger one looked Malay… but the older guy said the younger one was his brother. Found out that they were actually Siamese Malaysians. I saw that the family needed help, and since the client was male, I decided to assign my vice-chairman to handle this case.

When I got out of the hospital building and as I was walking to my car parked outside, I took a look at the hills, and saw one with telecommunication towers. Ahh, that was the hill we actually went up to by foot last Sunday!

the hill

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Visiting the teenage children…

Earlier this month, when I went to visit Sofie’s family at her home, I ended up having to visit them at the hospital instead. Ika, her youngest child had to be warded. During that visit, Sofie looked more like a patient than the actual patient.

Last Saturday, as I was just relaxing after my weekly pasar tani routine, a call came in from Sofie’s number. However when I answered the call, it wasn’t Sofie’s voice that I heard, but Ika’s.

Makcik, mama masuk hospital!”

She then passed the phone to her mother. Sofie said she started feeling weak after she went to take her monthly supply of meds from the pharmacy, and since they didn’t have stock of her usual meds, they gave her a replacement. Apparently, she kept on vomiting after taking the new med, and started feeling really weak until finally she was admitted to the district hospital near her place. Sigh! SN and myself had always reminded them to call SN or the HIV clinic if they had any problems with their meds, but they never seem to do so!

It was a Saturday, so I told Sofie to call SN first thing on Monday.

On Monday, Azman, Sofie’s son, sent me a text message. Being a first semester student at the culinary school, the promised monthly allowances had not yet been processed and he needed money to survive. I figured I’d take the opportunity to meet up with him to pass him some pocket money, and at the same time to have a slow talk with him. Just the week before I received some unpleasant news about him – seems he had been coupling with a senior female student and other than going almost everywhere together, they had been chatting at the pantry of their hostel right up to 2 or 3 am when everybody else were sleeping. Probably to him he was doing nothing wrong, just chatting.

After checking with him on the free time he had the next day, I promised to see him at the school at noon on Tuesday. After sending some work done to my old office, I immediately headed to the culinary school which was just nearby. Azman came over to see me the moment he saw my familiar Kenari. After giving him his pocket money and discussing about his studies, he mentioned about the need to pay his hostel fees. I asked if he could ask to postpone paying his hostel fees until his promised monthly allowances are cleared.

Yang bulan ni depa bagi tangguh, tapi bulan depan depa tak bagi dah, sebab bil api, air semua dah tertunggak depa kena bayar,” he said.

I immediately jumped at the opportunity and said, “Dah tu, engkau gi dating dengan girlfriend engkau sampai pukul dua tiga pagi kat pantry sapa suruh? Naik la bil api!”

Ala, bukan buat apa pun… sembang aje.”

Sembang pun! Kalau dah time tidur tu, masuk tidur ajelah. Jangan nak dating-dating kat hostel sampai ke pagi.”

Somehow Azman was not surprised I knew all the things he had been doing. Apparently, the management had called him and had already warned him about the matter. And they even said to him that “ada sorang makcik mintak tolong tengok-tengokkan awak”. Of course Azman could already figured out who the busybody makcik was…

Anyway, I reminded him to please not create any problems. I reminded him about the “hell” that his mother had to go through in her life to raise her children and that he must make full use of the opportunity given to him at the culinary school. Azman promised me he’d be more careful in future. As I had thought, to him just chatting with the girl at the hostel until the wee hours of the morning was nothing to be worried about. His father, had done worse things. Thank goodness Azman didn’t put up a long face after the short lecture I gave him. In fact, he thanked me for the reminder and was excited when I told him about our coming Family Day planned for July.

Later the same day, after 4 pm, together with our part time staff, I went to visit another client whose children are under our sponsorship programme. The client is under another buddy and I had not been getting the updates I needed to send a report to the individual sponsor. So off we went to the town where she stays/works. When we got to the front of her workplace, my part time staff went down to look for the client. The client had earlier informed us that she’d bring us to her house from her workplace.

