Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ramadan 1435

Only a few hours left before Eid-ul-Fitr but the mood is sombre. No one (except for kids) feel like celebrating when there are so many recent and ongoing tragedies around the world. The front page of today's Utusan Malaysia sums it up for me. Its headline reads: Tiada Aidilfitri di Gaza.


This year's Ramadan has gone by so fast and what a challenging month it has been. Abstaining from food and drink has been the easiest part. The hardest is grappling with the rising Palestinian death toll every single day. Truly, we're being severely tested as an ummah.

And while it is heartwarming to see the worldwide rallies in solidarity with the Palestinians, the slaughter continues. Israel seems to be immune to the international community's outrage. It still claims to have the moral high ground and tries so desperately to silence criticism.


But Israel has discovered that it's no longer possible to get away with murder in the age of social media. This article highlights the fact that "Israelis had and have nothing with which to balance those images of bloodied, mangled little corpses in Gaza".

At first, it was hard for me to cope with the news. The sense of helplessness and despair was overwhelming to the point of being paralysing. But the social-media posts below have helped me to somehow make sense of things and get my act together.



 

So, final words: Eid Mubarak! Taqabbal Allahu Minna Wa Minkum (May Allah accept it from you and us). May Allah accept our prayers, du'as, charity, fasting, Quran recitation, qiyam, etc.
Let's celebrate Eid in moderation and constantly remember our suffering brothers and sisters in our prayers.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan Trip, Part 1


Kyrgyzstan blew me away. The snow-capped mountains framing Issy-kul Lake are just so beautiful & picturesque. I thank Allah for allowing me to be here & behold the magnificent sights on this journey, despite the many unfortunate things that have happened.

When I had the surgery, many doubt that I would recover in time to make the trip. I had doubts myself. Further, Kakak & I agreed to forgo Kyrgyzstan, fearing that the journey from Almaty to Bishkek would be too strenous for me. But somehow, her colleague persuaded her not to cancel Kyrgyzstan out. Otherwise, we would be missing out on "the most beautiful place in the region". Since the colleague is a Kyrgyzstan native, we thought he was just naturally biased. I don't think so now :)

On the eve of the trip, I began to get increasingly unwell. A runny nose and a sore throat preceded a mild fever. Then the violent sneezing. Then the horrible coughing. If I hadn't already paid a small fortune for the flight tickets, I wouldn't have gone on the trip at all. All I wanted to do was lie in bed and get better. I didn't think I was up for an 8-hour flight to Central Asia and other hardships that travelling inevitably brings.

But alhamdulillah, I got on that flight. Difficult roads lead to beautiful places. And difficult journeys are so rewarding in the end.

This is my second day in Kyrgyzstan, after spending 4 days touring Almaty, Kazakhstan. And so far, I've seen a wooden cathedral, canyons, steppes, alpine mountains, a lake that's turqoise in colour, beautiful unpolluted rivers & of course the majestic snow-capped mountains.

Further, my sisters & I are (continuously) fed delicious, traditional food from the region by our gracious hosts. Our hosts have been most kind & generous. We don't know how we will ever repay their kindness.

So that's all my updates for now. Will try to write more later.

Btw, I'm feeling better now but unfortunately, Kakak is now sick. Sigh. 

InshaAllah, we'll be fine. As Paul Theroux once said, Travel is glamorous only in retrospect! Do pray for our safe travels.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Teachers' Day 2014

Writing a Teachers' Day post has been a yearly ritual for me. I just have to write one in order to reflect on how another year of teaching has changed me.

