Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Twins of Faith Malaysia 2011

What are the twins of Faith? If you look at the above logo carefully, they are 'ilm and 'amal (knowledge & action). Interestingly, to further underscore their strong correlation to one another, both words are formed from the same 3 letters; lam, 'ain and mim. Throughout the whole 2-day conference, the importance of both was reiterated, again and again. You simply cannot act without knowledge and what is the use of knowledge if we don't put it into practice?

Though the concept is simple enough, not many of us do seek knowledge, do we? I mean, we were born Muslims so we think we have all religious rituals down pat. We probably do but that's exactly the problem; we view them as rituals - elements so intertwined with our culture that we think they are what Islam is all about: praying, fasting, Eid and the Hadj. We don't go out of our way to learn more about our beautiful religion. Islam has become a set of rituals instead of a way of life.

Alhamdulillah, I was very fortunate to be able to attend the Twins of Faith Family Festival in Putrajaya last weekend (Dec 24 & 25, 2011). The event was packed with talks, workshops and performances from 10am until 10pm on both days.

Below are some of the input that made an impact on me:

1) Sheikh Alaa Elsayed quoted a line from Lion King when he reminded us to "remember who [we] are". We are the best of nations as mentioned in the Quran:
You are the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind; you enjoin Al-Ma'ruf and forbid Al-Munkar, and you believe in Allah (Surah Al-'Imran, Verse 110).
Another speaker, Sheikh Tawfique Chowdhury, expounded on this point when he chastised Muslims who think so lowly of themselves:
"Why the defeatist attitude?" he had asked.
"How dare you think so small"
"How dare you think that Allah will not help you".

2) In the women-empowerment workshop by Dr. Harlina Halizah Siraj, maternal health care was discussed. It was sad to learn that countries like Afghanistan, Niger, Yemen, Mali and Sudan (which are predominantly Muslim countries) are considered the worst places to be a mother. Why is this so? Well, according to Save The Children report it all boils down to poverty and the (lack of) quality of life:
" Afghanistan, a typical woman has fewer than five years of education and will not live to be 45. Less than 16 percent of women are using modern contraception, and 1 child in 5 dies before reaching age 5. At this rate, every mother in Afghanistan is likely to suffer the loss of a child."
Referring to the "You are the best of peoples..." verse above, how can this be happening? Obviously we haven't been enjoining Al-Ma'ruf and forbidding Al-Munkar, and we've turned our backs to Allah. It is often said that the beauty of Islam is being covered by ugly Muslims and I think the report is a clear example of that.

3) One of the speakers shared a very interesting finding from a research: apparently, we are the amalgamation of the 5 people whom we are closest to. We commonly hear that our friends are our mirrors. This finding seems to corroborate that. It made me think of the 5 people closest to me and in what ways are they influencing my life?

We should all take stock of the company we are keeping and make necessary adjustments for we wouldn't want to be influenced negatively. One of the criteria of a good friend is: when you see them, you will think of Allah (SWT). So let's surround ourselves with such friends (and become one ourselves).

4) The session that left the biggest impact on me has got to be the fund-raising. Mercy Mission Malaysia is raising funds to build a KL Madinah. In the sirah, the Muhajirin (people who were persecuted in Makkah) sought refuge in Madinah. The people of Madinah, called the Ansar, willingly took in the Muhajirin and treated them compassionately.

Similarly, KL Madinah aims to provide shelter to those most in need such as new Muslims who may have had to leave their families, homes and possessions when they embraced Islam. A question was posed by such a revert in a video: "Where are our Ansars? Who will help us?"

It was head-spinning to witness people pledging RM100K, 50K, 25K, 10K and 5K without hesitation. Subhanallah, these are the people who are not attached to their wealth; who (figuratively) have the world their in hands but Allah in their hearts.

(It was announced that approximately RM1.9 million was raised in total! Allahu Akbar!)

5) The entertainment slots were equally thought-provoking as the talks. In fact, they were called 'Halal edutainment' to convey their intention to educate as well as entertain. My favourite performer was Boonaa Mohammed, followed closely by Muslim Belal. Both of them are spoken-word artists and their slam-poetry lyrics provide much food for thought.

Overall, it was a very well-organised event. There was a minor problem with crowd-control on the first day, but it was sorted out and the second day went much smoother. PICC was the perfect venue: the plenary hall was spacious and beautiful, the washrooms clean, and the view is just unparalleled. I liked the fact that the opening and closing ceremonies were kept short. No interminable VIP speeches that are synonymous with events in Malaysia. Most of all, I love the atmosphere exuded. It truly was a family festival. It was heartwarming to see whole families coming together to seek knowledge and to see the youth forming the majority of the crowd.

I'm thankful to Allah that I was able to attend the festival with beloved friends. Friends who came all the way from other states to gain something beneficial. In the end I believe all of us gained so much more than what we had set out to do.

Can't wait for Twins of Faith 2012! :)

Friday, December 09, 2011


I saw 2 documentaries recently which woke me up from my slactivism stupor.

The Cove

The Cove tells of an elite group of filmmakers, freedivers and activists that went on a secret mission to expose the dolphin slaughter in Taijin, Japan.

In the documentary, an interviewee from Greenpeace said (quoting from Margaret Mead); "Never depend on institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated by and seen through by the passion of individuals."

However, it must be stressed that, passion should always be followed by actions. Ric O'Barry, the central figure in The Cove, drove the point home when he said; "You're either an activist or an inactivist, and I wanted to be active."

Gaza We Are Coming

Prior to the infamous Gaza Freedom Flotilla mission in 2010 (in which 9 Turkish activists were killed on board Mavi Marmara), there was an earlier attempt to break the Israeli naval siege on Gaza. 44 human-rights activists from 17 countries all over the world boarded 2 boats and successfully reached the Gaza shore on 23 August 2008.

Like the team from The Cove, these disparate individuals, united by a common cause, came together to successfully pull-off a highly-dangerous mission.

Watching these 2 documentaries was akin to watching espionage films. Indeed, one reviewer described The Cove as "The Bourne Identity meets Flipper". These amazing individuals overcame great odds and obstacles to achieve their objectives.

What made them stick out their necks like that?

According to one activist, it was because; "Every time I shave in the mirror, I look at myself and think I have done very little. I haven't done anything and that's the truth. And I think we should all do more."

I think that while it is good that we sign online petitions, 'like' certain pages, update our statuses and share articles to spread the awareness on various issues, it's high time we go beyond these measures and start to put in concrete actions.

Start small and see how it goes from there :)

May Allah give us the strength to make meaningful contributions...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Search For Happiness

I recently read this adorable book, 'Hector and the Search for Happiness'. It tells of a psychiatrist (Hector), who became dissatisfied and developed doubts of his own after treating too many patients with no real disorders and no apparent misfortune. Why are these people unhappy then?

According to studies, you chances of being happy are greatly increased if: "you compared yourself to others and didn't find yourself wanting, if you had no money or health problems, if you had friends, a close-knit family, a job you liked, if you were religious and practised your religion, if you felt useful, if you went for a little stroll from time to time, and all of this in a country that was run by not very bad people".

Hector's patients are better-off than most people in this world. They are well-educated, came from good families, have well-paying jobs and live in a prosperous country. By right, they should be very happy. So why aren't they?

Hector, is his travels, learned that "Happiness is a certain way of seeing things". Some people are just better at being happy, just as some people are prone to wallowing in sadness.

All these made me think about how we as Muslims cope with sadness. Nobody is immune from troubles, big or small. And everybody is sad from time to time. So how does Islam teach us how to cope? What can we do to soothe our hearts and stay sane during calamities?