I had initially thought that she would have to join us in my car and we’d go off together to her house. It turned out that her house was just upstairs! You see, her workplace was at the ground floor of the flats and her flat was on the second floor! How convenient! No worries about transportation and she could easily go home for home cooked lunch without having to buy lunch outside!

It was good to note that her sons are doing well in their studies. The older boy is temporarily working while waiting for his SPM results. He hopes to be able to take up a diploma in electrical engineering. His younger brother, now in form four, managed to score 6A’s and 1B in his PMR last year.

I hope these children will do well with all the help they are getting. And hopefully, in future, when they have become successful, they too will help other children going through the same predicaments…

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

New clients, old clients…

There were some things I needed to discuss with the staff nurse at the HIV clinic, and so even though I was not on duty, I still went to the hospital today. Parking, as always, was a nightmare, and by the time I got to the counselling room about 10.10 am, none of the volunteers on duty were there yet. (clinic duty is supposed to start at 10 am)

I went straight to the doctor’s room, saw the nurse, and spoke to her about Shidah’s case. One of the volunteers on duty, my vice-chair, then arrived. The other volunteer on duty, couldn’t make it; and since we were told by the nurse that there were a few new cases to be referred to us, I decided to stay on a while. 2 cases were then referred to us at the same time, and so I took one case and my vice-chair took the other case.

Not long after the 2 cases, SN came in with a lady who looked very familiar.

Kak, akak tak ingat saya ke?” said the lady to me.

Ahh… no wonder she looked familiar! She may be a new case at Ipoh GH but she had been infected for quite some time already, only thing was before this her appointments were in KL. Remember Zana, the problematic young woman whom I had sent to a shelter home in KL before? Well, this lady referred to us today, Aliza, was an occupant of the same shelter home I had sent Zana to, in fact Aliza was more senior. It was at that home that we met, and Aliza remembered me very well because every time Zana created all sorts of problems at the home, I would be the person they’d contact.

Anyway, Aliza is now out of the shelter home and stays on her own, together with another lady friend from the same shelter home. 2 of Aliza’s 4 children are staying together with them, while the older 2 are at a boarding school, fully sponsored. Aliza and her friend both work as cleaners, and after work, at night, she sells burgers to get more income to support her children. Well, from now on, her children will also be getting help from our Children Education Fund.

When Aliza was in the counselling room, I saw Hana outside. The moment she saw me, she immediately got into the room. I took the opportunity to ask about her children. Her eldest, now waiting for her SPM result, is doing a temporary job. My main concern was Hana’s second daughter. The girl, who initially did well in school, later got worse in her studies and did very bad in her UPSR last year. I had suspected she had been teased in school because of her birth cert which indicated that she didn’t have a father (her eldest sis has a different father and her youngest brother has a different father – but at least they both had “official” fathers). According to Hana, she registered this daughter at a new school for secondary, with new friends altogether, none from her old school, and it seems the girl is more keen to go to school nowadays as compared to before this. I do hope this will continue until she finishes schooling. After all, she now has an IC and so there is no need to show her birth cert to indicate “maklumat bapa tidak diketahui”.

After a short chat with Hana, I decided to leave as well. After all, I wasn’t on duty. There was supposed to be one more new case to be referred, but my vice-chair said he should be able to handle it, so off I went to the doctor’s room to inform them that I was leaving. The nurse then told me that Shidah had just called to ask if from now on it was okay for her to just get her supply of ARV without going for any more appointments. Ahh, obviously, she doesn’t want her in-laws to find out. But still, even to get her supply of ARV, she’d need to go to the hospital, no? What was she expecting? To get me to bring the supply of ARV to her MIL’s house and come out with whatever story on why I was visiting? When the nurse told her she still has to come to the hospital for her appointments, Shidah told the nurse… “Nanti saya kena bincang dulu dengan Kak Afizah.” Duh! Akaaaak jugak?!

Well, Shidah had not called me yet after that, I guess she’s going to wait nearer to the appointment date before she makes that call.

