Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Day of Books, Plates & Moo Cow..

It has been almost a year since I last step foot inside Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya (story here). I remember that trip well because it marked my very first venture into BookXcess, that sprawling, totally unpretentious store on the third floor, where books were sold at stunningly low prices. 

Today once again I was Amcorp Mall bound; it was my day out with the eldest, Naj, and the youngest, Awwa. An outing with Naj is a rare occurrence, then and now. A journo's life is a hectic one; having been one myself, I know the score. So when he called to ask if I would like to go book-shopping with him, I jumped at the idea. 

Today's haul was a good one; Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier In America, Jon Katz's The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, Bill Bryson's In A Sunburned Country and Shakespeare: The World As Stage, Jim Wight's The Real James Herriot - A Memoir of My Father and Asne Seierstad's The Bookseller of Kabul.

Touted as 'a comic masterpiece' by New Yorker and 'fizzing with fictional panache' by Sunday Times, Parrot and Olivier In America details the picaresque travels in the New World of a French aristocrat and his Englishman servant. Going by the blurbs alone, I think I am going to enjoy this one.

Peter Carey is twice winner of The Booker Prize (for Oscar and Lucinda and The True History of The Kelly Gang) and the book Parrot and Olivier was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2010. (Howard Jacobson eventually won it for his The Finkler Question).

Jon Katz's The Dogs of Bedlam Farm can't go wrong with people who love animal stories. Yorkshire vet and master storyteller James Herriot got me started some 40 years ago, and I haven't looked back since. 

There's Vicki Myron's delightful Dewey, about a cat adopted by a small town libraryand John Grogan's Myron & Me, about a dog that changed a man's life, on the shelf at home, not to mention the whole gamut of Herriot's humorous take on his rural practice. Simply said, I'm a sucker for animal tales.

Of Bill Bryson, of course he needs no introduction. I'm a fan through and through and the two books complete my collection of all his work. In A Sunburned Country, his dry take on equally parched Australia continues his travelogue tradition and in Shakespeare: The World As Stage, Bryson, with his trademark wit, wades through the muddles of time to reveal Shakespeare as the poet really was.       

In The Real James Herriot - A Memoir of My Father, son Jim Wight ventures beyond his father's life as a veterinarian to reveal the man behind the stories, the private individual who refused to allow fame and wealth to interfere with his practice or his family.

As for The Bookseller of Kabul, I must confess I had neither read nor heard of Norwegian writer Asne Seierstad before. The book is an international bestseller and "the most intimate description of an Afghan household ever produced by a Western journalist.." (New York Times Book Review) is enough to capture my attention.

With the exception of Bill Bryson's "Shakespeare... at RM19.90, the rest were priced at RM17.90 each, working out to less than RM110 for six brand new books. If that's not a decent enough damage I don't know what is. In ordinary book stores, I'd probably have to fork out more than twice as much for the same number of books.   

It being Sunday, the flea market was in full swing so we joined the teeming crowd... and got ourselves these cake plates at RM10 for six pieces (you can mix and match). Couldn't resist lah, darn cheap, so I settled upon these two patterns. These are brand new plates; the factory is in Puchong.

One Utama was the last stop before going home; I was lamenting about the disappearance of my favourite yoghurt swirl from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf's menu (the line was discontinued effective 26/9 recently) when Awwa suggested I should give Moo Cow a try...

My verdict: SEDAP!  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Magnificent, Magnetic Mabul

The sea was rough; the ride, rougher. As the motored boat rode the rolling waves of Sulawesi Sea like a man possessed, strong winds blew my scarf askew, revealing once neatly tied hair in a dishevelled tangle. 

I am no novice to the wiles of the sea, having lived by the South China Sea throughout my childhood. My derrière may be accustomed to the comfort of padded chairs in air-conditioned rooms, but all things considered, I'm still a Dungun girl at heart and the sea, my master. 

If there is anything to be said about this old gal’s seaworthiness, it’s that her stomach content held admirably. I wasn't even queasy, just occasionally nervous at the vast expanse of the undulating deep blue rising and falling around me. 

