Friday, February 29, 2008

Living in USA - Part 9

With the coming of 1996, came our second winter in Georgia. The winter, like our first, was cold too. I was getting busier with my works. The research project I was doing was going on smoothly. In fact, according to other graduate students, it went too smoothly compared to theirs.

After completing my trial project, I was supposed to start the real project based on the results obtained from the earlier works. However, during an academic committee meeting, after reviewing my results, they decided that it was good enough for a Master’s degree!

So, I was asked to stop doing further laboratory trials. Instead, I was asked to go to the field and make field comparisons between my Microscopic Lesion Scoring System and their traditionally used Gross Lesion Scoring System in evaluating the severity of coccidiosis in chicken.

I was also asked to start writing my thesis and at the same time, start preparing for my comprehensive examination. Ohhhh! I felt so relieved and glad that it was nearly over.

For the field comparison of Gross lesion scores and Microscopic lesion scores of chickens, I was sent to Fieldale Poultry farms in Baldwin, Georgia. Dr John Smith was particularly helpful in allowing me to collect samples and getting hold of important data for the field trial. In his simple laboratory, I was impressed at how they control poultry health proactively by regular large scale monitoring, instead of the fire-brigade approach that we are presently practising in Malaysia.

Every month at a fixed date, all the contract farmers would bring in ten birds for every chicken pen to be tested for various tests such as coccidiosis gross scores, colour scores, bursal scores, bone strength, gizzard scores, and other diseases A graph would then be drawn for each and every farm and from this, a proper action would be taken by the veterinarian concerned to solve the poultry health problem of the farm.

Sometimes in February 1996, I realized that Diyana had been mistakenly placed in a lower grade than she deserved to be in. Comparing her age with her best friend, Zahrah, I noticed that they were of the same age. I went to see her Principal to know more about her situation. There and then they realized that Diyana was wrongly placed in the fifth grade. She should have been in the sixth grade!

Quietly the school’s secretary told me that they (the teachers) loved Diyana too much to let her go. That was the reason why they kept silence about the matter. Surprisingly I was not angry for their action. I knew that Diyana had changed a lot in term of personality and self-confidence while studying at Chase Street Elementary School. She was no more a small girl that she used to be when we first came to US.

I explained to the Principal the reasons why I wanted Diyana to go to sixth grade, at least for a few months. Actually, I wanted her to learn to be self-reliant faster. In US, sixth grade is in the Middle School not in Elementary School like it is in Malaysia. In the sixth grade, students would be given their own lockers for their things and they moved from room to room for their different subjects. In short, they were more independent in Middle School. So, Diyana went to Clarke’s Middle School for her sixth grade.

At first we were a bit worried about the change. We, including Ms. Johnson, her class teacher, were scared that Diyana could not cope with the life of a Middle School student. However, Diyana proved otherwise. She took to Middle School life like a duck to water.

I could still remember how excited she was when she was given a locker of her own. I had to buy her a combination lock and taught her how to use the combination of numbers for locking and unlocking the locker. Miss Causey, her councillor teacher, was so impressed with her that soon they became good friends.

Soon, like any growing up young lady, she began to have many friends. I was glad that she was happy to be in the sixth grade. Still missing her teachers and friends in the fifth grade, she often went to her former school and took part in the activities and even joined them in their annual trip to Jackal’s Island.

She even had a sleepover with her fifth grade friends in Miss Seymour’s house. For that sleep over, I had to double check and make sure that there were really no men in the house! In US, to be accepted as a member of a sleepover team was an honour for a girl or a boy. It was more so if you were a foreigner! So, Diyana had once again proved herself by being accepted by her friends as one of them.

In the sixth grade, Diyana was more involved with the violin. She was accepted as a member of the junior high orchestra. Zahra was a member too. As an orchestra member, she had to practise more. Every day, she would spend the first period of school practising with members of her orchestra.

Many evenings at the family housing barbecue place, there they were, Diyana and Zahra, playing violin. Now she started playing more classical music and it surely was nice to listen to her playing.

Clarke Middle was an excellent school as far as orchestra was concerned. It had won the first place, the best Middle School orchestra, in US. Seeing that she had a great talent with the violin, I decided to buy the violin for her. Besides the school orchestra, I also sent her for extra violin lessons from Ms Schab, her former fifth grade violin instructor. I had to pay her US$14.00 / a one-hour weekly violin lesson.

On the 17th February 1996, my wife began to have her labour pains. Soon after breaking our Ramadan fasting for the day, I rushed her to Athens’s Regional Medical Centre. I was with her all along during her entire labour.

For the very first time, I witnessed the whole process of childbirth. It was the birth of our fifth child, a daughter. We called her Noorul Amalia, the light of our hope and ambition. She weighed 3.02 kg.

Compared to her nursery-mates, she was so tiny and cute. Her shining big black eyes made her the favourite baby among mothers and visitors at the hospital. According to US law, she would be automatically a US citizen. So, now there was an American among us!

Because of her early-than-expected arrival, her baby shower, which was organized by the department, came after her delivery. It was a delightful event. She received many things from my lecturers and fellow graduate student friends.

After obtaining her American birth certificate, I contacted our Embassy in Washington DC for her Malaysian birth certificate. So, she now had two birth certificates. She was, at least until she was eighteen (so I was told), a citizen of two countries, Malaysia and USA.

The birth of Amalia caused great excitements among my friends from countries like Philippines, India, and other less well-to-do countries. For them to have a child born in US soil was a real blessing as it would be much easier for the parents to get US citizenship. I quietly told them that I had never thought of it that way. I was too much a Malaysian to give it up and become an American.

Noorul Amelia’s normal delivery costed Malaysian government a whopping US$ 6,000. My wife, because of her placenta previa problem, had to undergo six ultrasound examinations before the delivery. Each examination costed US$250! Luckily, we were insured. Then we realized how lucky we were to be Malaysians. I hope the Malaysian health system remains as it is for a long time as any move to privatize it would for sure burden many Malaysians.

A few days after her delivery, Amalia had jaundice. For four consecutive days her tiny legs were pricked to obtain enough blood for assessing the severity of her jaundice. Luckily her serum bilirubin level returned to normal fast.

After that painful episode, Amalia was always in the best of health. She would be the centre of attraction wherever we brought her, be it in the shopping mall or in the recreation parks. Americans young and old, married or singles would be attracted to her black hair and her large shining black eyes.

By the way, most newly born American babies had very little hair and they sure were much bigger than our Amalia. They would always beg us to allow them to hold her. Our neighbours always called her a cute doll with large shining black eyes.

Being born in US made her eligible for free infant milk. All we had to do were to produce the coupons issued by the Health Department at any participating stores for the two-week supply of milk. The baby milk supplied came in liquid form. All we had to do was to mix it with luke-warm water and there we had it, nourishing milk for Amalia. Our Amalia seemed to flourish on the milk!

To be continued

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