Later in the afternoon, I decided to visit Lin to deliver some of the reference books I got from various donors. Lin has 2 children sitting for their exams this year – her son will be sitting for SPM and her daughter will be sitting for PMR. It had been quite a while since I last visited her family, her children were beginning to wonder if I’d ever be visiting again. When I called, Lin said she was out elsewhere but her eldest daughter was home. The daughter who graduated from a nursing college about a year ago, has been unable to find a related job and is still applying here and there. For the past year, she had been doing temporary jobs here and there, all unrelated to her qualifications, mostly clerical work.

I had quite a long chat with Lin’s daughter. She too seemed quite comfortable opening up to me. I do hope she’ll be able to get a proper job soon.

As for the 2 children who will be sitting for their exams this year, Lin had already arranged for tuition for her form 3 girl, but had not been able to influence the form 5 boy to do the same. Both of them are under sponsorship, so tuition fees shouldn’t be a problem. But according to Lin, the boy doesn’t want tuition because he’s shy. Shy to go for tuition?? But why?!

Dia kata dia malu sebab dia tak pandai,” said Lin to me. Aiyo, shouldn’t he go for tuition because he is tak pandai??

Hish, macam-macamlah budak-budak ni…

Monday, 13 February 2012

Her problems aren’t over yet…

As I had suspected, Shidah would be at the home of her mother-in-law after the death of her husband. I didn’t dare call her too soon in case I’d end up calling at the wrong time. Staying with her in-laws, she would know better when would be the right time to call me if she needed to.

With her problems of being abused by her husband when he was alive, we would have thought her problems would be over after his death. But apparently her problems aren’t over yet. No, she’s not being abused by her in-laws, but with Shidah keeping too many secrets, she’s living in fear of her secrets being exposed, although personally speaking, I feel some of those secrets should not have been kept a secret in the first place.

Shidah’s in-laws want her to stay with them, as they are afraid she may go back to her old religion (her family aren’t Muslim) if she goes back for good to her country. They told her it would be okay to go back and visit them, but not to go back for good. Frankly, if Shidah does go back to visit her own family, there’s not much her in-laws can do if she doesn’t come back. So really, I have the feeling Shidah herself wants to stay on in Malaysia, it’s just that she doesn’t want to be too controlled by her in-laws. Right now it seems they don’t even allow her to go back temporarily to her rented house in Ipoh. No doubt her husband is no longer around to pay for the rent, but the rental for February had already been paid for until the end of the month, and besides, she needs to pack her things at the rented house. Her MIL told her to wait for her sis-in-law to come back before they go to the house together to pack all the stuff.

I asked Shidah why couldn’t she just tell her in-laws that she misses her daughter from her first husband whom she had left back in her old country. I was surprised to find out that her in-laws are not aware that she has a daughter from a prior marriage. Only her late husband knew that. Surely her in-laws would understand if she wanted to go back and see her daughter whom she had not met since she married her second husband??

Her in-laws, understandably, are also not aware of her HIV status. So, how is she going for her appointments at the hospital without them asking why? I told her to just inform them of whatever other “normal” ailments needing regular check-ups at the hospital, but she said her sis-in-law was the type who’d query every single detail.

I told her to better think of something so as not miss any of her hospital appointments.

Today she called me again. This time she spoke in such a speed that I found it hard to understand her foreign dialect although she was speaking in Malay. It seems her MIL sort of found out about the HIV – not Shidah’s but apparently her late hubby. As far as we knew, Shidah’s late hubby was not infected. He was tested once and after that did not get tested again.

However, apparently one of the MIL’s neighbour works at the hospital, and she was the one who told the MIL that Shidah’s late hubby had been tested for HIV. The MIL confronted Shidah and asked if it was true her son had HIV. The MIL, who knew her son had an affair with another woman, thought he could have got it from that woman. Shidah could have taken the opportunity to open up to her MIL. After all, she had not done anything wrong. It wasn’t her fault she got infected with HIV.