I was on my way to the island of Mabul, a sea-diving haven off the coast of Samporna, Sabah. It sure was a long way from home; a three-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Tawau, followed by an hour-long drive to the coastal town of Samporna and a further one-hour journey by boat to Mabul. 

It was not, by any yardstick, a journey of leisure. The four of us – two young men hanging on tight to a precious, 12-foot solar panel, my lady boss and I – were on a mission to help make life a little easier to the islanders, courtesy of a generous corporate donor. 

The donor was financing a couple of projects under their community service programme; solar-powered water pumps for fresh water supply and electricity supply to the islanders, their mosque, religious school and a school for refugee children, as well as new latrines for the latter. Our role was to facilitate the projects.

I am ashamed to admit I had never been to East Malaysia before the Mabul trip. God knows the plans the family had made over the years insofar as Borneo was concerned; to trek up Mount Kinabalu, visit Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary, walk across the famous 'jambatan' in Tamparuli, traipse around Kuching, explore Niah Caves, spend time in an Iban longhouse and a Bidayuh village, check out all the bazaars and tamus and pasars..

Nothing ever came to fruition, however. Too many things got in the way, chief amongst them my work, unfortunately. As a single mother raising 4 kids, I could afford neither time nor money for such frivolity. And then the kids grew up and left home to live their own lives. Family holidays remained a distant dream. It still does.

That trip to Mabul (July 2012) was a break of sort. I was determined to make full use of the opportunity to do a bit of exploring. And I did. I never thought I would find another 'place by the sea' as beautiful as my hometown, Dungun, but in Mabul I did. 

The admiration, whilst grudging, was genuine. Oval-shaped Mabul was simply enchanting. Fine white sand, flat and shallow seabed that seemed to go on forever (you can walk far out to sea when the tide goes out), swaying palms, pleasant inhabitants... 

According to kampung chief and community leader Hj Yusuf, there were some 3000 people living on the island, mostly Bajau Laut and Suluk Muslims, immigrants from nearby islands of the southern Philippines.

Mabul found fame due to its close proximity to Sipadan, one of the world's best dive spots. Because the government disallows construction of any kind on Sipadan, visitors have to stay on Mabul, which boasts of a few resorts of international standard and numerous water-cottage homestays.

A diving haven itself, Mabul is recognised as one of the best muck-diving sites in the world. A couple of diving enthusiasts i know swear by Mabul; they can never get enough of diving and underwater-photographing there.

Our motley  gang of four spent four days in Mabul checking and identifying sites, having discussions with local leaders, making friends and eating fresh seafood, fish hauled up daily just by sitting on the jetty and throwing one's line into the water. I devoured juicy crabs - boiled, fried, curried - like there was no tomorrow.

Leaving Mabul was hard. It felt like leaving good old Dungun all over again. Here I am in KL, but deep inside, Mabul still reigns..  

Monday, October 8, 2012

Qurban For Life (Q4L)

Qurban is one of the most important rituals in the Muslim calendar. Broadly speaking, the word, which is Arabic, means 'sacrifice'. In precise religious terminology however, qurban means the sacrifice of an animal slaughtered for the sake of Allah (swt).

In the Shari'ah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw), qurban commemorates the unparalleled sacrifice offered by the Prophet Abraham (a.s) when he, in pursuance to God's command conveyed to him in a dream, prepared to slaughter his son Ishmael.

In the final moments, Allah (swt) decreed a sheep be slaughtered in Ismael's place. The sacrifice of an animal thus became an obligatory duty to be performed by every Muslim (who fulfils the criteria for this ritual) since.

Qurban is performed annually during the three days of the Eid ul Adha (Hari Raya Haji), specifically on  the 10th, 11th and 12th of the Islamic month of Zulhijjah. The meat is then distributed to the poor and the needy, with a smaller portion reserved for one's family and friends.

In modern times, many Islamic-based charity organisations, of which Muslim Aid Malaysia (Muslim Aid) is one, offer to facilitate the obligatory duty of Qurban as one of  their services for the ummah.

