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)

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Budget travelling...

I have been busy surfing the web last week looking for the best flight and accommodation rates to a neighboring country. You see, my NGO intends to send some delegates to a Congress to be held at a neighboring country some time this year, but within the limited budget from our training funds, we have to go for budget travelling. There's not much we can do about the registration fees for the Congress, except to go for early bird registration (which ends 28th Feb), but we can choose the cheaper rates for flight and accommodation (naik tongkang cheaper lah, but got to take much longer leave from work!!).

After getting a few reasonably priced package last week, by Sunday I listed down the packages which seemed affordable. On Monday morning, I decided to check the rates again - we were having our Board meeting that night and I wanted to discuss the matter with the Board. Our monthly Board meetings are supposed to be the last Tuesdays of each month, but since I needed to be in KL on Tuesday, we brought forward the meeting to Monday.

To my surprise, when I checked the rates on Monday morning, the very same packages for the very same accommodations offered by the very same company, had shot up in pricing! Aiseh, menyesal le pulak tak book awal-awal... but I couldn't book earlier because firstly, I'd need to get the Board's approval before booking, and secondly, I had yet to get the confirmed number of people going.

I was in KL yesterday, attending a half day seminar; followed by an interview/photo shoot for a monthly magazine (re my NGO work). By the time I got back in the evening, I had a rough idea of how many people from our NGO will be attending the Congress. So last night, I surfed the website of a low-cost carrier, and saw that for bookings until 1st March, the fare to that specific city we're going to starts from RM5 one way! Needless to say, I got excited and tried to book. But I guess there are VERY limited seats available at that price, and for the dates that I searched for, there were no RM5 seats available. Buat penat getting excited aje lah...

Can anyone guess where we're going? No prize for the right answer though... :)

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Ekor Jantung?

heart07

I was blog hopping yesterday when I received a text message from Mrs K. She told me that Baby K had to be warded in Ipoh GH. Baby K was having high fever and since this little girl also has a hole-in-the-heart, the doctors feared there may be some infections and so she was warded for further tests.

My house is not that far from the hospital, so I was thinking of visiting them today. I have not met them for quite some time and I thought with them already here in Ipoh, it's a good opportunity for me to meet up with them without having to drive all the way to their home.

But today I was (and still am) coughing. It is not as bad as it was yesterday, but you know, once the "switch" is on, it's hard to stop. Just like in Makkah where one jama'ah starts coughing in Masjidil Haram, there'll be chain reaction where so many other jama'ah will also start coughing. It will probably be the same at the hospital. I don't want to be coughing at the ward in the presence of the little girl and other children (pediatric ward).

Since I wanted to avoid spreading more virus at the hospital's pediatric ward, I sent a text message to Mrs K, asking how Baby K was doing, and apologizing for not visiting, giving her my reasons.

After a while, Mrs K's reply came...

"Demam mlm baru blik dari buat ekor jantung"

I admit, I'm usually rather slow in interpreting text messages from Mrs K and her family. They are so used to using terms like "chat" in place of "sihat", "umah" for "rumah", "kem sam" for "kirim salam". Oh, you get the drift. I'm still the old timer who prefers to type in full although I am already beginning to change certain long words like "tomorrow" to "2moro" (trying to mengikut perkembangan semasa...)

Anyway, based on the above SMS, I suppose Mrs K either meant Baby K demam malam or demam semalam. And they just came back from... huh? Buat ekor jantung?

Did the doctors have to attach some tail-like thingy to the baby's heart?

What ekor jantung did she mean? Something like this maybe.... a heart-shaped tail?

love-4

Finally it dawned on me... duh! For Mrs K not to know it's excusable lah - she probably believed that the doctors/nurses literally meant ekor jantung.

They actually did a heart ECHO scan on the little girl. Sigh... why lah am I so slow today?!


*Images from photobucket.com

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

You're Fired!



We instruct her to do something, she’d just stare at us blankly. We ask if she understood our instructions, she’d just give that slight nod. Then she goes to someone else and asks that someone what our instruction was all about. That someone wasn’t even around when we gave the instruction earlier.

We tell her to mail document 1 to client A and then call client B to collect document 2, she’d mail both documents to client A. Client A ended up sending a letter asking why we gave them some document belonging to another client.