I think there are countless verses from the Quran, hadiths, and du'a which help (the Quran is after all described as "a healing and a mercy").

When Hector discovered that, "Happiness is a certain way of seeing things", I recalled this particular hadith: "Wondrous are the believer's affairs. For him there is good in all his affairs, and this is so only for the believer. When something pleasing happens to him, he is grateful, and that is good for him; and when something displeasing happens to him, he is patient, and that is good for him." (Reported by Muslim)

This Sabar (being patient) and Syukur (being grateful) are potent prescriptions indeed.

Another thing worth pointing out is the word 'happiness' itself. For me, happiness connotes something that is fleeting; something pleasurable that isn't meant to last. That is why I think Muslims are conditioned to pursue CONTENTMENT and PEACE instead.

I remember a phrase from the book 'The Translator', in which the protagonist described "feeling something deeper than happiness" when she was praying in her university mosque.

So, let's share our favourite Quranic verses/hadith/du'a that we regularly refer to to tide us over a bad patch (I know a friend whose favourite verses are these). May they be of benefit to others...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Flying Fox at Berjaya Hills

My sister and I came to try the canopy walk after reading the advertisement below.

But we ended up trying the 900-metre flying fox instead (touted to be the longest in South East Asia). It was such an exhilarating ride! I don't consider myself an adrenaline junkie; riding roller-coasters or other extreme rides are just not my thing. But surprisingly, I enjoyed every minute of this activity. The scariest part was alighting from the platform and feel yourself dangling precariously on the cable... but once you started gliding amidst the rainforest, it was so much fun!

Half of the adventure was getting to the points of departure. First, we had to put on the necessary gears (full body harness, carabiners, pulley, etc) before climbing the stairs of this tall structure. We had to go one by one as the structure cannot hold many people at one go. When I reached the top, a strong wind blew and I could feel the building swaying. I thought to myself, "What have I gotten myself into?"

After the short canopy walk, we did a little bit of hiking to reach the tree which will be our first point of departure. The hiking trek was a bit slippery, so wearing my Crocs flats wasn't such a good idea after all. Climbing the tree was most challenging as the holds were quite far apart. I felt a huge sense of achievement when I reached the top.

The 900-metre glide took only around 40 seconds or thereabouts. When I reached the other end, the guide asked, "Seronok tak?". I was grinning from ear to ear and replied in the affirmative. I was so eager for the next glide. A short canopy walk away, we had to climb a swaying ladder to reach the second point of departure. The guide told us the ladder was BUILT to sway. An apparatus for character building exercise, I suppose.

Ascending the ladder was not as scary as it looked. It just required a lot of patience as we need to hook and unhook our two carabiners all the way to the top. The view from the platform is amazing. This time round, my sister and I were let off simultaneously as there are 2 parallel cables, spanning 400 metres. We ended up at the Adventure Park Centre, where we had started our journey.

The whole thing took 1 hour to complete and was worth every penny :)

Sadly, we didn't take any pictures as carrying the DSLR when hiking and gliding would have been too cumbersome. A compact camera would have done the trick but we didn't bring ours.

Afterwards, we ate a really good pizza at La Flamme and roamed the Colmar Tropicale Square to take some pictures.

It was a very enjoyable day trip. Since it's only 1 hour from KL, I wouldn't mind going again.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Parit Penghulu Homestay Programme

When the programme was first promoted to the students, a colleague of mine overheard someone remark; "Home stay?? Lebih baik aku stay at home" (!)

But passing up the opportunity was his/her lost as the programme turned out to be immensely enjoyable. Twenty-eight Form 3 students of SMK Taman Melawati took part in the 2D1N programme held at the Parit Penghulu Homestay (also known as Kem Modal Insan) from 2 Nov to 3 Nov 2011.

Homestay usually denotes staying at the home of a foster family, but our group opted to stay in dormitories so that we can easily assemble for the planned activities.

In chronological order, we visited a Gula Melaka factory, painted Batik, played traditional games, roamed the paddy fields, rode a pick-up truck, went on the Melaka River Cruise, participated in Explorace, and stopped by the Hang Tuah Well.

All the activities were enjoyable but my favourites had to be roaming the paddy fields and cruising down the Melaka River. I never knew that gazing at the lush fields can be so therapeutic...

The students enjoyed themselves too. I overheard one of them say; "Rugi (insert name here) tak pergi". Her friends nodded in agreement. They all seemed reluctant to leave the place.

We felt deeply indebted to our host, Pak Man and his family. They were the embodiment of warm hospitality. We were comfortable and felt welcomed throughout our stay there.

For someone who was born and bred in KL, the village-life stint was utterly refreshing and memorable :)

Pictures from the programme can be viewed here and here.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Singapore Trip

What do you make of a vacation that's beset by one misadventure after another?

On 27-10-2011, we reached LCCT at 6.45am when our flight was due for take off at 7.25am. Once Papa dropped us off, it was a mad scramble to get to the boarding area before the gate closes. We had (mobile) checked-in earlier but hadn't factored in the time it would take to clear security check. We did manage to get on the flight but it was a very close shave!

Then, it rained heavily for 2 consecutive days when we were in Singapore.

Further, Irfan was not feeling well so he cut a forlorn figure on our first day there even though we were visiting his favourite place; the zoo!

Lastly, our flight back to KL was delayed for 1 hour 45 minutes. We touched down at 12.30am and reached home, completely exhausted at 2am.

Despite all these, the trip was highly enjoyable as it was spent with family members. It's cliched but true: It's the company that matters!

Singapore Zoo

The award-winning park was our first destination. The zoo truly deserves all the accolades heaped on it as it is very well-maintained and offers a myriad of attractions. Besides the animals in well-designed enclosures, other attractions include tram & boat rides, animal shows and feeding sessions.

I was also impressed with the services offered; parents with small kids can rent strollers or wagons while wheelchairs and scooters are available for those who are not up to covering the huge park on foot.

The customer service is also top-notch. We were on the boat ride when it rained. A staff was already waiting with umbrellas at the jetty to make sure we didn't get drenched before reaching the nearest shelter.

Universal Studios Singapore (USS)

We drove to Vivo City and then took the cable car to Sentosa Island. This is not the most economical way as a single trip will cost you SGD24! But we disregarded the steep price to experience the ride because it looked oh-so-inviting from below.

I don't think it was worth it though as our very own Genting Highlands cable cars provide a more enjoyable and scenic journey.

However, I have to admit that witnessing the world's busiest port from above - with its thousands of containers and hundreds of cranes - was awe-inspiring.

When we alighted at Imbiah Station, we had to walk further to reach USS (taking the Sentosa Express Tram would have been more convenient). Along the way, we passed by a few of Sentosa Island's many other attractions. According to the island's map, Sentosa has 31 attractions in all! USS seems to be the most popular but there are many other interesting offerings such as: Skyline Luge, The Merlion, Butterfly Park, Sky Tower and Underwater World.

Wow. This island is a veritable cash cow!

Finally, we reached USS at 11.30am. My 3 favourite rides were: Shrek 4-D Adventure, Enchanted Airways and Revenge of the Mummy. I was too scared to try the Battlestar Galactica roller coasters, USS's most extreme rides.

Even though we went on a Friday, the place was brimming with people. This translated into long queues that could take up to 50 minutes! I didn't have the patience nor the stamina to wait that long so I forwent a few of the attractions. Some visitors circumvented the problem by purchasing the Universal Express Pass which enables them to have priority access to all the rides.