Muslim Aid is under the ambit of London-based Muslim Aid International and the international network has been organising the Qurban campaign, named Qurban For Life (Q4L) for the past two decades. 

Meat is distributed to underprivileged Muslims the world over, from Afghanistan to Somalia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan,  Palestine as well as Kashmir and the southern provinces of Thailand where there is a large Muslim population. 

In the case of the local chapter, Australian cattle is the norm and slaughter is done in Jakim-accredited abbattoirs in Australia. Muslim Aid officers are usually on hand to witness the ritual to ensure it meets all the necessary Islamic criteria.

The meat is then shipped to Malaysia and thereon to a canning factory in Terengganu, where it is canned according to specific requirements before being distributed locally and worldwide. 

The list of receiving countries has since grown longer and this year Myanmar is added to the group, the main beneficiaries being the repressed Rohingyas and Myanmar-Muslims. 

On the local front, the meat is distributed to orphanages, homes and shelters for single mothers/abandoned wives, the elderly, the destitute, the disabled and the poor.  

Muslim Aid is the only Islamic-based organisation in this country that offers qurban meat in cans. Canning is preferred over fresh and/or frozen meat to avoid wastage. The meat is either canned in brine or as corned beef or even as curry, depending on local needs.

For those who would like to participate in Muslim Aid's Q4L, the cost is only RM380 per head of sheep or per portion of cattle (there are seven portions to a cattle). 

The amount is nett of slaughter, shipping and transportation from Australia to Terengganu, processing and canning, and distribution local and worldwide. 

Let's spread the joy of Eid ul Adha with the less fortunate through the ibadah of Qurban. For more details, you can peruse the Q4L website here. May Allah swt bless you for your good deeds. 

Back In Action (I'd Better Be...)

It has been three long months since I last updated Kata Kama. I used to wonder why some of my fellow bloggers had slackened; Too lazy or tired to bother? Hard-pressed for time? Bereft of ideas? That was before I fell into the same trap myself.

Some had abandoned their blogs entirely. A few others had turned to loads of engaging visuals, appropriately captioned, to make up for the lack of words. Commendable act, this.

Me? I'd attribute my tardiness to mental fatigue. There were topics and issues aplenty to delve into but each time I faced the screen, I couldn't even begin a decent line, let alone be creative.

Intermittently, there were calls and text messages from concerned friends and acquaintances asking about this old self and the reason for the prolonged AWOL. I wish I can justify my absence with some plausible excuse, but there is none.

Be that as it may, here I am, back in action. Let this entry be a new beginning and let's hope I will not fall by the wayside once again...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

TESCO Mutiara Damansara
cheap prices, cheaper manners

If you plan to do a bit of shopping at Tesco Mutiara Damansara (the one adjacent to The Curve), make sure you chuck some old newspapers into your shopping bag. 

Who knows, you may take a fancy at some china or glassware. They do stock up on decently-priced nice pieces there. What they don't have is decently-mannered frontliners. 

The outlet is customer-unfriendly in more ways than one and I am saying this out of experience as a regular patron. I have been frequenting this place from Day One by virtue of my staying in the neighbourhood. 

If Tesco truly want to maintain the goodwill of their customers, they will need to give their frontline staff a refresher course in customer relations. 

Acid-tongued tarts should not be allowed to serve people who come to spend their hard-earned money at your store, Tesco. If you can't live up to the saying 'customer is king',  you have no business running a business. 

I have had two unpleasant encounters with two Tesco staff in just as many months and my patience is wearing thin, to the point of not wanting to patronise the place any more.

I'd rather spend a few ringgit more and be treated with dignity elsewhere - we do have choices, Tesco - than be berated by constipated faces who have forgotten what a smile is.

Last month I bought some mangoes and bananas. After hunting high and low for plastic bags (the off-white, rolled, tear-off kind that they place at certain shelves) and not finding any, I brought the fruits, loose, to the weighing station.    

The dirty look the Malay woman seated behind the weighing machine gave me was an indication of the crap to come. "Ni kenapa tak masukkan dalam beg plastik awal-awal? Bagi tambah kerja saya jer."