This year's post will be short (I think). Out of all the facebook posts on Teachers' Day last week, my favourite was this, written by a friend, on her timeline:

"May we never lose the flame"

Those simple words meant a lot to me. Some people become jaded after several years of teaching. And it's not hard to see why. Teachers are overworked and under-appreciated and criticisms are constantly hurled our way. But as the saying (attributed to Mother Teresa) goes:

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Last year, Ainur shared with me this link: 'Without teachers, the classroom is just a room'. The excerpt that I really like (because it mirrors my own belief) is this:

"[A young teacher from Houston, Texas] said that when he reflected about what it meant to be a good teacher, he realized that he had to live the values he was trying to instill in the students. Then he said that once he reflected on what it meant to live good values, he stopped thinking just about being a better teacher and started thinking about being a better human being."

That's my core teaching philosophy as well. For me, being a better teacher equals being a better human being. Thus, it's a continuous, never-ending process of improving oneself.

Though I fall short of the ideal many, many times, I hope that I'll never stop trying and that the flame will never stop burning.

Happy Teachers' Day to all educators!



Convalescing

Alhamdulillah, I was discharged from the hospital last Sunday (May 18) after a four-day stay.

Let's have a quiz. How much do you think I had to pay for:
1) The surgery (laparoscopic appendicectomy),
2) The lab services (full blood count, etc.), and
3) The 4-day stay in a third-class ward (i.e. 1 room = 4 beds, with en-suite bathrooms)?

The total amount printed on my bill is RM 77. But since I'm a government servant, I didn't have to pay a single cent.
I was taken aback when the lady at the counter said I didn't have to pay. I mumbled a quick "oh, okay, thank you" before leaving the counter, still dumbfounded.

Even if I had to pay, RM 77 is a steal. We often hear of people in other countries not being able to afford health care because of its astronomical charges. In this instance, aren't you glad you're a Malaysian?

Yes, it's easy to lament the many, many things that are wrong with our country: the dismal state of the education system for one. The tolled roads. The water crisis. The GST. The political bickering. The list goes on and on.

They are all legitimate grouses but you have to give credit where credit is due. Malaysia is touted to provide one of the best health care in the world and we should all be thankful for that.  

The only thing that I can complain about is the overcrowding. I had to wait for 4 hours before I got to see the doctor. And when I went back to get my MC and to set an appointment for my follow-up check, I was aghast at the amount of sick people crowding the waiting area. They must have had to wait for hours. Sick people shouldn't have to wait for that long. It's just not right.

My stay at the hospital has made me appreciate nurses and doctors on a whole new level. I was so relieved at being discharged because hospitals are such a depressing place. There's suffering everywhere you look. And after some time, it just became unbearable.

For example, the lady on the bed next to mine is suspected of having breast cancer while the one opposite my bed, broke her leg in a road accident while being eight-months pregnant! Then, on Saturday (May 17), I received the tragic news of Ira's passing. That really put things into perspective. All my "suffering" seemed like small potatoes in comparison.

That's one of the reasons I keep reminding myself not to make a fuss. To smile and just roll with the punches. To make light of the situation. Ala, appendix je pun...

So I wonder how the nurses and doctors do it. How do they cope and still function even after witnessing so much suffering and so many tragedies on a daily basis? Maybe they need to put aside their emotions to get the job done? To distance themselves and be less empathetic? No wonder Abafan can be so unfeeling at times... hahaha

Now that I'm home, I just have a week or so to finish marking, pack for my Kazakhstan trip and settle the miscellaneous school stuff before the mid-year break begins.
And then...


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hospital Ampang

May 17, 2014: My 3rd day in the hospital and I'm bored out of my minds!

It's good that I get to catch up on my reading but after finishing Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs, the current book that I have on my bedside doesn't interest me as much.

My hand is still tied to the drips (they're alternating between sodium chloride & antibiotics, with periodical injections of painkillers), so my movement is restricted.

Alhamdulillah, the operation went well. The pre-op diagnosis was acute appendicitis but post-op, it was revised to perforated appendix.

[Yes, I'm showing off my newly-acquired medical jargon, after poring over my medical records. Haha]

The painkillers help to dull the pain but it still hurts when I want to shift my position, for example from lying to sitting to standing. 