So do avoid the weekends and public holidays for a more enjoyable visit. Another tip would be to download the Resort World Sentosa app which will keep you updated with the waiting times of all the attractions so that you can plan your route optimally.

Day 3

We explored the city using the MRT on our last day there. We took a train from Woodlands to Marina Bay. The Marina Bay Sands looks spectacular. So do the ArtScience Museum, Singapore Flyer and The Helix Bridge.

On our way back, on the MRT, I noticed how clean and green the city is. How well-planned and systematic. It's also refreshing to see signboards and trees unsullied by illegal advertisements. Moreover, the roads are pot-hole free, a far cry from KL roads' crater-like surface.

Confronted with our neighbour's modernity, affluence and efficiency, I couldn't help but feel a tinge of jealousy. Why are we not more like them?

Coincidentally, I read this in The Star when I got back home: AirAsia X Slams Malaysia Airports.

AirAsia X's CEO Azran Osman-Rani lambasted Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) for the delayed construction of KLIA2 and the subsequent public funds cost overruns.

He said, had the Government allowed AirAsia/Sime Darby to build the new low-cost carrier terminal at Labu, it would have been ready by now and no public funds would have been used.

His tweeted; "We keep taking two steps forward, and get dragged two steps backward. Macam mana nak maju?"

Macam mana indeed...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Kids & Exams

My friend Wanee, posted this as her status: "neglecting the answer scripts that r shouting to be marked... no no... not hearing them! lalala (looks the other way...)"

Although, like Wanee, I generally detest marking, I do derive some pleasure when I come across scripts such as these (they provide the much needed comic relief):

Angsa? It baffles me when a 16-year-old cannot spell Ansar correctly. *sigh*

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Where the streets had a name

I was browsing the general fiction section at the Big Bad Wolf Sale when I saw the book. I gave a small gasp. What a serendipitous find!

I've read the 2 earlier books by Randa Abdel-Fattah (Does My Head Look Big In This? & Ten Things I Hate About Me) and have been looking for this one.

Though her books are targeted to young adults, I enjoyed reading them nonetheless. Her stories are always funny and enjoyable to read. Yet, at the same time, they deal with serious issues such as coming to grips with your identity and being a proud Muslim in a discouraging/hostile environment.

Her latest book attempts to tackle an even bigger issue: the plight of the Palestinians.

I love the novel! Hayaat, the 13-year-old heroine is a spunky character that you'll come to love and admire.

When her beloved grandmother, Sitti Zeynab, collapsed and was taken away in an ambulance, Hayaat knew that she had to do something. So, she came up with the idea to bring back a handful of soil from her grandmother's ancestral home in Jerusalem.

Hayaat enlisted the help of her best friend, Samy, to help her negotiate the various obstacles she needed to overcome to enter Jerusalem (the separation wall, the checkpoints, the curfews, the permit system, etc).

Even though their journey is only a few kilometres long and should not have taken more than 20 minutes by car, due to the obstacles mentioned above, it took hours and was fraught with danger.

Besides having a strong protagonist, the novel also offers memorable supporting characters. Samy, who "infuriates adults even without saying a word", is a standout. The others; Sitti Zeynab, Mama, Baba and Jihan (Hayaat's older sister) also contribute significantly to the novel.

I like how Randa Abdel-Fattah  interspersed the profound message of her novel with funny dialogues such as this between Hayaat and Samy:
"What if we die?"
"What if we get shot?"
"I probably won't. I have my cross for protection. I can lend you one if you like. But you're a Muslim, so it might not work".

They are cute, aren't they? Do read the book if you can.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


Taken from the blurb:
TAXI brings together 58 fictional dialogues with Cairo cabbies recreated from the author's own experience of traversing the city. It takes the reader on a roller-coaster of emotions as bumpy and noisy as the city's potholed and chaotic streets.
Described as an urban sociology, an ethnography, a classic oral history - and a work of poetry in motion - TAXI tells Herculean tales of the struggle for survival and dignity among Cairo's 80,000 cab drivers. It is a wing-mirror that reflects both on modern Egypt and the human condition, plucking from the rush-hour sandstorm a feast of memories, lies, loves, hates and dreams.
TAXI was an instant bestseller in Arabic markets and has been credited with reviving an interest in reading in Egypt. This unique work explores the poignant self-reflections of members of a caste who have little in common apart from their trade.

It took me a while to really be engaged in Taxi. The 58 stories span only 245 pages. So, on average, one story is only 4 pages long. I feel that that's too short because by the time you're invested in the story, the chapter ends. You ended up feeling/wondering "That's it?!". Further, there were also some jokes, expressions and references peculiar to Egypt that I didn't get.

But I became engrossed when reading about the various misfortunes plaguing Egypt. Ordinary Egpytians struggle on a daily basis due to the rising cost of food and other commodities. Milk is considered a luxury, consumed only by the rich. A horrifying statistic disclosed that 10% of the children in Southern Egypt are mentally-retarded from malnutrition.

The hopelessness of the situation is underlined when a taxi driver lamented, "'s impossible for anyone in Egypt to make do with his salary. Because how much are salaries? From 300 to 600 pounds and no more than that. And that's not enough. So what's the answer? Either we steal or take bribes or work all day.".

Besides stagnant wages and rising cost of living, Egyptians also grapple with:
-an ineffective a broken bureaucracy
-widespread corruption and bribery
-manufactured news broadcasted by state-owned medias
 -the dismal state of education in public schools
-the mistreatment of minorities in the society
-polluted air in the city

Reading the stories from these taxi drivers will make you understand why Egyptians revolted against their government and how the Arab Spring came to be.

Their frustration is palpable when you read remarks like this: "Frankly, the government does everything it can to turn us into beggars or criminals. You feel they're making a big effort to ruin us and our families..."

Though we Malaysians are much better off, we shouldn't feel too smug. Yes, we should be grateful that our situation is not that dire but we shouldn't feel too complacent. The list of problems stated above sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Do grab the book (published by ZI Publications) and read it as "a man's feet should be planted in his country, but his eyes should survey the world" (George Santayana).

Friday, September 30, 2011

'Twas a good day

PMR is 4 days away and since it was the last time I would enter 3N, I gave them some last-minute pointers and wished them all the best.

The pep talk somehow got a bit sentimental and as I was leaving the class, Dasshany said loudly, "I feel like crying". The unexpected outburst made the whole class laugh and I was spared from the embarrassment of shedding a few tears myself.


Then I entered 3Q. Again, I hammered home the points that I want them to remember when writing their essays. When I wanted to leave, the girls swarmed me to kiss my hand.

Nadiah asked me earnestly, " Cikgu doakan kami satu kelas tau"

I nodded my acquiescence.

Nadiah looking uncertain, double-checked, "Semuaorang tau"


"Semuaorang dapat 9A", Nadiah reiterated, wanting to make sure I got my supplication right.

To please her, I said loudly, " Saya doakan kesemua 27 orang kelas awak dapat 9A"

The other girls' faces lit up but Nadiah still wasn't satisfied. She corrected me, "kesemua 27 orang kelas 3 Qudus..."

I repeated my supplication to include the word 3 Qudus and at last she was happy. I felt like a groom pressured by the crowd to get the wording of the solemnization oath right (!).


Later, as I was doing some work in the staff room, Munir, Muzzammil and Aiman from 3S came to see me. These 3 boys were always trying my patience in class.

They sheepishly said, "Cikgu, kami datang nak minta maaf"


"Sebab kitaorang banyak buat salah dengan cikgu"

I tried to repress the smirk that was forming on my face. I feigned ignorance to prolong the drama.