I naturally lost no time in responding. "Awak ingat kalau saya jumpa plastic bags saya nak bawak selambak macam ni? Mana pergi semua rolls yang selalunya bergantung kat shelves tu? Berapa banyak shelves dah saya pusing, satu pun takder. Saya pun nak kerja senang jugak!"

What really irked me was that she had pre-prepared a pile of such bags, already rolled open and neatly placed by the side of the weighing machine. Why the need to berate me? Why not just plonk the damn fruits into the bags and be done with it? That was what the already- opened bags was for, right?

Perhaps because this tudung-ed makcik clad in slightly worn clothing looked unsophisticated (cleaner/maid came to mind), she was  a convenient target. I doubt if the worker would do the same to a well-dressed Ahso or foreigner. 

Earlier this week I had another run-in, this time with a cashier. I spied some nice bowls and plates and decided to buy them, so I loaded about 15 pieces into a cart and made my way to a cashier.

Me: "Mintak kertas, dik. saya nak wrap pinggan mangkuk ni."

Cashier: "Kertas takder".

Me: "Kalau takder, pi lah cari kat mana-mana." 

Cashier: "Kita memang tak sediakan kertas."

Me: "Huh? Habis macam mana saya nak bawak balik pinggan mangkuk ni? Kalau tak bungkus, pecahlah dia dalam kereta nanti. You all jual barangan kaca tapi tak sediakan kertas pembungkus?"

Cashier, curtly: "Jangan tanya saya. Saya tak tau. Lagipun orang jarang beli pinggan mangkuk kat sini!"

Me: "Bodohnya jawapan! Mana supervisor awak, saya nak tanya."

Cashier (turning to her fellow cashier instead, and asking: "Ada kertas?" Fellow cashier answered: "Alaaa, suruh aja dia bungkus dengan beg plastik tuuu!")

By this time I was really losing it: "Apa ker jadahnya korang ni? Hari Sabtu bukan main lagi No Plastic Bag Day, suruh orang bawak shopping bag sendiri. Hari lain, nak bungkus pinggan 15 keping, suruh pakai 15 plastic bags. 'Eco' kepala hotak hangpa. Apa punya baghal nih??"

Left with no choice, I took the 15 bags, wrapped my plates (nasib dah bayar, kalau belum, memang sah aku tinggalkan aja) and walked off.

I want to know, apart from 'No Plastic Bag Day' every Saturday, do they practise 'No Kertas Pembungkus Day' tiap-tiap hari? Tesco, tolong jawab sikit? 

layers upon layers of plastic bags for 15 miserable pieces of  pinggan mangkuk, no thanks to  'eco-conscious' Tesco Mutiara Damansara. A real 'mangkuk ayun' state of being...

Friday, July 6, 2012

Ramadhan Fast 2 Feed 2012

Soon, the blessed month of Ramadhan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, will be upon us once again. 

This holiest of all months in Islam is a time for spiritual reflection and worship, for fasting instils self-discipline and encourages actions of generosity and charity.

As in past years, Muslim Aid Malaysia Humanitarian Foundation (Muslim Aid) embarks on its annual iftar fund-raising drive, Ramadhan Fast 2 Feed, to provide a window of charity for the faithful to feed the needy.

Ramadhan Fast 2 Feed organises breaking of fast at orphanages, homes and shelters throughout the country. Our network of volunteers are ready to swing into action once Ramadhan commences.

Some 20 locations have been determined and 1,500 participants confirmed thus far. They included orphans, poor families, destitutes and the elderly, as well as the Muslim refugee communities of Myanmar and Somalia currently domiciled in Malaysia. With your participation, more can be included in this year's programme. 

Come join us by sponsoring an orphan or an underprivileged child to 'buka puasa' and 'moreh', with a token sum as 'duit raya'. We offer two packages:

Package A of RM40/child entitles him/her to iftar, moreh & 'duit raya'. Package B of RM60/child offers you the additional perk of partaking iftar with your sponsored child as well.