We tell her to submit some urgent documents in the afternoon, she’d delay it to the next morning because it’s too hot in the afternoon.

We teach her how to do some routine work today, and we have to repeat the same instruction every day to get her to do the job.

We just employed her for a few months, and yet she has already taken up too many days of medical leave.

Just to be sure, we asked the other staff if she had been able to help reduce their workload especially the routine work which doesn’t really require much thinking – they are the ones who had more direct dealings with her. Apparently, they too had given up on her but they didn’t dare say anything to any of their 2 bosses.

So yeah, today I had to terminate the services of one of my office staff. It’s something I hate to do especially when I know jobs are hard to come by, but I’ve just got to do what I’ve got to do. No point keeping someone who doesn’t seem to appreciate the job she has when there are so many out there looking for jobs.

A new staff will be joining us this coming Monday.




Monday, 16 February 2009

Is she poor, or is she not?

I wasn’t really feeling too well on Sunday – the throat was beginning to feel a bit hoarse, and the head was beginning to feel a bit groggy. I had already made arrangements to do some house visits for sponsorship assessments and canceling them would mean a few other people would have to change their plan too. So I just took a dose of aspirin and got myself a nap just before noon.

I did feel a bit better after that, although I was coughing a bit, but at least the head didn’t feel as groggy. So after lunch, off I went, first to my NGO center, to get some groceries to be brought along for the house visits, and to fetch a colleague who had promised to wait for me there. Then we went to the home of another colleague who stays nearby before we headed off to Lin’s house.

Lin was expecting us obviously. Her front door is usually closed whenever I visit her but yesterday the door was open. Only Lin and her 12 year old daughter were home. Her 14 year old son was off at his grandma’s house while the other son currently waiting for his SPM results was off with his friends elsewhere.

It has been slightly over 2 months since Lin got the court order for her ex-husband to pay her alimony of RM300 per month. So far, she has been getting the money for December and January; albeit a bit late (he promised by 25th but usually pays at the very end of the month). Lin has been scouting around for work but so far to no avail. It’s tough getting a job nowadays. It’s good enough if you don’t lose a job you already have. So, Lin has been helping out at her brother’s nasi lemak stall and every afternoon before she goes home her brother would pay her RM10 for helping out. Maybe a few times she’d get RM15 if the business is slightly better on any day. No pay of course if she has to go elsewhere and can’t help out at the stall.

The bicycles given to them last month have been put to good use. Yes, her 2 children have been using the bicycles to go to school. At least it shows they do appreciate the help they’ve been getting – unlike some people who tend to make it look as though it is our duty to help them. Yeah, yeah, there have been cases where first they ask for bicycles, then they get bicycles, and they say it’s not practical for the kids to cycle to school, so they ask for bus fares etc. Of course, it’s not as bad as Hana who once included in her list of “things needed” – motosikal RM2,000. Duh!

Anyway, there were no doubts whatsoever amongst the sponsorship committee involved in the visit that Lin’s children deserved financial aid for their educational needs. And seeing how the older siblings have performed (the 3 older ones are furthering their studies in higher learning institutions), I feel good about the 2 younger ones also doing well.

After Lin’s, we headed off to visit Meng Lan. My colleague who is Meng Lan’s buddy had never been to Meng Lan’s house before although they have met outside. So, she had to call Meng Lan to get directions to her house.

Now, one glance at Meng Lan’s house, you’d wonder why she’s asking for financial help for her daughter’s schooling. Meng Lan is a single mom and the daughter, a single child. They stay in a comfortable looking double storey terrace house and there is a car at home (a Kancil). On the outset, I wouldn’t classify them as “poor”.

The house was actually bought by her late husband. At that time, they were staying at Meng Lan’s in-law’s house in a nearby town, and so the double storey terrace house was rented out. When Meng Lan’s husband passed away about 11 years ago, Meng Lan and her daughter moved to this house. There were still some installments to be paid for the house, and her late husband didn’t have any EPF (he was self employed) to cover for the balance of payments. So Meng Lan had been working from home (she sews shoes for a particular shoe factory and gets paid based on how many shoes she sews). When she doesn’t earn enough, her sister would help with the payments. But business has not been well of late, and so Meng Lan got less and less shoes to sew. As a matter of fact, for the past 2 months, she has not been earning anything, that even to eat, her sister who lives nearby helps her out.