"Awak buat salah apa?"

They then looked guiltily at one another, signalling for the others to start.

At length, Munir started the ball rolling by saying, "Saya selalu makan gula2 dalam kelas cikgu"

I looked unimpressed. "Makan gula2 je? Lagi?"

Muzzammil added on, "Kitaorang selalu lari2 dalam kelas cikgu"

I nodded in agreement (now, we're talking!). "Anymore?"

"Kitaorang selalu tak buat kerja cikgu"
(and this one's my favourite:) "Kitaorang tak concentrate masa cikgu mengajar"

That last confession made me laugh out loud. They looked surprised and were relieved by my laughter. This proved that they do have a conscience after all! It may be partially obscured at times but still intact nonetheless :)


I had 3K for my last period. I came to class early but nobody was there. I proceeded to write the sample essay on the whiteboard first.

But even after the whole essay was finished, nobody entered the class. I ended up staying for more than 40 minutes until the final bell rang.

A few minutes later, the students came in to take their bags. Their previous lesson ran over time and nobody thought of notifying me.

They looked guiltily at the whiteboard and I overheard someone said, "Kesian Teacher"

Ram gestured to the board as if to say 'do we need to copy it?'

I shook my head and let them off. Then every single one of them came forward and kissed my hand before leaving the class.

*lump in throat* (this is 3K after all)


It is days like this which make teaching such a rewarding and meaningful job...

Consider yourselves warned

The door was broken and lay injured on the floor. On it, the culprit wrote an ominous warning/confession:

Awas bahaya
Zaman sekarang budak2 jahat

(Caution, danger; Today's kids are evil)

To would be teachers, consider yourselves warned ;)

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Close Call

My fate is etched out by Allah Almighty, if and who I will marry, what I eat, the work I find, my health, the day I will die are as He alone wants them to be. To think otherwise was to slip down, the feel the world narrowing, dreary and tight.
-The Translator (written by Leila Aboulela)-

I finally got the chance to visit F over the weekend. She was involved in a serious car accident that left her with 40 stitches. I learnt about it from facebook but the severity of the situation only hit home when I saw her just now.

It was a miracle she survived. In fact, she was literally thinking "That's it. I'm going to die" as the vehicle she was in plunged into a ravine and she was thrown out. The 4-wheel drive landed on top of her but luckily, it didn't squash her. When people arrived at the scene, she was found lying right in-between the tyres.

F said the whole ordeal was a life-changing experience. She was grateful to be alive. She cried every time people came to visit her as she had thought she would never get to see them again.

The accident also served as a wake-up call. She realised that she had had her priorities mixed up. She was too preoccupied with work that she had neglected some of the more important things in life.

F and I are both planners. We are overly reliant on our organisers and our To-Do lists but talking about the accident made us both realise that nothing is within our control.

"They plotted and planned, but We too planned, even while they perceived it not." (An-Naml, Verse 50)

Coming back to the extract at the beginning of the entry: "My fate is etched out by Allah Almighty", there are 2 more instances in the novel which deal with the same issue.

Sammar, the novel's protagonist, had found it strange that Rae's daughter had sent him a card which reads 'Get Well Soon, Dad'.

" was an order, and she wondered if the child was taught to believe that her father's health was in his hands, under his command"

In contrast, in Arabic, when wishing someone well, one would insert the word 'I pray'.

Another instance is when Sammar said in English 'I'm leaving on Friday' to her colleagues.

To Sammar's ears, the sentence had sounded "incomplete, untruthful without insha' Allah".

I guess this entry is to remind myself and others that Allah has complete authority over us and He is the disposer of all our affairs, lest we should forget Him in the busyness of our lives or worse, erroneously think that we are self-sufficient.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Malcolm X once said that, "People don't realize how a man's whole life can be changed by one book".

I wouldn't go so far as saying this book has changed my life, but it certainly has affected me greatly. Long after I had finished the book, I kept on reviewing the story in my head. Malcolm X's life story was so riveting. He was so riveting.

He truly was an exceptional orator. He had the knack of giving memorable, colourful, witty and controversial comments. And the media just lapped it up.

Once a journalist jokingly requested, "Say something startling for my column"

He duly obliged and didn't disappoint. My copy of the book is now littered with underlined sentences and highlighted passages that contain his memorable quotes.

Aside from his superior speaking skills and charismatic persona, the book made an impact on me because it is so honest and tragic.

Malcolm X told us about his difficult childhood and crime-filled youth. Before he became a Muslim, he used to be a drug addict, peddle dope and women, and commit armed robberies.

Yet, this ex-convict (who was so evil, the other convicts and the prison guards called him 'Satan') managed to turn his life around and dedicated the rest of his life to a cause that he believed in. He fought so tirelessly for his race that according to his biographer Alex Haley, he rarely put in less than an 18-hour workday.

The story of his transformation is truly extraordinary.

I was so engrossed with the book that I found myself telling anybody who would listen interesting excerpts that I had just come across. If someone so much as asked, "What's that book you're holding?", I would automatically launched into a long-winded story-telling session. Haha

But seriously, this is an amazing book. It just toppled --- to become my favourite book of all time.


The book is entitled 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X' written with the assistance of Alex Haley, not to be confused with the recently published 'Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention' written by Manning Marable.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Ramadan 1432 Reflection

I felt so blessed during Ramadan. I particularly loved breaking fast with my family and for some unknown reasons, I generally felt more at peace. You know when you occasional suffer from bouts of sadness and anxiety? Well, those feelings were noticeably absent during Ramadan. It's just one of the many Ramadan blessings that Allah showers on His servants.

Sometimes, I used to dread going to school and assumed the demeanour of someone whose cat had just died. We're 3/4 into the academic year and enthusiasm was running low. But during Ramadan,  I noticed that I smiled more and had more spring in my step :)

The month also nudged us into a reflective and introspective mode. When we had so much food on the table during iftar and our refrigerators were stuffed with leftover food, our thoughts inevitably turned to our less fortunate brothers and sisters in Somalia, Libya and Syria. We coasted through Ramadan while they had to face famine, civil war and violent government crackdowns.

At the end of the day, (to quote my friend Najib) Ramadan was an intensive training session. Now it's time to put the effect of the training into practice.

Oh, before I sign off, I would like to share this email from ProductiveMuslim. They sent daily emails to subscribers urging people to be productive during Ramadan. Here's one of my favourites:

Today, I want you to think of the ONE good deed that you promise yourself to continue doing after Ramadan.
Which one will it be?
Will it be praying tahajjud every night from now on?
Will it be fasting every Monday and Thursday or at least 3 days of the month each month?
Will it be praying in the mosque for every single salah?
Will it be reading one juz’ of Quran each day?
Will it be continually giving charity at least once a week?
What will it be for you?
Remember, “the most beloved of actions to Allah are the most consistent ones even if they are few” [Bukhari]
These good deeds should be a part and parcel of your life well after Ramadan – so pick one and write it down and after Ramadan, check yourself to ensure you consistently perform this good deed.

  X X X

By the end of Ramadan, it felt as if you had undergone a gastric-bypass surgery. The volume of your stomach seems reduced and you have an altered physiological and physical response to food.

At the beginning of Ramadan, you tended to stuff yourself during iftar but as the days passed by, you tended to eat less and less. You realised that, actually, our bodies need very little food to subsist and all those gorging we used to indulge in was due to greed rather than hunger.

Hopefully, whatever benefits we gained after 1 month of fasting will not be offset/undone by 1 month of over-indulging.