I haven't eaten for 58 hours now and man, am I hungry! At first, it was because I had to fast before the surgery could be performed. Later (post-op), I was put under clear-fluid-only diet. It was horrible (no Teh Tarik!). Thankfully, my surgeon came round just now and upgraded me to nourishing-fluid diet (whatever that is).

I wrote on facebook how I hated troubling my family and friends and how I couldn't have made it without them. I'm particularly indebted to Mama & Kakak who take turns watching me round the clock. Mama takes the morning shift while Kakak takes the night one. 

Mama made me feel like a small kid all over again when she brushed my hair, clipped my nails and wiped my face with a wet towel. It reminded me of what a friend had said of her parents when they pulled her through a particularly rough time: "Sampai mati pun, I can't possibly repay their kindness & what they've done for me". My thoughts exactly.

Kakak hurt her back from sleeping in the uncomfortable chair by my bed. I tried sharing my bed with her when the nurses weren't around. Sometimes it worked but other times the bed made weird creaking noises, so we abandoned the effort. 

One night, around midnight I suppose, Kakak went to the toilet further down the hall. She had the impression that the toilets in my room were reserved for patients only. She was by the sink when one of the toilet doors shut mysteriously. Needless to say, she quickly bolted from there and in the end, used the one in my room anyway. We had a good laugh about it when she told me the morning after.

What has kept me amused thus far is observing the doctors' daily rounds. Have you ever watched Grey's Anatomy? Well, the scenes are replicated with different characters. A specialist will be surrounded by a crowd of housemen trying to impress him/her and outdo each other. Some of the specialists have the most colourful personalities. One lady took a look at a patient's chart and bellowed; "Who overrode my decision?!?" and stormed out of the room to look for the culprit. Another, brutally cut short one if the housemen's report. "I want summary!! I don't care when she got married, where she works, etc. I want summary!!". The poor guy stopped talking and another housemen quickly took his place by providing the pertinent "summary". Despite similarities to the TV show, unfortunately, there's no McDreamy in sight.

Before I was operated on, the doctors stopped by quiet often. Now that I'm recuperating, I guess I'm less interesting because the visits have both decreased and become shorter. I'm not sure whether I should be relieved or feel slighted. Haha.

What I am thankful for is I'm no longer subjected to embarassing & invasive procedures. Some of them made me feel like digging myself a hole and hiding from humanity forever. 

Before I end this post, I have to thank all the staff here for taking good care of me. The young Dr. Khairiah (she's only 26!) looks after me really well. The nurses are really nice too. And my anaesthesist, Dr. Nirpal, was the first person to wish me Happy Teachers' Day.

Thank you to those who visited me. Even those who couldn't come to the ward because visiting hours had ended. I love you guys! And thank you for the flowers; they brighten the room considerably :)


Please excuse any spelling or grammar errors. I'm writing this on my phone, with my hand still tied to the drip. So yeah.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Teachers matter

I felt compelled to write a Teachers' Day post today and not wait 6 more days after watching the video below:



It nearly brought me to tears. All the things that were said, really resonated with me.

This is my 6th year of teaching and though I'm no longer a rookie, I still need to be reminded that:

  • Everything is going to be okay. Things may seem tough right now and at times you may feel like you want to give up. But please don't. Just know that you'll make a great teacher.
  • [Though] everything feels overwhelming, terrifying even... but you're going to make it through this.
  • Those kids in front of you: They WANT to learn. They NEED to know. Try every crazy thing you can think of. In the end, those are the things that they'll remember.
  • Your students need you there in front of the class and they truly appreciate all that you do for them even if they don't show it all of the time.
  • When a kid says your class is BORING!, don't take it personally. It happens to everyone.
  • Holding your kids accountable is the greatest act of love you can give them.
  • Teaching is never an exact science and it's okay to struggle to find the answers.
  • This is one of the most important lessons to learn as a teacher: You will fail. You will make mistakes and you will embarrass yourself. When you do, accept it with grace and humility.
  • Lives and futures depend on you; It's scary and exhilarating [to know that].
  • So keep up the great work, seek help from those around you and just know that the work of a teacher is of the greatest importance.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hopes & Dreams

Getting your students to write is always an uphill task. They will always procrastinate and stare at their blank pieces of paper, complaining of "writer's block".