Her daughter will be sitting for her PMR this year and needs tuition. Her school doesn’t seem to provide tuition for their students. Private tuition is rather expensive.

We know of organizations who’d help the hard-core poor, but with the house and the car Meng Lan cannot be considered as hard-core poor. Of course people don’t know about the leaks at her house which she can’t afford to repair. She said she had applied for Welfare help but so far none of the officers have visited. Frankly speaking, if they did, they’d probably not approve her application. I remember they almost stopped Fuzi’s financial aid when they found out Fuzi had a hand phone (I gave her a used phone that my friend was not using anymore). Chances are the officers will just ask Meng Lan to sell her house and car if she needs money. Yes, then what?

Meng Lan is in a difficult position. Selling the house and the car may only solve her short term problems. Then what? Those are the only properties that she has. For long term, it’d be better for her to keep the house and the car. Besides, with the current economic situation, I doubt she'd get a good price for the house even if she does intend to sell it.

So how? Is she poor? Or is she not?

For today, I haven’t been able to think properly – even at the office earlier today the head was getting groggy again. I got home in the afternoon, had lunch and thereafter a dose of medication, and after zuhr prayer, off I went zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….

Friday, 13 February 2009

Of sponsorship assessments and gaining trust

Usually on Thursday afternoons I'd be at my NGO center to check if there are any admin matters that need to be looked into. Only when I have to be elsewhere do I give it a miss; even then if I know there are matters needing my attention, I'd drop in another day.

You see, we don't have any full time or even part time staff at the center. That's why when there are letters or faxes, sometimes we only get to read them rather late. Worse, if the letters or faxes are last minute notices of meetings or workshops or the likes, by the time we get to read them, the deadline for confirmation or registration is already over. That's why I prefer correspondences via email. This I can check almost anywhere - at home, at the office, or even when I'm outstation.

Yesterday was Thursday - so yep, I was at my center again. There wasn't much needing my attention - most of the matters outstanding needed the attention of the treasurer.

So I decided to arrange for the house visits for sponsorship assessment purposes. We need to visit the homes of 2 of our clients to assess if their application for our Education Sponsorship for Children is justified. We'll be visiting Lin and Meng Lan. There has to be at least 2 committee members other than the buddy joining the visit. And since I'm Lin's buddy, I've got to bring along with me 2 other committee members although I'm heading the committee myself.

I told Meng Lan's buddy to call her informing her of our intended visit to make sure she'll be home on Sunday, the day we intend to visit. We don't want to end up visiting an empty home if we don't notify them. I myself called Lin. Initially I thought of visiting in the morning but Lin asked if it was possible to change it to the afternoon as she usually helps out at her brother's food stall in the mornings. She'd still make herself available if I couldn't change the time but that would mean less earnings for her, even though the amount is just a measly amount, the small amount matters. I promised to check first and get back to her later.

When I called my colleagues, apparently one of them will only be available after 2.30 pm, so I might as well arrange for the visit to be in the afternoon. I immediately sent a text message to Lin telling her that we'd be visiting her about 3 pm. When she noticed I was using the word "kami" instead of "saya", she replied, "Ramai ke datang? Apa halnya? Lawatan ke? Saya ni segan sikit dengan orang tak biasa. Tapi takpelah, datang la."

She must have forgotten that I told her earlier when she applied for the Sponsorship for her children, that WE would need to visit her at home to be considered for this programme.

I suppose from day one at the HIV Clinic when Lin was referred to us, she was initially reluctant to have a buddy because she didn't feel comfortable with "strangers" especially when these strangers know about her HIV status. I wasn't on clinic duty then but my colleagues who were on duty, gave her my number in case one day she needed someone to talk to. They figured I'd be the person Lin would be most comfortable with. In cases like this, we'd have to respect their decision and so we wouldn't make any follow up calls, unless and until they themselves seek our help.

Well, it took Lin more than a year to make that call. By then she was already divorced, and she was all stressed up with all sorts of problems that finally she called me to simply let things out of her bottled up system. Although Lin isn't usually comfortable with strangers, when we met the first time, we hit it off immediately despite being total strangers prior to that. Now that she's comfortable with me, she doesn't feel comfortable about having others tagging along with me. I guess she just doesn't feel too secure having unfamiliar faces around. But she did say "tapi takpelah, datang la" at the end of her message, so that means she has given the go ahead. After all, if she really trusts me, she'd have to believe that the friends coming along with me can be trusted too.