Further, I hope that by the end of Ramadan, our nafs (insatiable desires) also went through a similar reduction in volume.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

IDC2011 Dinner

While I was tucking in at the IDC 2011 (Inter-School Debating Championship) Grand Dinner, I spotted a familiar face. There was this waiter who looked exactly like my student. I only caught a glimpse of him but I brushed it off as coincidence. Pelanduk dua serupa kot...

Not long after that, I saw two other waiters who looked like students of mine too. Then, it dawned on me, they are all my students working part-time with the catering company.

The 2 boys said 'Hi' and confirmed that I did saw S earlier. Two more students showed up, smiled shyly, all 5 offering to replenish the dishes on my table ("Teacher nak tambah apa2 lagi?").

I don't know why but I felt a bit sad. I'm not implying that waitressing is demeaning or anything like that. In fact, it's probably good that they're learning the value of hardwork and how hard it is to earn a living in the real world.

Maybe I was too pampered when I was growing up and thus it saddens me that some kids have to work at the ages of 15/16 to earn some extra pocket money or to help with their family's financial situation.

In an ideal world, kids shouldn't have to worry about money. It's their parents' job to provide for them.

Further, ideally, kids should be shielded from as much unpleasantness for as long as possible.

The encounter made me realise that I had no idea about the lives that my kids are leading and what they go through on a daily basis.

The 5 boys that I saw often test my patience in class, each in their own unique way.

Seeing them that night made me see them in a different light:
No wonder they are not interested in learning.
No wonder I had such trouble getting them to do any work in class ---> They just have too many things on their plate that education is no longer a priority.

I think teachers should realise that our kids come from various backgrounds, and most of the time, those backgrounds are vastly different from our own upbringing.

As the saying goes, "You'll never understand a person until you walk a mile in their shoes"

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What does fasting mean to you?

We all know the many benefits of fasting (it is good for our health, it teaches us to be more compassionate to the poor, etc) but does it hold a special significance to us? Or is it just an annual religious ritual that we perform?

If you type "fasting is..." in a Google search box, a number of phrases will be displayed (courtesy of the search-as-you-type feature):
fasting is good bad good for your health bad for you hard dangerous stupid

This whole debate on whether fasting is good or bad is perplexing to me (and to all Muslims too, I reckon). We Muslims know that it is good for us. This deep conviction stems from years of experiencing it first-hand.

We love and look forward to Ramadan, not fear and dread it.

Coming back to the question 'What does fasting mean to you?', this is my answer:

I read somewhere that we now live in the Age of Instant Gratification. Our society has become more materialistic and hedonistic. People just want to indulge in their every desire at every chance they get. We shop impulsively, backbite unthinkingly, react inappropriately, eat, sleep and entertain ourselves excessively.

For me, fasting teaches us to push the "PAUSE" button. We abstain from eating and drinking from the break of dawn to sunset despite the acute feelings of hunger and thirst. We also have to watch over our words and actions.
“Whoever does not give up false speech and acting upon it and offensive speech and behaviour, Allah has no need of his giving up his food and drink" (Reported by Bukhari)
All these train us to delay or abstain from instant gratifications. We learn to exercise self-control in the face of temptations. Instead of obeying each and every desire that we have, we take the high road and choose the better alternatives.

It is when we stop obeying our desires that we can start obeying Allah and submit to His Design.

Read this excellent article by Khalid Baig (which is the inspiration behind this entry) and this Ramadan blog post by Faisal Abdul Latif to get you into the right Ramadan-frame-of-mind.

Happy reading! :)

Saturday, July 02, 2011

KID BP 2011 Diaries

It normally takes me 20-25 minutes to get to Damansara (by car). But last Monday, it took me 3 hours!

My students and I boarded the LRT at 7.30am to avoid the office-bound crowd. The coach we boarded was crowded but it wasn't filled to the brim - so that part of our plan worked out.

Everything fell apart when we arrived at the Kelana Jaya Terminal. It had been raining all morning so the typical Monday jam was exacerbated. Taxis were scarce and after 40 minutes of waiting, we decided to give up and wait for the crowd to subside.

But even after 10am, certain taxis refused to take us to our destination (which is less than 3 km away) because the road leading to that place was still choked.

Finally, we arrived at KDU University College (Damansara Jaya Campus) at 10.20am - hours after we left Gombak.

The whole misadventure made me appreciate my trusty Kelisa in a way that I never did before. I made a mental note to give my car a great big hug once I got home and I vowed to have it cleaned more regularly from now on.


I went to KDU from June 24-27 for the KDU Inter-School British Parliamentary Debate 2011. I drove the students for the first 2 days but we took the LRT on Sunday and Monday.

A traumatic thing happened which made me swear off driving for a while.

My car brake became unresponsive (even when I jammed both feet on the brake pedal) and I nearly rammed into the car in front of me. My students in the backseat lurched forward and I panicked.

An accident was averted but I was too traumatised to keep on driving. I felt like I had endangered the lives of the students in my care and that thought just paralysed me. I stopped at the nearest petrol station and asked them to call their parents to come and pick them up.

While waiting for the men in our lives to come and rescue us, we bought RM40 worth of snacks from the Mesra Shop.

I felt much better and calmer after performing Maghrib prayer. I was just so thankful that none of us got hurt.

Once my dad and brother finally arrived, they peeked under the hood but couldn't find anything wrong. They tested the car and the brake was working fine.

I was bewildered. How is that possible? Do mechanical things become faulty selectively? Do they have something against women drivers?!

I drove home in my Kelisa while my dad and brother drove the sexist car.

I drove slowly, not willing to take any risk. Even on DUKE Highway, I was only averaging 60km/h.

When I finally got home, I texted my students: "Guys, tomorrow, we're taking the LRT".


The KID BP 2011 ran for 4 days. 4 tiring, debate-packed days. At first, I was excited to skip school on Friday but in the end, I ended up working longer hours instead.

Throughout the tournament, I think I was averaging 12 hours a day. I was so tired and I missed Kak Safrina.

Kak Safrina & I usually go to these things together and whenever we are bored, we will go off and drink teh tarik, or eat out at nearby restaurants, or just chat with each other.

But since Kak Safrina was away, attending a course, I was left to stave off boredom all by myself.

Thank God for the Nescafe vending machine. It dispenses a cup of hot, aromatic coffee for only 90 cents. A cup managed to keep me awake for at least one more round of debates.

When I caught myself thinking about how I could have spent the weekend, I reminded myself of this saying: "Deeds without sincerity are like a traveller who carries dirt in his water-jug. The carrying of it burdens him and it brings no benefits" (Ibn Al-Qayyim).

The beautiful parable clearly illustrates that complaining derives no benefits. On the contrary, it erodes the good deeds we're accumulating.

This is something that I have to constantly remind myself as my sister complains that I complain too much (^_^')


Despite all the drama encountered, I quite enjoyed my KID BP experience.

When you invest time, money, attention in your students, you can clearly see the payoff (the teacher-student bond is strengthen and consolidated). The ROI is quite immediate.

Further, my students' speaking skills improved significantly. The shy student adjudicators whom I brought along became very talkative by the end of the 4-day event.

All that debating also enhanced their critical thinking skills. Every remark that was less than accurate became points of contention.

For example, when Aina refused to eat her lunch because the chicken wasn't cooked properly, she complained, "Teacher, it's raw!"

Afif jumped right in and corrected her, "It's not raw. It's medium rare".

And when we were discussing when and where to meet up, they would digress and argue about the correct prepositions of time to use instead.

"Should we be on time, in time or by certain time?"

I think I need to reopen my Grammar book in order to solve this one...