How to participate:
1) Visit our office personally, or
2) by cheque made out to 'Yayasan Kemanusiaan Muslim Aid Malaysia' or 
3) by cash deposit into  'Yayasan Kemanusiaan Muslim Aid Malaysia' account or
4) by Interbank Giro or
5) by credit card (Visa/Mastercard)

Bank Account:
Yayasan Kemanusiaan Muslim Aid Malaysia
CIMB Bank: 1422-0000070-10-8
(Kindly fax payment slip to 603-22881966)

We welcome group/corporate participation, at RM3,000/- to RM5,000/- per location, depending on the number of recipients. You can also determine the home/shelter/orphanage of your choice if you so wish. 

Should you wish to participate in this 'amal' programme, kindly e-mail your full details & payment slip to and state your preferred date for iftar. May our amal stand us in good stead in the Hereafter, Insyaallah.

Last year's programme with Asrama Anak Yatim Hikmah, Gopeng, Perak.
Dengan keluarga miskin di Gunung Semanggol.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Creaming the Ice @ Ice-cream

I know, I know... cobwebs have taken over this neglected blog. But today's a new beginning, I promise..

1. Jeez, the blog title's NOT what you think, ok...

The Cream & Fudge Ice Cream Shop, opening soon in Wangsa Maju (beside Wangsa Walk Mall) is hiring. If you have what it takes to cream the ice, they want you pronto. The place's family-owned (my niece's) and it's looking for supervisor and crew, both part-time and full-time. 

Contact them for details:
Puteri @ 012-2367219
Amir @ 019-3298250

We'll have a gala time at the opening, that much I can say.. So get ready to boogie!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Our Muslim Aid Charity Shop, officially named 'Wellbeing M(A)LL', is slowly but surely taking shape. It is currently being prepared for its official opening on June 14.  

Wellbeing M(A)LL shoplot is located on the first floor of Mutiara Bangsar building in Jalan Liku (off Jalan Pantai Baru) just a couple of doors away from our Yayasan Kemanusiaan Muslim Aid Malaysia office. 

Shop address:
8-1-16, Menara Mutiara Bangsar
Jalan Liku, off Jalan Pantai Baru
59100 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2288 1996

Our boys and girls are putting in extra hours daily including weekends, doing inventory, pricing and display, as well as cleaning stock to ensure each and every item is in tiptop condition, ready to meet its new owner. 

Dear readers, we need more items to fill our shelves. Please help us by donating your discarded stuffs, the ones idling in your closet or garage; still in reasonably good condition but you no longer have any use for. 

Money raised through sale of items in the charity shop will go towards our many programmes and activities throughout the year. We can't depend on donors alone; we have to explore every avenue possible to raise funds. 

Everything is welcome; items of clothing (men, women, children's), footwear, handbags & clutches, suitcases, accessories, stationeries, books and magazines, gadgets, toys, kitchen appliances, kitchenware, glassware & china, selendang & shawls, decorative items, paintings.. in short, anything reusable.

'Titleist' Golf Bag - almost new
Muhammad 'testing' the Ogawa chair.
Baju kurung & blouses aplenty...
Plastic containers for the kitchen.. 
Our Facebook account has just been created. Do 'like' it (here), please, and help spread the word. The charity shop's blog and website will follow soon.

More news on the development of the shop as we go along. Tunggu! 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Doli & Da Bomb

Doli & Da Bomb. Sounds like a singing group right out of the '60s, eh? Remember 'Naomi & The Boys', or 'Gerry & The Pacemakers' or perhaps 'Ruby & The Romantics'? 

This posting, however, is not about food for the soul. Instead we're coursing through real 'makan' joints; koayteow stops to be precise, 'char' or otherwise. 

There is an eatery in TTDI (Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, for the uninitiated) called Doli that serves many variations of this flat rice noodle. 

Located at Jalan Wan Kadir off the main road near the TTDI wet market, Doli's stir-fried 'char koayteow' is among the best we have ever tasted. 

Because prices at Doli are pretty decent, and the fact that they also offer non-koayteow variety (chicken rice, curry mee, mee rebus etc), we patronise the place often. 