I know my PLHIV clients well enough to know who's comfortable with me alone and who wouldn't mind other visitors as long as they are from Buddies. I always respect their privacy. When I have to bring along others with me, I always get their permission first. In Lin's case, if she refuses then she'd have to forget about having her children being considered for sponsorship.

Maria is another one of my clients who, like Lin, is only comfortable with me, and me alone. But Maria for the moment only needs emotional and not financial support, so she is not involved in the sponsorship assessment visits. People like Zainab, Fuzi, Yah, Shila, Jah, Anita and Wani don't have any problems if I bring along other buddies when visiting them.

I guess people like Lin and Maria find it difficult to trust people. When they finally trust one person, that's good enough for them. Should anything happen to that one person, it will be difficult for others to take over.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

House visit and outside meet

I was relaxing at home on Sunday night when a fellow volunteer sent me a text message. She received a text message from Shila informing that Laila (Shila's little girl) was taken ill but had not been taken to any clinic as Shila didn't have enough money. My colleague was in Penang then and so she asked if I could help out. Shila is not my client but we do keep in touch from time to time as Laila is under our Education Sponsorship for Children programme.

I then called Shila to find out the situation. Apparently Laila was ill since Friday - she was a bit better when I called but according to Shila, her fever would go up in the middle of the night. Shila had given her some children aspirin. I told Shila I'd visit them the next day (Monday) as it was a public holiday.

So after zuhr prayer on Monday, I drove off to my NGO center to get some groceries donated by some good Samaritans to bring along with me to Shila's house. Managed to grab some noodles, flour, sugar, milk, and some canned food.

As I approached Shila's kampong, I saw this...

 

PH20090209150703

Notice the pink panther? What on earth was he doing hanging on the gate I wonder... (sorry, took this with my handphone camera so couldn't zoom, and cropping to enlarge resulted in a blurry pic)

 

When I got to Shila's house, they (Shila, her mom & sister, and a few kids) were watching TV. Laila was there too and she looked okay. Shila said Laila seemed much better that day. The day before the little girl was worried she may have to miss school if her fever continues. She may just be an average student in school, but she loves going to school and would feel disappointed if she has to give school a miss for whatever reason.

Before I forgot, I quickly reimbursed Shila with whatever amount she spent to buy Laila's schooling needs at the beginning of the year. It was RM115, but it was such a big amount for her. The moment I gave her the money, she told her little girl, "OK, esok kita boleh beli kasut sekolah."

"Laaa... kasut sekolah tak beli lagi ke?" I asked.

"Belum kak, tak cukup duit. Hari tu ingat nak guna je kasut lama tu, tapi kaki dia dah besar pulak. Ketat kasut tu. Cikgu sekolah ada bagi bantuan sepasang baju dengan sepasang kasut sekolah, tapi kasutnya besar le pulak."

But Shila & her mom were thankful anyway, and they figured they'd just keep the new pair of shoes for Laila's future use.

Shila usually helps out her mother selling kuih at a nearby stall. But her mother had fallen ill recently, causing her to take a break from selling kuih for a whole week, and as such they were earning much lesser than their already small income. I reminded Shila to immediately inform me if she needed anything for Laila's schooling needs as the girl is under our Sponsorship programme.

Later when I got home, I received a text message from Asiah. She was coming to Ipoh GH for her blood test the next day and asked if I was free to meet her. She wanted to apply for our Children Education Fund. I told her to call me once she was done. It's not so hectic at the office at the moment so I could afford to go out for while to meet up with my PLHIV clients.

So yesterday when I received her call, I immediately asked, "Dah selesai?"

"Selesai apanya! Saya tak tau saya kena puasa, jadi saya gi sarapan dulu lah!"

She will have to come another day for the blood test, only this time she'd better remember not to eat first. Since her appointment with the doctor is in March, there is still time for her to do the blood test.

Anyway, I asked if she came with her husband, and when she said yes, I asked if they could come to a certain restaurant near my office as they'd still need to pass this way to go home. I told her to call me again once she got here so I could just walk down from my office. And when she did call and I went down, Asiah was alone. Her husband, as usual, made his disappearing act. Shy or whatever, I'm not sure. I saw him once before - eyes, nose, mouth, all in the proper places. Why he'd avoid meeting any of Asiah's friends, only he knows.