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Guangzhou & Shenzhen Trip

Chinese Tea is said to have cleansing properties. You take it without sugar and as you gulp it down, you can almost feel the herbs working its magic on your digestive system.

Kak Yom & I drank so much Chinese Tea during our trip that we boldly declared that we'd only drink Chinese Tea from now onward.

But being a true-blue Malaysian, I started craving for Teh Tarik as soon as I got back from the trip. Papa & I had Nasi Lemak Sotong for breakfast the next morning and I looked longingly at the Teh Tarik he ordered.

Thus, my affair with Chinese Tea ended and my love for Teh Tarik rekindled.


The 4D3N trip was one of the activities organised by my school's Kelab Guru. We signed up with Everyone's Dream Holiday and they charged us only RM1650 per pax for the whole trip. The price included return airfare, 3 nights' accommodation & food.

We had Ms. Chong as our tour guide. She's unfailingly polite but I had trouble understanding her explanations because her English is heavily-accented.


China is fascinating. Its economy is developing rapidly and as soon as you exit the airport, you can see just how frantic the pace of development is.

A bus took us from Shenzhen Airport to Guangzhou and along the 2.5-hour journey, I spotted countless transporters carrying brand-new, shiny cars and trailers carrying various construction materials.

Further, the roads in Guangzhou & Shenzhen merge and diverge seamlessly in a manner that I find both impressive and confusing.

Cars choked the roads. At times, they resemble our very own LDP during peak hours. Thankfully, we were always on the smooth side of traffic.

The modern China also boasts awe-inspiring architecture. The Canton Tower is just an example. Together, these new buildings create an impressive skyline of the city.


However, despite these modern creations, you can still get glimpses of old China.

You can see roadside peddlers in front of restaurants and shops, selling roasted chestnuts or fruits on their wooden wheelbarrows.

Further, cycling is still prevalent here despite the quite extensive public transportation network.


China formally joined WTO and opened its economy to the world in 2001 but I sensed that in many ways, it is still an insular country.

The bookshops that I went to carry only Chinese titles. There wasn't even one English-language magazine on sale!

And the majority does not speak English at all. So, communication was fractured. When buying stuff, tourists and retailers had to pass the calculator back and forth as a means of negotiating.


I love these passages written by Tony Wheeler (taken from the book 'Best Travel Writing 2007):

"We travel to try to understand, a country, a people, perhaps ourselves. We may fail to find what we're searching for, but we're many miles ahead of the stay-at-homes who've not embarked on that search, and way ahead of the stay-at-homes who believe they understand the world, even though they've not even ventured out the front door."

"It's by traveling that we meet people and come face to face with how they see the world or, even better, start to see how the world looks from their viewpoint and begin to understand why they think they way they do. We're much less likely to discover that alternative perspective by sitting at home and watching the news on TV"

I used to be a staunch stay-at-home but the trip has reformed me.

Though I would have liked to do more sight-seeing and less shopping, and though we were brought to suspect establishments by our tour guide, I still enjoyed the trip tremendously.

Christopher Elliot wrote in the previous edition of Newsweek that "there is no such thing as a bad trip. Even when getting from point A to B seems like an unqualified catastrophe, the experience often makes you a seasoned, smarter, and more interesting traveler."

We are lucky to live in an age of low-cost carriers. Let's take full advantage of the bargain basements prices and acquire awesome life experiences! :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

It'll Be All Right

Celebrating Teachers' Day has always been something that I look forward to. But not this year. On May 9, 2011, -exactly a week before this year's Teachers' Day- I experienced one of the worst teaching days of my career.

Granted, my "career" is only 2 years old, but out of roughly 500 days of teaching, last Monday was one of the worst ever.

Frank McCourt wrote in Teacher Man that "In every class there's a pest put on earth to test you". Well, in my case, there are SEVERAL pests in this particular class that I teach. Let's just call it Class 3P.

I've always had trouble with 3P. I call it my "kelas yang menguji keimanan" because that's precisely what it does. The class tests my patience on every single occasion I enter the class, without fail.

The several said pests problematic students would play truant or come late to class with absolute impunity. When asked to explain their tardiness, they would lie through their teeth (which made me even madder than if they had simply confessed and told me the truth). They refused to do any work, citing missing books/misreading the timetable and other improbable and unacceptable reasons as an excuse. Giving them demerits points has done nothing to deter their misbehaviours. They were a disruptive force in class. My voice would get hoarse by the end of each lesson from making myself heard over the class din.

Last Monday, they did all of the above but on a greater degree. I completely lost it. Have you felt so angry that your whole body shook uncontrollably?

I cried in an empty classroom after that. For the first time ever, I thought of doing something else other than teaching. These are not impressionable 15-year-olds that can be moulded, they are like monsters -a pack of wolves in sheep's clothing.

The next day, in a cruel twist of fate, I had to relieve 3P for a period! My heart sank when I heard the news. My exact reaction was; "Ya Allah, whatever I did to deserve this, please forgive me".

It was a classic example of Pavlov's theory: If Pavlov's dogs started to salivate in response to the bell, I start to break out in a cold sweat at the mere mention of 3P. The thought just drains every good feeling that I have.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Remus Lupin describes Dementors as creatures that "drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them... Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself...soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."

Was J.K. Rowling a high-school teacher before she started writing? I mean high-school students could easily have been the inspiration behind Dementors. Hahaha

Coincidentally, my friend Nisa posted this as her facebook status recently: SCHOOL TEACHER: A disillusioned person who used to think that she/he liked children.

That aptly described what I felt and when I conveyed this to her and half-jokingly suggested that we find another job, she replied; "Are you sure Syada? What could we be other than awesome teachers?"

She was right of course: I can't imagine being anything else other than a teacher. But how am I supposed to recover from that soul-destroying day?

Rereading the following story was like applying balm my wounds. The story was condensed from LouAnne Johnson's book 'The Girls in the Back of the Class' and was featured in Reader's Digest November 1995 edition.


"It'll Be All Right"

Until I taught secondary school, I had never experienced the genuine pain and fatigue that comes with trying to help these youngsters cope with the overwhelming problems in their lives. After more than four years of using my ability and expending an enormous amount of worry on my kids, I finally hit empty.

One day, I went home after school exhausted and slept through an entire weekend. When classes resumed on Monday, I still could barely drag myself out of bed. I lay there for an hour after the alarm rang, trying to motivate myself to move. When it was too late to call a substitute, I threw on some clothes and drove to school. Toshomba Grant, who arrived well ahead of the crowd, was waiting outside my classroom as usual.

"What's up, Miss J?" Toshomba took my briefcase and waited while I unlocked the door. He turned around and watched me for a moment. He must have seen something in my face, because the next thing he asked was, "Are you sick?"

"Yes, I think I am, Toshomba," I said.

"Did you go to the doctor?" he asked.

"The doctor can't fix what's wrong with me," I told him. I tried to speak lightly, but he frowned and chewed his lower lip.

When the other kids started to arrive, Toshomba hushed them and told them to sit down and be quiet. He succeeded in shutting up everybody. Everyone but Rico Perez.

"What's the matter, Miss J?" Rico demanded when the class was seated and waiting for me to take roll.

"Nothing's the matter," I told Rico. "I'm just a little tired. Why don't you guys write in your journals today, and then take a break for the rest of the period."

"That ain't fair, if you got a problem and you say nothing's wrong," Rico objected. "When we got a problem, we always gotta tell you."

"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't mean to be nosy. I just want to help you guys whenever I can."

"And that's why you gotta tell us," Rico said. "So we can help you."