Today, a minor miracle happened: My 3E students couldn't stop writing. I gave them 30 minutes to write a letter to their future (25-year-old) selves. They were encouraged to be as honest / creative / funny as possible. 

At first they were a bit noisy as they started discussing and joking about what they would write about. Then it happened: They began to furiously write their heartfelt letters. 

Reading their letters made me feel nostalgic. Ah, to be 15 and full of dreams. To be so optimistic about the future. To have this conviction that you'll achieve great things in life. To be a hopeless romantic.

Here are some of my favourite excerpts:

1) I hope you have worked and studied hard. And you if didn't fulfill dad's, mom's and my dream, it is okay my dear self, I will always be proud of you, if that what makes you happy, I'm happy. Never feel bad about yourself if you didn't become what you and I wanted, at least I know you have tried your best.

2) I really hope you have found a girl that cares for you and always be there when you are feeling down. Don't forget that when the time has come, give her the ring.

3) So, how about your old friends? Do you still remember them? Do you still contact them? I hope you do. Because they are great friends. I hope you won't forget them. They helped you a lot back then.

4) I'm doing this only because my English teacher told me to or not I won't do it.

5) Before I put down my pen, I just want to give you some advice: Never stop forgiving others.

6) You should be in medical school right now. If  you're not then I don't really know what you're doing with your life.

7) I hope that you have achieved all my goals and dreams. I know that some of my dreams were almost impossible to achieve. But hey, miracles do happen right? I hope you never give up on my dreams. Even if the whole world says that you're crazy, don't you ever give up!

8)  The most important question is how are mom and dad doing? Are they still healthy? I hope they are. They took care of you when you were just a baby until you've grown into an adult. So now, it's your turn to take care of them. Don't ever forget that.

9) Do you remember Teacher Rosyada? The very nice young teacher who taught you English in Form 3? How's she doing? I'll pray for her happiness. She's the teacher that made you write this essay. I think you'll be grateful she made you write this essay then.

10) It has been 10 years and I'm very proud that you've survived all the bumpy roads in life. I have to admit, I am one strong man. No matter how bad things get, I'm still proud of you. Except if you haven't gotten married yet.

If you're not successful, happy, rich, smart, good-looking, healthy, please do turn to the next page:



And my absolute favourite (it just resonates with me):


X X X

The above exercise was taken from kidstardustliteraryblog.wordpress.com.

If you want to take the exercise further, get your students to go to futureme.org. There, you students can type their letters / attach pictures of their handwritten letters to their future selves. The site will then send the letters via email on the specified date. 


Sunday, January 05, 2014

Twins of Faith 2013

Aisha (r.a.) was once asked to describe Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) character. She replied, succinctly, "His character is the Quran". That is, he was the living example of the Quran.

Thus, when we read the Quran and come across verses exhorting us to have patience / to be grateful / to be forgiving / just / merciful / etc., we should take a leaf out of our Prophet's (pbuh) sunnah and try to become all these things; we should try to become the embodiment of the Quran.


This was what was stressed in last week's (Dec 28 & 29, 2013) Twins of Faith Family Festival, with its theme "The Sunnah The Better". In fact, the stage backdrop was filled with some of the exemplary attributes of our beloved Prophet (pbuh). I copied some of them down and added a few more as I was listening to the talks given by the esteemed mashayikh.


Under the heading "Strive to be..." the long list of attributes was wordle-d into the image below.


While writing the adjectives down, I was feeling optimistic about the year ahead:
Yes, I can be kinder / more forgiving / more positive / etc.