Even if she didn’t want to tell the whole truth, Shidah could have taken the chance to at least say she wasn’t aware of it and that would be a good enough excuse for her to go to the hospital to be tested. But no, she decided to deny every single thing. Now she doesn’t know what story to tell her in-laws when she needs to go to the hospital at the end of the month. And then she asked if I could go over to her MIL’s house and come up with a story to bring her to Ipoh without telling the in-laws that she needed to go to the hospital. In other words, she wanted me to go to meet her in-laws and lie to them.

Whoa woman! I can keep your secrets but please don’t ask me to lie for you. I refused. I told her to find her own excuses if she was not willing to tell them at least part of the truth.

Shidah said she wanted to stay on in Malaysia and asked if I could try find her a job – she didn’t mind if she had to work as a cleaner or something like that. I told her I could ask around, but she herself would need to ask her in-laws for permission if I could find her a job. By the way it sounded, her in-laws (according to Shidah, especially her sis-in-law) wouldn’t let her go anywhere without any one of them accompanying her.

Frankly I don’t think things would be too complicated if Shidah had not decided to keep too many secrets from her in-laws. They aren’t even aware about her child from her previous marriage??

Thursday, 9 February 2012

What now?

It was still dark outside this morning, not even 7 am when I heard the Mission Impossible ringtone on my handphone. Calls THAT early usually brings bad news, and with the PLHIV-assigned MI ringtone, I was hoping it wasn’t the kind of emergencies that required me to go out anywhere to get the problem settled. I took a look at my phone screen and saw Shidah’s name appearing. Remember Shidah? The foreigner married to a Malaysian and who used to be abused by her husband? You can read about her here.

Due to the problems with her husband, I never call Shidah for I wouldn’t know when would be the right time to call. It had always been Shidah calling me, and I noticed most of the calls were either between 10 am to 1 pm or between 2 pm to 3 pm, Her husband would be out working during that time.

So when she called so early this morning, my mind began to wander. Did she get beaten up again? Was she calling to seek help to run away from home? If so, what was I going to do to safeguard myself from any complications?

As I answered the call, I heard Shidah sobbing away.

Kakak! Suami saya dah meninggal kak!”

As far as I knew, the husband didn’t have any illnesses. Shidah’s the one who had been infected with HIV by her first husband back in her own country. Shidah was the one who had to go for hospital appointments. Her husband would just send her to the hospital and then fetch her after her appointments. The hospital was the only place where I could really talk to Shidah.

I asked Shidah what actually happened to the husband. According to her, yesterday evening, the husband suddenly fainted and was somehow sent to the hospital. And this morning he passed away. I didn’t ask Shidah any further. It was already difficult understanding her Pattani accent, with her sobbing away it was even more difficult to understand. So I told her I’d call her later. I knew her husband had family members around Ipoh, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Shidah. The husband’s family should be helping out with the funeral arrangements.

So I went out gardening as usual, and when I got in, I noticed a missed call from Shidah, about an hour after her first call. I called her back. She was still crying. I asked if the necessary arrangements had been made. She told me she didn’t know what to do. Her in-laws were not there yet. After confirming with her that her in-laws had indeed been notified and that they told her they were coming, I told Shidah to just wait for them to arrive, and that if after some time they were still not there yet, to call me again. Her in-laws do not know heads or tails who I am and as far as they were concerned Shidah didn’t have any friends in Malaysia. I didn’t want to make an appearance and make them curious as to who I was.

Shidah didn’t call me after that. So I guess the in-laws did turn up at the hospital to make all the necessary funeral arrangements.

So, what now for Shidah? Will she continue staying here in Malaysia? She doesn’t have any children with this husband, only one child from her first marriage back in her own country. She hasn’t met her child ever since she married her second husband and moved to Malaysia.

In other words, she doesn’t have anybody here now except her in-laws. Logically, probably the next course of action for her is to go back to her country and be back with her own family, especially her child. But as far as I know, her husband never gave her cash. Any needs, her husband would bring her out with him and he’d pay.

So, does Shidah have any money to go home? And if she does go home, when should she do so? After her iddah? Or before? Will she get her rights to her late husband’s properties, if any? Or will her in-laws deny her of her rights?