"Thanks," I said. "I'll be all right."

Toshomba sighed loudly and shook his head. He shrugged at Rico - I told you so.

Then Tyeisha Love stood up and walked to my desk. Without saying a word, she put her arms around me and held me for a minute, then patted me on the back and whispered, "It'll be all right." My mother used to hold me and say those same words to me when the world was too much too bear; so when Tyeisha said them, I started to cry.

"Aw, man," Cornelius muttered. He tried to sound mad, but he looked like he might cry himself any minute. I grabbed a tissue and wiped my runny nose.

"Thanks, Tyeisha," I said. "I think that's what was wrong. I just needed a hug."

"It's okay, Miss J," Tyeisha said. "You gave me lots of hugs before."

"I guess everybody needs one sometimes," I said. As I looked at my class, I saw tears in many of their eyes. Then I added, "If anybody else needs a hug, stand up."

Every single student student in the room stood up, including Cornelius Baker. I walked up and down the rows and hugged each of my students. Some of them grabbed me hard and held on like they were afraid of drowning; others gave me a quick, safe squeeze. When I reached Cornelius, he was still standing. Touched that he would risk such a grand gesture in front of the other students, I wrapped my arms as far as they would reach around his broad back and pressed my cheek to his chest for a second.

The students stayed on their feet until I hugged everybody. Then they sat down and wrote in their journals, as though nothing unusual had happened, as though they hadn't just breathed life back into me.


I rarely get to see my friends anymore since we are posted all over Malaysia. But I want them to know that I wished I could hug them for real whenever they needed some cheering up.

And if they experience a meltdown similar to mine, I want them to know that, it'll be all right.

So, Happy Teachers' Day to all the awesome teachers out there. You guys deserve a big Thank You.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Just Us Girls

April is the busiest month of the year I think.

There are all sorts of competitions held in this month.

Firstly, there are the co-academic competitions such as debates, drama, public-speaking, poetry recital, pantun and nasheed.

Secondly, there are the district- and state-level sports tournaments like basketball, football, badminton, track & field, sepak takraw, tennis, handball, volleyball, netball, softball and hockey.

Lastly, there are also kawad kaki competitions for all the uniformed units.

So, all month long, the school has been busier and more "happening" than usual. All the activities reminded me of this riddle I heard some time ago:

"Sekolah mana yang tiada murid?"

The answer is...
Cuti Sekolah

Yes, it's a rather silly riddle but it conveys how essential students are to schools. Blocks of buildings/classrooms alone do not make a school but the students do. They are the ones who embody the spirit of the school.

That's why I always find it creepy to work during the year-end holidays when the school is deserted.

It's just positively eerie. You feel like you're in an alternate universe because the place feels so unfamiliar even though you work there day in and day out from Jan to Nov.

But I'm digressing here. What I meant to talk about is NETBALL!

I took the girls to the 2011 MSSD Gombak Netball Tournament last week and our Under-15 team got 4th place while the Under-18 team got into the octofinals (which is not bad considering there were 40 schools in all).

I had a great time with the girls. We had weekly practice from the beginning of the year and started our 2-week intensive, almost-daily training from Apr 4.

Training students on the field is totally different from teaching them in the classroom and I think I enjoy the former more.

I could see how the students directly benefit from participating in the training and the tournament.

Of course, they developed their hand-eye coordination, stamina, leg muscles and what-not.

But the far more valuable benefits that they've derived include the honing of their leadership skills and teamwork.

Research has shown that girls in a single-sex school are freer to be themselves. They do not need to play nor conform to the notion that girls have to be submissive. They have no reason to act coy and they are not overshadowed by male students when it comes to assuming leadership roles.

My netballers exhibit the same characteristics. They are not afraid to be themselves. They like to act all goofy and silly. And we had so much fun during practice.

I also discovered that girls make great leaders. Oftentimes, in our culture, we reserve the top posts for the male students. Thus, girls are not given the chance to shine. They do not want to make any initiatives because they are not in the position to do so or they are afraid of being labeled power-hungry or other equally unflattering labels.

But in a club that's exclusively female, you do not have that problem. I have a very reliable and dedicated captain in Mimi. She, Elia (the vice-captain) and the other committee members run the club so effectively:

They designed and ordered the jerseys to be worn during the MSSD tournament, they drew up game plans complete with diagrams to illustrate the plays, they organised a friendly with a nearby school and they trained their juniors whole-heartedly.

Besides that, the girls also have this camaraderie amongst themselves as a result of spending long hours together.

During the tournament, the U-18 team cheered from the sidelines when the U-15 team was playing and vice versa (if cheering was not producing the desired result, they turned to yelling).

They even went to the extent of spoon feeding their exhausted teammates! How's that for ukhuwwah? ;)

Although I was very tired playing the multiple roles of coach, manager, motivator, strategist, chauffeur, water girl and dietician,

and although I received many "Teacher, you look very tanned (read: dark)" comments after the netball season, I wouldn't mind doing it all over again next year because I know that the sacrifices will pay off.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Going Camping

Last weekend (Apr 8-10, 2011), I had to join my school's Kem Kepimpinan Pengawas. Below is what I had written when I was there.


9 April 2011
6.00 pm

The mood is light. Everyone seem relaxed. A group of boys are singing songs with one person strumming the guitar.

They were crooning popular songs like the evergreen 'Belaian Jiwa' and 'Kau Ilhamku', as well as more contemporary songs like 'I'm Yours' and 'Grenade'.

A bigger group of boys are playing rugby with the facilitators. They have a coconut husk for a ball. Earlier, I saw them playing 'baling selipar'.

Maghrib is roughly 1 hour away and for the first time since I came here, I'm enjoying myself.

Yesterday was a stressful and tiring day in which I was caught in the middle of an ugly dispute between an untrustworthy man and a hot-tempered one. Later that same day, I had to deal with a very irate parent.

The multiple crises made me want to pack up my things and leave the camp site immediately. I just hate confrontations and being in the thick of all the unpleasantness made me sad and angry.

Why oh why can't I spend my precious weekends in peace?

But being an adult means that I can't really call my mum/dad to come and fetch me, can I? (Although it's very tempting to do so)

I need to put up a brave and cheerful front to the kids and so that's what I did.

The kids are marvelous by the way. At first, I thought they were not the camping type.

When they got off the buses, I saw some students carrying strange items - things that aren't normally associated with camping like: a guitar, a stuff animal, a poncho and even a Louis Vuitton luggage!

Some people just have way too much money if you asked me...

But they proved me wrong. The kids rose to the occasion pretty well. They behaved themselves even though they were bored during some of the talks.

Further, when food ran out, they waited patiently (for roughly half an hour) for it to be replenished.

And at noon today, they scoured the length and breadth of the camping site for the fluorescent stickers the facilitators had hidden earlier. I could see that they were tired but they still performed the task energetically.

And later, when asked to get the facilitators' signatures, they sang, recited Rukun Negara, performed silat, dance, etc with much enthusiasm.

Nobody complained incessantly nor behaved like a spoilt brat throughout the camp. At least not that I noticed.

I didn't like the camp. Once I get home this Sunday, I'll breathe a huge sigh of relief and celebrate my return to civilisation.

Nevertheless, I'm glad that I came and stayed.

I got to know the students that I teach a little bit better and meet the acquaintances of those that I don't.

We got to pray, talk, laugh and go jungle-trekking together as well as share food and mosquito-repellent patches.

The kids impressed me by staying positive even when the situation is less than ideal.

This is one of the instances when you learn more from your students than they do from you.