But just days after the event, I realised just how deceptively simple the above adjectives are.
Because it's easy to be good when everything is going right; when you're in a conducive surrounding and amongst wonderful people.

But how do you remain patient when calamity strikes / when things do not go your way?
How do you stay motivated when you're dead tired?
How do you forgive disagreeable people?
How do you keep on being helpful to others when you're bogged down by work?
And how do you remain content in the face of temptations?

When school reopened for the 2014 session last Thursday (Jan 4), I shared the photo below on facebook. At the end of the exhausting day, I looked like the owl on the right.


It didn't take a whole year to transform me from a Hedwig look-alike into a train wreck; It only took one day (in my defence, it was a very trying day).

How do we remain calm and patient in testing times then?

Urm... [awkward silence] I don't know.

But what has helped me in the past is the beautiful verse, "God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear".

We often hear that when Allah loves someone, He will test him. It sounds counter-intuitive, no? Because if you loved someone, you would want to make life as pleasant as possible for him/her.

But as a teacher, I get the concept because teachers always have higher expectations of their BEST students.

When teachers administer a test, they know that a few students will excel above the others. In order to prevent the good students from getting complacent, teachers will give these students additional questions that are tougher or will mark their paper more stringently.

We do these things, not because we hate them. On the contrary, we do them because we know their worth and potential, even when they doubt themselves.

So these students might complain that we're being unfair or that we're being too harsh on them. But we keep on the pressure because we know what the students are capable of and  because we're certain that they can reach the high targets we have set for them.

Further, even though we push them hard, we are with them every step of the way. Whenever they want to throw in the towel, we'll cheer them on with, "Don't give up now, you're so close to the right answer" or "You can do it!" or just a simple "Try again one more time".

So, whenever you're being severely tested (while you perceive others as having a smoother ride), remember the above analogy. Your singling out is a privilege, not bad luck. Allah knows you capabilities and worth, even when you doubt yourselves.
And remember that He'll be there with you every step of the way :)

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Holy Land

Have you watched the movie 'Kingdom of Heaven'?

Despite Orlando Bloom being horribly miscast as Balian, it was still a good movie (one of my favourites) due to its great story line and brilliant script.



There's this scene where Balian asked Salahuddin Al-Ayubi, "What is Jerusalem worth?"

He shrugged in response, "Nothing".

But after walking a few steps away, he turned back and replied, "EVERYTHING".

That exchange encapsulates how many feel about the Holy Land of Jerusalem. All have claim to it. Another memorable scene from the movie was when Balian was trying to rouse the citizens to defend the city:

"What is Jerusalem? Your [The Christian] holy places lie over the Jewish temple that the Romans pulled down. The Muslim places of worship lie over yours. Which is more holy? The Wall? The Mosque? The Sepulchre? Who has claim? No one has claim. ALL have claim!"

Alhamdulillah, I just got back from visiting the Holy Land, or Al-Quds, as the Muslims call it. I entered the city via the King Hussein Bridge border and stayed there for 3 days and 2 nights. Another 4 days and 4 nights were spent in Jordan, visiting Petra & Amman.

But though Petra was amazing, Jerusalem was the highlight of the trip. I sincerely wished that the itinerary was inverted; that we had spent more time in Jerusalem than in Jordan.

It's hard to describe what makes Jerusalem so special. Maybe it has to do with the city's stunning topography. The plains rise and fall majestically, with old buildings spreading over the peaks, valleys and slopes. Maybe it's the historical and religious significance of the place.

Whatever it is, being there, you could almost understand why people have fought over it for more than 1000 years.