I’d need to talk to Shidah to find out further, but I don’t want to be calling her too early. Right now I don’t know where she is… is she alone at the house where she had been staying with her husband… or is she at her mother-in-law’s home? I don’t want to be calling her at the wrong time. I don’t want her in-laws to become curious.

Whatever it is, I’m sure Shidah herself will be calling me soon if I don’t call her earlier.


Sunday, 5 February 2012

The children…

Knowing that this was going to be a long weekend, I figured Azman would surely want to go home rather than stay at his hostel in Ipoh. I purposely postponed my monthly grocery delivery to Sofie’s home to Friday, and asked Azman if he wanted to come along with me in my car instead of taking the bus. Azman at first agreed, but he said he’d confirm later until he was sure there’d be no other programmes on Friday afternoon. There was no class that afternoon, but he wasn’t sure if there were any other programmes arranged.

By about 12 noon, Azman informed me that he wanted to stay back for a group discussion and that he’d go home on his own on Saturday. Too bad. But it was good to note that Azman decided to stay back for the group discussion. Back then when he was in school, he’d find every excuse he could to escape anything to do with studies.

So after getting this month’s supply of groceries for Sofie’s family, off I went to her house, alone without Azman. As I got to her house, I noticed the windows were closed and the door was locked. There wasn’t anyone home. But the day before I did inform Sofie that I’d be coming, and if she was going somewhere, she would have informed me that nobody would be home. So where did everybody go?

I decided to call Sofie. Got the answering machine instead. Tried again. Same thing. Decided to try one last time before giving up and head home (with groceries all still in the car) – luckily the 3rd call went through. Sofie was at the hospital. The line wasn’t too clear and I couldn’t really hear the details. I thought it was Sofie herself who was warded. Given her condition, I wasn’t surprised.

It wasn’t visiting hours, and the “special pass” I have is only valid at Ipoh GH, so I told Sofie to get Saiful, her son, who was also there at the hospital, to wait for me outside. It only took me about 5 minutes to drive from Sofie’s house to the hospital, and as I parked my car, I saw Saiful walking towards me. Then I saw Sofie sitting down on the steps near the corridor, looking very much like a patient, except she wasn’t in hospital clothes. Besides, what was she doing outside of the ward if she was the one who had to be admitted?

I then found out that the one who got admitted was Ika, Sofie’s youngest child. Apparently on Thursday while the girl was in school, her teacher called Sofie to inform her to fetch Ika from school as the girl had high fever. Sofie went to fetch her daughter and immediately brought her to the hospital to see a doctor, thinking that after getting proper check-up and needful medication, they could go home. But the doctor decided to admit her to the ward for further tests. It seemed the girl’s tonsils were getting bad.

Sofie told me that Ika was happy when she found out I was coming. So, although it wasn’t visiting hours, I went in with Sofie and Saiful. The guard did stop me at first, but let me in when Sofie told him that I was from an NGO in Ipoh Hospital.

When I got to Ika’s bed, at first she pretended she was sleeping. “Alah, tipu je tu,” said Saiful. Immediately Ika just got up and laughed. She looked cheerful. Her mother, with lack of sleep, looked more like a patient than the patient herself!

I didn’t stay long at the hospital. I just got Saiful to follow me back to the house so I could unload all the groceries in my car, and after that I sent Saiful back to the hospital.

Both Sofie and Saiful spent the night at the hospital. Sofie’s eldest, Azlan, who now has a temporary job at a small factory nearby was outstation delivering the factory’s products. Usually the hospital wouldn’t allow 2 people to spend the night at the hospital looking after one patient, but in this case, they allowed Saiful as well. Although the boy is already in form 2, he is small sized and a scaredy-cat. If he was not allowed to sleep at the hospital, and with his eldest brother outstation, he would have to spend the night alone at home. But there shouldn’t be any problem on Saturday once Azman got home.

Hopefully Ika would be discharged soon. I was told she may need to undergo a minor op for her tonsils, and that it may need to be done in Ipoh GH as the district hospital didn’t have the necessary facilities for such treatment.

I just hope the fragile looking Sofie herself would be strong enough to take care of her children…