Pictures from the camping trip (courtesy of Wee Na):

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Beza Guru dan Murid

Last Monday, while waiting for the previous teacher to exit my class, I wandered into an empty classroom. I perused the class' bulletin board and stumbled upon this poem. The title immediately caught my attention.

Beza Guru dan Murid

Kalau cikgu sembang,
Cikgu bertukar fikiran,
Kalau kami bersembang,
Kami mengata yang bukan-bukan.

Kalau cikgu berbual-bual,
Cikgu bual isu semasa,
Kalau kami berbual,
Kami bual Akademi Fantasia.

Kalau cikgu bergaya,
Cikgu jadi lebih berkeyakinan,
Apabila kami bergaya,
Kami nak 'contact' kawan idaman.

Kalau cikgu senyum,
Cikgu seorang yang mesra,
Kalau kami senyum,
Senyum kami ada makna.

Apabila cikgu menulis,
Cikgu tulis laporan pelajaran,
Apabila kami menulis,
Kami lukis gambar syaitan.

Apabila cikgu pejam mata,
Cikgu fikir silapnya di mana,
Kalau kami pejam mata,
Kami tidurlah tu jawabnya.

Kalau cikgu ke tandas,
Cikgu melepaskan hajat di hati,
Kalau kami ke tandas,
Itu, dah memang hobi kami.


I thought stanza 5 was particularly hilarious. "lukis gambar syaitan"?!?

I guess the moral of the poem is to give your students the benefit of the doubt; To not jump into conclusions. In other words, kena khusnudzon.

I mean, you've got to admit that we are rarely occupied with "[menulis] laporan pelajaran" kan?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Not According to Plan

Last week, I was unexpectedly called up for MSSD duty. I was assigned to be one of the track officials for a 5-day Track & Field District-Level Championship.

Now, some time away from school after 4 weeks of relentless work is God-sent.

But since it came out of the blue, I was a bit flustered. It's like what The Joker said in The Dark Knight:

"You know what I've noticed? Nobody panics when things go 'according to plan'. Even if the plan is horrifying!"

And I - someone who's utterly dependently on to-do lists - couldn't agree more.

The timing just wasn't right. The students have just completed their February Test and I was planning to review the test with them this week. The call up had effectively derailed my plan.

Besides, I was also on a "rectification" mission. I recently experienced 2 light-bulb moments which made me realise how much of an ineffective teacher I had been.

The first moment was provided by Cikgu S. We had a talk last week and she told me about her (disastrous) experience learning Arabic. Cg. S attended an SMA (Sekolah Menengah Agama) which made Arabic a compulsory subject for all of its students. From Form 1 until 3, she had 2 teachers who would teach Arabic without using any Malay. The entire lesson would be completely in Arabic which was an alien language to her. Needless to say, she was left clueless and scraped a Pass in her SRP (the PMR-equivalent in those days) by memorising essays. She said that she didn't even know what the questions were but she just regurgitated what she had memorised.

She said, "Sampai ke sudah, saya tak tahu 'Fiil Mudhari' tu apa".
I have a sinking feeling that my students feel the same way when I keep on harping about verbs/past simple/past participle/other grammar items.

She said the whole experience has made her a better language teacher because she can empathise with students who are struggling to master a foreign language.

When I listened to her story, I realised that I lack that empathy. Oftentimes, I would automatically look dejected when students couldn't answer a simple question. That look must have crushed their already fragile self-esteem. Thus my rectification mission #1 was borne:

I promise to be a more patient teacher who doesn't mind explaining the most basic and simple questions even when the questions have been asked before.

The second light-bulb moment happened last Saturday (Mar 5, 2011) when the English teachers had LADAP (Latihan Dalam Perkhidmatan). The course was held to familiarise teachers with the literature component's new texts. The speaker, Puan Suhaila, is a Guru Cemerlang from a school in Shah Alam.

Courses are rarely fun, even less so during a Saturday. But I really enjoyed the course conducted by Cg. Suhaila. I particularly liked the part when she taught us how to teach Drama. We had great fun doing the vocal, facial and whole body warmups.

For poetry, she had slides with lots of visuals which would definitely help students in comprehending the difficult prose.

I was just amazed and inspired by the effort put in by the teacher. My excuse had always been: I have no time to plan really good lessons anymore due to the punishing workload. But if others could do it why not me?

So mission #2: Plan more fun and enjoyable lessons (with educational value of course!).

These missions have been put on hold due to the MSSD duty. Hopefully toiling under the hot sun for 5 days (and getting significantly darker because of it) will not completely melt away my new resolutions.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Fine Balance

Classroom management has always been my Achilles Heel. Some students do as they please in my class because I can never intimidate the more rebellious ones into obedience.

Ive somewhat resigned myself to this fact and I'm happy just to teach those who want to learn. I've already got my hands full attending to their needs. I really don't need the extra drama that comes with scolding/begging/reprimanding those who don't want to learn.

I'm forced to reexamine my 'you-can-lead-a-horse-to-water-but-you-can't-make-it-drink' teaching philosophy when I met a former student of mine last month. She was in Form 5 when I taught her in 2009.

I loved teaching her class because though the students were weak academically, they were not disrespectful (during exams, most of them would only answer the MCQ section, leaving the rest [structured and essay questions] unanswered).

The teacher-student boundary grew blurry as we became close and they started to confide in me stuff about their family and personal lives.

But when I saw this student of mine last Jan, it wasn't a joyous reunion. Yes, I was happy to see her but I was taken aback with the noticeable change in her appearance.

Remember 'The Necklace' by Guy de Maupassant? Mathilde used to be a beautiful, youthful and charming girl but after the whole necklace ordeal, she became a "strong and hard and rough" woman.

My surprise mirrored Madame Forestier's. What had happened in the 2 years since she left school?

She's working now and when I asked; "Kenapa tak sambung belajar?", her reply made my heart ache:

"Kalau result macam saya, macam mana nak sambung belajar?"

I didn't know how to respond to that and felt guilty about not preparing my students for the challenges of the real world (but would they have listened?).

I wished I could make my current students see that the real world out there is nothing like school, which they've become so familiar and comfortable with.

In schools, they can afford to - come late into class, play truant when they feel like it, neglect their homework & break myriads of other school rules - with little consequences.

But they can't do so in real life. Who would want to employ a tardy+lazy+unreliable employee? And what sort of job can they procure with minimal qualifications?

The encounter made me resolve to be a different kind of teacher. By hook or by crook, I will MAKE my students do my work and LEARN!

It took some time but my long-dormant sinister side is awaken at last. For each lesson, I mentally assumed the Cruella de Vil persona - my glare became more venomous and remarks more scathing - to make my students more compliant.

The tactic seemed to work for I noticed an increase in the volume of work submitted (though I still couldn't get 100% submission).

I was happy with the result but teaching suddenly became unenjoyable and depressing. It's tiring to frown and look angry all the time. I felt like I was walking with a huge chip on my shoulder, ready to pounce on the slightest hint of misbehaviour.

That's when I realised; "OMG, I've become THAT kind of teacher!" *horror*

So, it's back to the drawing board. I cannot keep on teaching like a Dementor - sucking out all the happiness out of people - yet I cannot go back to being so laid-back either. I need to strike a balance because though more students are handing in their work, I know that their compliance is only superficial. They do it because they fear my reprisal, not because they're engaged with my lessons. Thus, no meaningful learning has taken place.

It's still a work in progress but now I know that I need to achieve that fine balance.

I may not get it right all the time but I hope my students know that whether I'm mean or buddy-buddy, I always have their best interest at heart.