[Digressing a bit, the Cantonese-style kungfu chow served at the Royal Lake Club is super-tasty, and my personal favourite. The only problem with the club's 'Buttery' outlet is that its service has been competing against, and losing to, the tortoise for yonks.  

'Buttery' staff gives kura-kura a bad name. I am still trying to figure out why the service has not improved, especially since the club has been in existence for over 100 years]

Back on the koayteow track... Three nights ago we discovered a joint that could give good ole Doli a run for its money. It's called Bom Kitchen, with dishes tagged with 'explosive' names like 'grenade', 'dynamite' and 'C4'.

About the only thing in Doli's favour is the fact that Bom Kitchen is way across town, in Keramat's AU2 area. The not-so-fun part is we have to 'tongkah' KL traffic, taking Damansara Ulu Kelang Expressway (DUKE) to Jalan Enggang to get to the place.

Bom Kitchen may be just a warong (stall) business, but the dishes 'rawk', to borrow today's parlance. We took Muslim Aid's two interns Fairus and Sofia along, had a 'dynamite' each, and shared a humongous 'C4' dish between us.

The 'C4', costing RM19, can eat 3-4 and is Bom Kitchen's signature dish. It's gravy-laden, with fresh seafood that's fried in batter first before using them as 'perencah' in 'C4'. The end result is a delicious, somewhat crispy squids and prawns nestling in a pan of noodles and gravy. 

'Granade' sells at RM4 per plate, 'dynamite' at RM5.00 per plate. I'm wondering when 'bazooka' will be introduced. The stall opens 6.30pm to 1am daily and closes Tuesdays.

Another specialty is supercheap 'Nasi Bom', targetting youths and the lower-income. Pre-packed in the style of nasi lemak, Nasi Bom, which is rice and one lauk, sells for RM1.50 each. It's very popular with school kids and youngsters.

The place has been in operation for the last two months and maintains its own Facebook account too (click here), thanks to its IT savvy co-owner, Muhammad, who runs the joint with a couple of partners (they cook, he waits at the tables and cleans up).

Muhammad is doing his post-graduate studies weekends in business management. The trained engineer is a social worker by day. Engage him in a discourse on humanitarian work while you are there; he would 'layan' you if the place isn't too busy..

To get to Bom Kitchen from PJ, take DUKE towards the city and turn into Keramat via Jalan Enggang (at almost the tail end of the expressway). There's a roundabout as soon as you enter Jalan Enggang.

Take 3pm and drive up until you see Jusco on your left. Make a U-turn at the traffic light ahead, and take immediate left (the road climbs up a bit) and left again. Be extra-careful with the U-turn, though. Demonic drivers are a-plenty behind the wheels, even at traffic lights.

The jalan where the warong is located, Jalan 24/56, AU2, is a horseshoe and the stall is a stand-alone, with no other businesses alongside or nearby. Go on folks, give it a try. Am sure you won't be disappointed...

C4 to whet your appetite...
Welcome banner at Bom Kitchen 
Sofia (left) and Fairus menjamu selera..
Dynamite, anyone?
"Meletop di mulut, bukan di tangan"

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Thoughts On Mother's Day

From the day I breathed my first to the day she breathed her last, my mother and I were never close. It was fated that we we not meant to be, but that didn't mean I had loved her any less. 

Throughout my childhood, I had referred to her as Kak Nor. I never knew her as anything but my eldest sister, the first child of the woman I called Mak.

I must have been 10 when it finally dawned on me that Mak was actually my grandmother and that Kak Nor was the one who gave birth to me. Such revelations naturally took a lot of adjusting to, and I was a confused child for a while.

If coping with the transition from Kak Nor to Mak was tough, acknowledging the elevation of grandma's status from Mak to Opah was even tougher. I dealt with the situation the only way I knew, by burying myself into books.

My mother was a petite woman who had managed to maintain her slight figure well into her 50s. Size-wise, I am no nowhere near, for I take after my father's side of the family; the Megat women were relatively tall, big-boned and sturdy. 