For those who may have missed Asiah's story, Asiah actually got HIV from her ex-husband, who was an injecting drug user. The husband I mentioned in the above paragraph is actually her second husband. Asiah is his second wife - and she still is number 2. When she started losing weight, her friends and relatives thought it was because of her problems being wife no. 2. Her husband, an elderly man, is quite a jealous type. With a wife as beautiful as Asiah (I tell you she's got wonderful complexion) I suppose he just didn't feel secure. So, he wouldn't let Asiah join any of our functions (like our annual family day) and he wouldn't want to join either (even just to meet me alone he avoided, what more to meet the rest of my gang). So, Asiah is in a way trapped in an enclosure set by her husband. Why she married him in the first place I'm not sure. For financial reasons? Asiah still has to work to support her own children. Her husband, an elderly man with no pension (he used to kerja kampong) couldn't be depended on financially especially when he also has his first wife to take care of. For love? She always seem so tensed up if she needs to get his permission for anything. For security reasons? Gee, I don't know. Maybe she just wanted to let go of her "janda" title. There tend to be many jealous wives out there when there is a beautiful janda around. Yeah, maybe that's why she accepted his marriage proposal.

Maybe laa... I don't really know. Oh well...

Monday, 9 February 2009

The wedding, the closed roads, and the traffic jam!

In the invitation card for the wedding reception last Saturday night, it was indicated that guests were supposed to arrive at 7 pm. I knew obviously the function wouldn’t really start at 7 pm but I decided to go early anyway and have my Maghrib prayer at the hotel’s surau. Leaving my house after Maghrib would mean I’d have to rush.

Just as I was getting ready, my friend called. She was already on her way to the hotel but the junction leading to the hotel from the roundabout was closed by the police. This friend, a single mom, was the type who’d panic easily and so if the road she wants to take is closed she wouldn’t be able to think of options. She was with her son then and they parked at a nearby church. She then told her son she’d just try to call me and see if I could help fetch them, otherwise they’d just attend the church’s service for that night.

Since I was not out of the house yet, I promised I’d fetch them at the bus-stop across the church. At that time, I myself wasn’t really sure of what other option to take to get to the hotel. The hotel happens to be on the same road as Istana Kinta, and the road was closed to traffic since Friday morning for security reasons.

After fetching my friend and her son, I decided to try to get into the road from the other end. But, as expected, the other entry was also closed. So, how were we supposed to go to the hotel? I decided to stop right beside the police car and asked the police…

Me: “Macam mana nak pergi Casuarina?”
Policeman: “Ada apa di sana?”
Me: “Ada wedding.”
Policeman: “OK takpe, boleh masuk ikut tepi tu.”

Oh well, all I had to do was ask lah

Anyway, after the buffet dinner, there was supposed to be a second segment of the reception which was supposed to be something traditional (the bride, a catholic, married a Hindu guy). But my friend’s son was supposed to be at his school by 10 pm. It was Anderson’s 100 years celebration and the countdown was on that same Saturday night.

As we left the hotel I was thinking of the shortest route to the school. We had yet to reach the nearby roundabout when the jam started. You see, on one side of the roundabout was the MB’s official residence where PR supporters were keeping virgil, and on the other side was Yuk Choy school where the DPM and state BN leaders were for the Chinese New Year celebration. So it was such a massive jam, something you don’t usually see in Ipoh, especially at night. Aduuuh… tension betul!

Initially I wanted to send both my friend and her son to the church where their car was parked before my friend would send her son to his school. But that road was so jammed, and to add to that it’s a one way road, as such I’d have to go around quite far getting there. Based on the traffic, I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get there. So I decided to help send the boy to his school first before I send my friend to get her car.

As I was about to reach Anderson School, another jam started. Cars were parked on the roadsides. I thought many of the parents decided to join the celebration at school and so they parked there. Where I came from, the school was on the other side of the divider, so I was thinking I’d go around the roundabout (laaa… roundabout lagi??) in order to drop him off right beside the school without him having to cross the road. As such I stayed on the right lane. But just as I was approaching the roundabout, I realized that road too was closed. Alamak! I forgot about the Thaipusam procession la!! No wonder la so many cars parked by the roadside. The procession would follow that route going to Gunung Ceruh which was right after that roundabout… aduuuh!!!