My most cherished memory of my stay was performing the Subuh prayer in the main mosque of Al-Aqsa. We left the hotel at 4.30 a.m. and walked for 20 minutes to reach the mosque. It was winter time and the temperature was around 10 degree Celsius. With hands in my coat pockets (I forgot to bring gloves), we navigated the labyrinthine lanes of the Old City  to reach Al-Aqsa. The cold wind was refreshing and the sight of the Dome of the Rock took my breath away. After Subuh, as we were walking back to the hotel, we could hear church bells ringing nearby. The whole experience was indescribably special.


Later that same morning, around 9 a.m., we returned to Al-Aqsa after visiting the Western Wall (The Wailing Wall). By that time, the compound was teeming with people. Besides tourists, Muslim men and women (I was not sure whether they were all Palestinians or of various nationalities) sat in small circles (halaqahs) reciting and learning the Quran. It was such a peaceful scene.


I left Jerusalem with a heavy heart. I wished I could have stayed longer to pray more rakaats in Al-Aqsa and to explore all the places of historical significance.

I recently bought this book entitled 'Nothing To Lose But Your Life' by Suad Amiry. I haven't started reading it but the book is prefaced by this quotation:

"As I see it, it is wrong to write about people without living through at least a little of what they are living through." (Ryszard Kapuscinski, Another Day of Life)

It's presumptuous to claim to have lived what the Palestinians are going through. But just witnessing some of the hardships (poverty, the denial of their rights to freedom of movement and self-determination, the illegal settlements encroaching further into their lands, the oppressive Separation Wall, etc) that the Palestinians face daily made me sleep less soundly at night. Thus I urge everyone to go and see for themselves what we only hear and read about so far. They are things that news cannot convey.


My tour guide said that it's easier to enter Israel now because the visa application can be done a month earlier. He said that prior to the new system, getting stuck at the immigration for 9 hours was not uncommon. Now, on average, you can get through immigration in 3 hours or so (one Malaysian group managed to do it in 45 minutes!).

My group wasn't so lucky. We were told to expect delay so I didn't bother to look at my watch. I thought we had taken 3 hours or so to pass immigration but after checking with my guide (who had actually timed the whole process), it was closer to 5 hours!

The whole process was maddening. There were 7 separate counters to do things that could have been lumped together. Thus, people had to queue multiple times and wait for interminable hours.

One person from my group was held up for arbitrary reasons. He wasn't interrogated or anything; He was just made to wait for 2 whole hours.

Despite the inefficient process designed to frustrate people, hundreds still flock to the border crossing in order to visit the Holy Land.

Do go and visit it yourselves because there are so many things to see, witness and learn from the experience.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Turkiye Trip

Six months ago (May 29 - June 5, 2013), I went to Turkey for a holiday to realise one of my long-held dreams: To see the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia & The Bosphorus.


Everyone has a list of places he/she would love to visit and Turkey was pretty high up on my list. Egypt & Iran are somewhere at the top of the list too.

I've been meaning to write about the trip but it was hard to distill the experience into paragraphs. In a few hours' time, I'm leaving for another trip. This time to Jordan & Jerusalem. So I'm attempting to write about the Turkey trip now in order to preserve the memories and to reevaluate why I travel in the first place.

I'm going to cheat here, by embedding the video below instead of recounting in detail the places that I've been. [The lucky winner's itinerary mirrored mine exactly, since we shared the same travel agency, POTO Travel & Tours.]



Oh, how I looked forward to the trip! After 5 months of work (Jan - May), I needed a break from my routine. I wanted to be immersed in a completely different environment, as the one I was in had me feeling constricted. So I was looking forward to experience and marvel at fresh/novel/foreign scenery, architecture, food, language & culture.

The trip fulfilled my expectations and more. I loved exploring the various UNESCO World Heritage Sites and experiencing new sights and sounds, so completely different from what I'm used to.

Thus, I completely agree with Pico Iyer when he said, "And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed."

So after 6 months, I'm ready to fall in love and be transformed again, this time by Petra, Masjid Al-Aqsa, Dome of the Rock, the Dead Sea and other places I have yet to see...

P.S. Please pray for our safe journey!