The women on my maternal grandpa's side of the family, being Kelantanese, were a resilient lot, that much I can say. Thus I am not surprised to share the traits; fiercely protective of the brood, independent in thought and deed, with none of us suffering fools gladly.

Despite a couple of hiccups along the way (the divorce from my father being one), Mak had had a fairly uneventful life. She remarried, produced 5 daughters, and remained in the blissful union for almost 40 years, until Bapak's demise in the late '90s. Mak left us four years ago, age 73.

"May Allah swt bless you with the best there is, Mak. We love you and miss you; the pain never heals." Al-Fatihah.

*You may want to read related postings: 

1.  I Want ....

2. Dungun Di Hati ku

3. Requiem For My Mother

4. Mak In Remembrance

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Refugee Children - Their Sorry Plight

The innocents..
Hafizes (Quran memorisers) in the making ...
An uncertain future awaits this little one .. 
Father-of-one Muhammad is an engineer by training and a social worker by choice. 'Mat' handles project development for Muslim Aid by day, runs an eatery with some friends by night, and attends lectures weekends towards his MBA.    
Muslim Aid interns Fairus (left) and Sofia are UiTM students. Physics graduate Fairus, from Kulim, is on her last lap doing pure mathematics at the university, and spends her free time teaching mathematics to Orang Asli kids at a shelter supported by Muslim Aid.

Kuantan lass Sofia is a marketing major whose interest lies in creative arts. She has taken a year off study to devote her time to humanitarian causes, coming on board Muslim Aid a couple of weeks back.
"Madrasah Anak-anak Yatim dan Tahfiz Quran Hashimiah - School of Orphans" is housed in a dilapidated shoplot in the vicinity of Selayang wholesale market (pasar borong). The school, with 165 children, occupies the second and third floor of the four-storey building.
Ustaz Hashim, a Myanmar Muslim, is the heart and soul behind the madrasah. Apart from running the school, this UNHCR refugee status holder teaches Islam to locals, ploughing back whatever he earns into the madrasah. Ustaz Hashim received his teaching certification from Majlis Agama Islam Wilayah Persekutuan in April 2012. Here he proudly displays the much sought-after watikah, a lifeline to this man whose only mission in life is to do things right.
Quran and other religious books in a sorry state, torn and tattered Quran buruk aplenty. Yet, small hands reach out to them everyday, reading and reciting, memorising the verses, guided by teachers who just refused to give up.
Makeshift desks, shelved to the wall during makan and tidur times..
Just screw some aluminium sheets together against the wall, rope in a basket or two, pile in all the odds and ends and walla, there's your storage rack.
Rest before lunch. By the way, this is also where the children sleep come night time. Some of them go home to their respective families after school, but to most, the madrasah is 'home'.
The 30-minute rest is made mandatory to ensure the kids are alert for their afternoon lessons. 
Here they are, patiently waiting for food to be served. 
It's lunchtime!
Kusyuk menjamu selera...
A prayer of thanks ...
...even if the only lauk is potato curry..

No matter what their status, children have fundamental rights to education. In Malaysia, there are 18,700 refugee children under the age of 18. Of this, 13,800 are of school-going age, but proper schooling is denied them solely because of their 'stateless' status. [More about refugee children in Malaysia here].

Here at Madrasah Hashimiah, there are 165 such children, age four to 16. Some 70 of these kids are girls. Of the total, 50 are orphans; 40 with relatives (who are fellow refugees) while 10 are yatim piatu (with neither parents nor kin) who depend entirely on the goodwill of its principal, 42 year-old Ustaz Hashim, and his family to survive. 

I have lived in KL for 39 years, but shamefully, this was my first visit to this part of the city. I was told this slice of Selayang is known as the 'Burmese Quarters' for this is where most Myanmar Muslim refugees in Malaysia live. 

[Note: Myanmar Muslims are not to be confused with the Rohingyas, a Burmese Muslim ethnic group originating from the Myanmar-Bangladesh border area; the Rohingyas can be found mostly in Klang and Penang]

Because Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees, it has no domestic legal protection for asylum seekers. [Read here for more].