Like it or not, I had to drop my friend’s son near the hospital across the school and he’d have to cross the road. But I was on the right lane and getting to the left lane was quite a task. But I managed after getting to the junction leading back to town. And right at that moment the Thaipusam procession was at the road across the divider. I think it has been ages since I last saw a Thaipusam procession live before my very eyes. Usually I’d avoid big crowds and would only watch the processions on TV. Sorry folks, no photos… I was driving lah!

I then headed back to town to send my friend to the church where she parked her car. Under normal circumstances, whenever I knew a particular road was jammed, I’d avoid that road. But that night, I actually drove right into the traffic jam knowing what was coming. I dropped my friend off by the roadside on the right lane as the church was on our right. Otherwise, it would have been difficult for her to cross the road. That was about all I could help her with. How she was going to drive her car out of the church area into the already jammed road, may God help her…

Too bad the wedding was planned for that night. Of course, when it was planned earlier, nobody had expected the political hullabaloo in my home state. Add Thaipusam and Anderson’s 100 year celebrations, it was a perfect night of closed roads and traffic jams in Ipoh.

My only consolation was that there was no football match or any other events at Stadium Perak, which is very near my kampong. Otherwise there’d be cars parked by the roadside leading to my kampong and I’d probably be facing another jam.

Aduuuuh… TENSION BETUI TEMAN!!!

Thank goodness today is a public holiday so I have an extra day to relax.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Various updates

Ahhh…bliss! Life is finally not so hectic for me now.

At the office, deadlines for the filing of annual reports and financial statements for our business clients with June year end, ended yesterday with a few betul-betul last minute cases. When I say betul-betul last minute, it includes injury time.

Huh? Submission of annual returns also got injury time ka? Well, actually those with June financial year-end, must have their AGM by end of December, and all the documents need to be filed by end of January. And there is this 7 days grace period given before a late-lodgement fee is charged. My officemates and I call the 7 days grace period “injury time”.

As for my NGO reports, I’ve already submitted all my reports to the assistant secretary to be compiled together with reports from the other coordinators.

So yep, I’ve got a little more breathing space now. But that only means it is time to resume the things I’ve been postponing to do – like the house visits to the homes of those who applied for the Education Sponsorship Programme for assessment purposes. I hope to do so next weekend.

Speaking of sponsorship, I’ve also already submitted my reports to the individual sponsors for last year’s sponsored children. There were 9 sponsored children for last year. 3 were Fuzi’s children – the eldest is doing considerably well in her studies, the second one is just so-so while the third has some disciplinary problems (if you remember one of my earlier postings, he was the “hisap k*m*l**n” boy).

Shila’s daughter Laila is another average case. As for Pushpa, the HIV+ child who took UPSR last year, her results slip showed a string of B’s, C’s and D’s.

In contrast, Valli’s 2 boys are doing quite well in school. Her younger son, who, like Pushpa, also took his UPSR last year, scored 5A’s. Ah, I always love it when children from financially challenged families do well in their studies.

As for Hana’s children, I must say I am quite impressed. Hana herself is rather “slow” and “blur” most of the time. But her eldest daughter managed second position in class (so the amount paid for her tuition definitely didn’t go to waste). Her younger daughter, who was 5th in class the year before, only managed 22nd position last year. The drop, I’m sure has nothing to do with their financial constraints, but more because of the “teasing” she has been facing in school ever since her father (or step-father, I’m not sure because the girl doesn’t have a binti if based on her birth cert) died. I have yet to find out the real reason behind the teasing – it is so difficult to get information from Hana while the little girl herself didn’t want to say why she was teased. I can only suspect that it is either one or both of the following reasons:

- Her school-mates found out that the father died of AIDS. And maybe that her mother too may have been infected.
- Her birth cert indicating “Maklumat bapa: Tidak diketahui.”

I do hope the girl will get over it soon and that her friends in school will get bored of teasing her. I did try to suggest that she change to another school but the mother just said, “Tak payahlah.” Ah well, if the teasing was due to the second reason, she may still face the same problem if she changes to another school.