Like many other asylum seekers in Malaysia, Myanmar Muslims can't hold proper jobs. As such, no matter how educated they are, many end up as labourers at the Selayang wholesale market, thus their congregation in the area. 

The kids were in the middle of their morning lessons when our Muslim Aid team of four arrived to check on the progress of the school, and to have a status meeting with Ustaz Hashim.

The madrasah has been in operation since 1994 and has survived the years through the generosity and kindness of well-wishers,both NGOs and the general public. 

There are currently 10 teachers (local and fellow refugees) attached to to school. They are paid a pittance to teach (RM500 - RM800 is the norm) but many remain committed to the children.

Ustaz Hashim lamented the low pay but said he just couldn't afford to pay better salaries. "In fact we need more teachers especially for Bahasa Malaysia and tahfiz (Quran recital) but I am at my wits end trying to figure out how to meet their pay."

The children are taught Quran & Islamic Knowledge, English, Bahasa Malaysia, their mother tongue the Burmese language and mathematics. Mornings are reserved for religious lessons, afternoons for the rest of the syllabus. 

The school is currently in dire need of Bahasa Malaysia textbooks (Standard 1 to Standard 4) and appeals to the public for donation. "It's so hard to teach with everything lacking," opined Ustaz Hashim.

The emphasis, however, is on learning the Quran. Many children from the madrasah become hafiz every year and a ceremony is held annually to acknowledge this achievement. This year the presentation ceremony will be held in June and as in years past, Muslim Aid will have a hand in organising the event.  

Despite their straitened circumstances, the kids are holding up quite well. Personally, I have not seen a better-behaved, bright-eyed bunch in a long time. I was told by Muhammad, who has been working with the refugee community for many years, that refugee children in this country were generally courteous and well-disciplined. 

Last year, in a national tilawah (Quran recital competition) for children's homes and orphanages throughout the country, a boy from this madrasah came out tops; quite an achievement for a school that lacks almost everything but the will to survive.  

According to Ustaz Hashim, it costs RM10,000 a month just to feed the children twice daily. "As you can see, we are not lavish with food either; it's only one dish a day with rice. Occasionally we give them meat or chicken." 

The day we were there, the kids had rice with gulai kentang. I struggled to hold back my tears, thinking just the night before I took the family out for a lavish Chinese dinner to celebrate a son's birthday.

A popular woman artiste is a regular donor here, providing hundreds of kilos of rice on the quiet every month while a Buddhist organisation pays for the madrasah's monthly utility bills (bless you, Tzu Chi). 

Recently, a new problem surfaced, challenging the madrasah's existence. The owner of the premises had indicated that he wanted to sell the property, and had offered it to the madrasah as first choice, for RM800,000.

"We may have to look for an alternative place soon. Much as I want to buy this place, wakaf it and turn it into a permanent school, I don't see how can I ever find the money," he said.

Ustaz Hashim said it made perfect sense to buy the shoplot for many reasons. Currently they are paying RM1,400 rent for the two floors but the school population is expanding rapidly and space is getting really cramped. "We are in dire need of another floor, but we can't afford the rent." 

A fair bit of renovations have also been done to accommodate the children's needs (wudhu area etc). The key reason, however, is logistics. The madrasah is smack in the middle of Burmese Quarters where the Myanmar Muslim refugees live. Moving it outside the established boundaries would mean creating a host of new headaches - transportation for the children, for example.   

In the meantime, it's business as usual at "Madrasah Anak-anak Yatim dan Tahfiz Quran Hashimiah  - School of Orphans." The kids still need to be fed, clothed, tutored and taught, lack of money notwithstanding....

Ustaz Hafiz Hashim bin Qassim (019-2621671)

111-3, Kompleks Pasar Borong, Jalan 2/3A
Km 12, Jalan Ipoh, Selayang
68100 Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur

Monetary donations can also be made through Yayasan Kemanusiaan Muslim Aid Malaysia. Please call 03-22881996 (MUhammad/Puteri) for details.