On another note, tonight I will be attending a wedding reception at a hotel. The parents of the bride are both volunteers of Buddies. Yesterday I was SMS-ing my fellow volunteers asking if anyone would like to chip in to buy a wedding present.

One of the volunteers asked what kind of presents we should buy – the bride and groom come from well-to-do families, he said. Somebody suggested maybe we should just buy something useless but nice to look at. :) I told him it doesn’t matter… it’s the thought that counts.

Anyway, based on the responses, I got a rough idea of the budget, so this morning off I went to buy a present. And since my colleague brought it up, I was kinda in a dilemma if I should go for something practical or something useless but nice to look at. If I go for practicality, then what should I be looking for? Electrical goods? It may not end up being too practical if the newlyweds end up with say 2 rice-cookers, or 5 dinner sets, or 3 gas stoves. Oh, you get the drift.

So I ended up buying something the couple can use even if they get 6 of the same thing. Something that needs to be changed and washed from time to time. No-lah, not underwears - they'd need more than 6 of those I'm sure. Muahaha!

I bought them a queen comforter set. OK or not?

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

When they're reluctant to talk...

When I was confirmed as a buddy back in… errmmm… 2005… I think… immediately I was assigned 4 clients – Ifa, Zainab, Cikgu Maznah and Nina. Other volunteers were earlier on assigned to these 4, but since I was confirmed, and my fellow volunteers then thought a female Malay would be more suitable for these 4 cases, I was their only choice, being the only female Malay volunteer then.

I have written about Ifa and Zainab from time to time. But Cikgu Maznah and Nina? Unfamiliar names I’m sure, even to those who are regulars to my blog.

There’s really not much I can tell about Cikgu Maznah. Until today I never had the opportunity to meet or even to speak to her. According to my colleague assigned to her earlier, she had always been reluctant to talk. Although during our clinic duties when we introduce ourselves and offer our support service to them, we always ask them first if they agree to be assigned a buddy, there may be times when some of the PLHIVs didn’t really want a buddy but simply didn’t know how to say no. So they’d just say, “Boleh jugak” out of courtesy but when the assigned buddy tried to call them, they came up with all sorts of excuses.

In Cikgu Maznah’s case, although I never had the opportunity to get to know her better, I’ve heard stories about her, from my colleague and also from SN. And from the stories relayed to me, I’m not really sure if her reluctance to have a buddy was because she really didn’t want to talk to anybody else about her HIV… or because she was scared of her husband. Her husband was known as a rather bad-tempered person. Once he even shouted at SN at the HIV clinic – scolding her because he had to wait so long for his wife’s number to be called. If the reluctance was because of the latter, then poor her.

For us Buddies, we always need to get their consent before we can visit them. And since Cikgu Maznah is always accompanied by her husband when she goes for her hospital appointments, meeting up with her at the hospital is out of the question too. As such, until now I have not had the opportunity to talk to her. But I have sent her Raya cards before, giving my number as well, so if need be, she should know how to get hold of me.

As for Nina, I did manage to speak to her only once. My colleague who was assigned to her earlier told me that Nina would usually be reluctant to talk and would refuse to meet up, be it at home or at her work place. Her excuse then was that since she stayed and worked in a Malay community, having a non-Malay to visit may cause curiosity amongst the neighbours. When my colleague told me about this, I felt that Nina was just coming up with excuses. Even if she was genuinely concerned about nosy neighbours, she shouldn’t mind getting phone calls if she had really wanted our service.

But I still tried my luck. My first 2 calls were answered by her mother who, although she spoke nicely, didn’t sound too receptive. I did manage to get some basic info about Nina. She found about her HIV infection after her husband passed away and they have one child, who at that time was about 7 or 8 years old. Alhamdulillah the child was spared from the virus.

Nina was always not home when I called because she worked every day from 10 am to 10 pm. I didn’t want to call her after 10 pm as I was sure she’d be tired by then and would need some rest. So for my third try, I called her at 8.30 am. She did talk, but she definitely didn’t sound too happy getting that call. I was right when I suspected she was just coming up with excuses when my colleague tried to arrange to meet up with her earlier. When I managed to speak to her on the phone that one and only time, Nina just answered with “ya”, “tak”, “ok” or “takpe lah”. The message was clear – she was not interested to talk to anyone outside her family about her illness.

So I left her at that, leaving my number in case one day she’d need help. Besides, she had family support and there can be no better support than your own family’s support.

Nina never called me back until the very end. This morning I found out from SN that Nina had passed away last Thursday. I believe her parents will be taking care of her one and only child.

Monday, 2 February 2009

To disclose or not to disclose

I was hopping around over the weekend.

No, not the kind of hopping which would help burn the calories.

And no, since I’m not a member of any political parties, I didn’t hop from one party to another either. You didn’t expect me to post something about the current political drama in my home state, did you? No-sir-ree… not my cup of tea!

I’m just an ordinary blogger who hops from one blog to another. Ah yes, I was only blog-hopping.

I was actually looking around for comments by ordinary people on the issue of HIV/AIDS. Various issues seemed to have been brought up – the issue of pre-marital mandatory HIV testing for Muslims, the issue of whether to disclose or not to disclose to family members, the issue of how people would react when they find out of someone they know being HIV infected etc.

The mandatory testing came about most probably because of the increase in the percentage of women being HIV infected. Since most of these women got the virus from their husbands, I suppose the authorities figured that mandatory testing before marriage would solve or minimize the problem.

If you ask me, I doubt mandatory testing would help much to reduce the percentage of women getting infected. In the cases that I’ve personally been handling where the women got the virus from their husbands, the husbands themselves were only infected after they got married. They either became IVDUs after marriage, or they got involved in extra-marital sex. Women like Nuri, Lily, Rina, Maria, Sha, Jah, Shila, Fuzi, Yah, Hana, Wani and Asiah were all only infected during the later part of their marriage, after a few children down the line.

To me, what is more important for couples before marriage, whether or not they are HIV infected, is to be equipped with enough knowledge – the do’s and don’ts of HIV/AIDS, how not to expose themselves to infection, how to practice safe sex, etc. And after all the explanation, encourage them to get tested – with the results only made known to the couple and it is up to them if they want to inform anybody else. They are the ones getting married anyway. Ah well, I’m sure people will still argue on this issue, so let’s get on to another issue resulting from the first issue – from the perspective of PLHIVs who want to get married.

As you can read in an example here, pre-marital mandatory testing involves the risk of too many people finding out about the HIV status of the couple – and that would result in all sorts of hoo-hah, not from the couples themselves, but from immediate families and sometimes other suku-sakat kaum-kerabat.

There were even suggestions that those with HIV need to be isolated from the rest of us. You really think that would help?

What happens next if the HIV couples still want to get married and want to avoid all the hoo-hah? They may:
- Go across the border and get married there. Ku pinang-pinang tak dapat, ku pujuk-pujuk ku bawa lari. And if the marriage doesn’t get registered in Malaysia, the wife may face all sorts of trouble later on like in Fuzi’s case.
- Since it’s so difficult to get married, forget the hassle of getting married. Just have sex as and when they like. Muda hanya sekali, so they say, so enjoy life while they can. They are still young, and they only think of the short term.

I read a comment somewhere that maybe to lessen the stigma and discrimination; the PLHIVs themselves need to be more open. Just act as though there’s nothing – it’s JUST HIV! Why can’t they just tell the whole truth to their family members? They can’t be sure how their family members would react unless and until they are told. The family members may be supportive, who knows. Right? Right?

Naaah… not that simple. What happens if the family members are not supportive at all?Let’s just take a few real life examples.

Nuri once went with her mother-in-law to attend a funeral of a kampong-folk. There were sok-sek-sok-sek during the funeral that the guy died of AIDS. On their way home after the funeral, the MIL said to Nuri, “Hish! Mak tak boleh terima kalau ada keluarga kita yang ada AIDS.” She of course was not aware that her son too had died of AIDS-related illnesses. So, how can we expect Nuri to disclose the fact to her MIL?

Then there was another PLHIV who went shopping with his father, and they came across this bundle shop selling used-clothes. The father refused to buy from that shop because he feared the clothes may have been worn before by HIV-infected people. Although the virus is not airborne, the fear is nevertheless still there. So, how lah the son wants to tell his father?

And quite frankly, as long as there are still people out there who think that HIV-infected people need to be isolated, I doubt the PLHIVs will ever open up. In fact, we may end up with more unreported HIV cases.

Anyway, if someone close to you discloses to you that he/she has HIV, what would YOUR reaction be?