Friday, July 11, 2008

Moments of My Life - Part 11

Living alone in Kuala Terengganu was gradually becoming a torture for me. There was nothing in Kuala Terengganu, even for a bachelor like me then.

I did not have any close friend in Kuala Terengganu. As the result, I always end up doing things alone, be it having dinner in a stall or watching television till wee hours of the morning. There was just no one to share my worries and troubles.

Out of boredom perhaps, one night as I was on my way for a rather late dinner in town I met with an accident.

There was this timber lorry parked at the side of the road near Merbau Patah mosque. There was something wrong with the lorry. Three men were busy repairing it on the road.

The twilight light made me somewhat blind for a stack of tyres left on the road about ten metres from the lorry (emergency signs). I then crashed into the tyres and lost my control of the car.

Then I crashed right into the three of them. I saw the three of them lying on the road. I panicked and just stayed in the car. A guy from the mosque came to me and explained what had happened. He then brought me to his house.

Luckily none of the three victims suffered very serious injuries. Only one of them had lost the tip of his index finger. Out of ignorance perhaps, they did not go to the hospital for medical check-up and treatment and so they were not eligible for any compensation from my insurance company.

I did give one of them, who later came to see me in the office, some money just out of sympathy. That accident was very stressful to me both mentally and spiritually.

So, one fine day as I was lying on my bed, I began thinking seriously about my life. I was alone with no one to share my happiness and hard times. I thought that it was high time to stop my personal vow.

One weekend I had a long serious mother-and-son talk. I told her that my life was empty and I needed a woman to share my life with. Mind you by then I was already economically stable and with a promising profession.

So, my personal vow was no longer valid and in other words, I was no more a misogynist. She understood my intention well, but at first she was a bit reluctant. She believed that it would be best if I were the one doing the search.

I explained to her that I would be the one who would make the final decision as to whom would be her future daughter-in-law. All that I was asking her was to scout around for prospective candidates. I even went to details what I was looking for in the candidate.

First, she should be preferably not working or at the most a teacher. Secondly, she would have to be fair skinned and stood at least five feet four inches in height.

Soon, words were passed around the kampong that I was looking for a wife. In no time many potential candidates were identified. I was not that surprised.

It was true what Dr. Candiah had said to us once when we were reporting for our third year practical in his office in Negeri Sembilan. Being a third year veterinary student then of course our hair was a bit untidy and long.

"Remember, soon you all will be in parade for prospective mother-in-laws. So, please for God's sake, crop your hair!"

It was my late aunt in Kampong Besut who first noticed the lady. She was working in the neighbouring school. According to my aunt, she seemed suited to be my wife.

Even my cousin, Zaimah, thought so too. So, my aunt approached her and asked whether she already had someone special in her life. She said no and admitted that she was still single, unattached to anyone special.

Then a meeting was arranged for me to meet her. We met, talked and got to know each other better. With that date, one thing lead to another and soon my proposal team was sent to meet her parents. The proposal was accepted and so we were engaged.

She fulfilled (well almost) all my criteria as a wife. So, on 26 November 1982, we were safely married. Cikgu Maznah must be happy too as I had co-incidentally fulfilled her wish. Once she told me how she wished that more successful Terengganu men would choose Terengganu ladies as their brides.

A few weeks after our marriage, I was offered to go for a three-week course in Bangladesh. It was such a short notice that I was running here and there just to see that I made it.

I considered myself lucky to be chosen for the course for then I was still not confirmed in my service. Dr. Anwar, the then Director of training, was the one who really made my departure possible.

Within two days I had to have my international passport ready. The problem was at that time it was impossible to have passport-sized photographs ready within that time. Dr. Suhaimi helped me a lot in this. He had a friend who was an amateur photographer who was willing to help.

So, there I was under the hot sun having my photographs taken. The resulting photographs very much resembled the people of the country I was going!

With those photographs I rushed to the Immigration department and they were so helpful that the documents were ready for me to bring to their headquarters in Kuala Lumpur for the final works.

They did not produce passports in Kuala Terengganu back then! I rushed to Kuala Lumpur and the passport was ready within fifteen minutes. With everything ready, the three of us, Dr. Azman Ngah, Abas Sudar and me, got on board the Thai Airways on our way to Bangladesh. It was my first flight overseas.

At the Dhaka International Airport we were met by a group of welcoming committees. We were hurriedly brought in an old car to Savar dairy farm.

As we were passing Dhaka, I saw many beggars roaming the city. Many of them made their way towards our slow-moving car and held their hand out and then brought it towards their mouth, meaning that they were hungry.

Also, some of them were carrying small babies with them to attract potential donors. I was warned against giving away any money to them. According to the officers, the act of giving away money would cause a throng of beggars came rushing towards you. You would not like to be in that position. So, the best way was to pass the money, a few Takas and then get away as soon as you possibly could.

We were housed in a bungalow that was formerly occupied by German expatriates. Besides us, there were the Ugandans, Indians, Sri Lankans, and Kenyans.

The Ugandans were real jokers. They told us many funny stories from Uganda. One such story that I liked most was the story about Idi Amin's English.

At a state banquet organized by him for the visiting Queen of England, he said, "Her excellency, you have been good to Uganda. All you have to do is ask. We will revenge".

No one dared to laugh. Actually what he really meant was that he would try his very best to repay the Queen for her help.

On the other occasion, just after he was in power, a reporter asked him about his economic policy. "My 'police'?" Those are my police!" he answered pointing to a group of mean-looking policemen.

The Ugandans and I used to spend many nights together sitting under the jackfruit tree, talking about many things. I asked him whether he was married.

He told me that he was still a bachelor. He said that in Uganda then, life was so uncertain that it was not wise to get married. His salary was just enough for three days.

He also said that AIDS was so rampant in Uganda and he was scared that he too might have been infected. He unashamedly told me that he was very active sexually.

During one of these relaxing moonlight chats, I noticed that they were very apprehensive and restless whenever a policeman passed by us. He later explained that in Uganda, a public congregation of more than five people was not allowed. Then I knew that life must be hard for them in Uganda.

The course was called Training of trainers in animal health. It was organized by APHCA and FAO. During the official opening of the course, a representative from the Malaysian High Commission came to us and said how lucky we were to be in Bangladesh for only three weeks.

I knew what he meant. It was international all right in as far as the participants were concerned, but the room where the course was held was just like our primary school classroom.

The course content was good though. At least now I knew that in training, teach what the students must know in the class and put all those that were good for them to know in the notes for their later reading. To be effective, a training session should include hearing, seeing and doing sessions.

I had learned more things in Bangladesh than merely those that were thought in the class. Firstly, I knew that Bangladesh was a poor country. I had visited houses of many Bangladeshis from veterinarians to ordinary farm workers and had seen what was going on in and around Savar dairy farm.

They were all very much poorer than Malaysian very poor. An experienced veterinarian, very much senior than me, was paid only 600 takas a month (RM 60.00). The price of food was almost the same as those in Malaysia.

During the training I saw many officers who had nothing to do with the training joined us most of the time, especially during meal times. Wonder why? It was because there was abundant food where we were.

Cokes, apples and not to mention rice and mutton were freely available. When asked, they told me that normally they would not spend their hard-earned money on cokes. The price of Cokes was a significant percentage of their daily wage. They would rather spend that kind of money on other more essential things.

We were brought to a village about an hour drive from Savar dairy farm. The village cooperative was given a gold medal by the government for rearing twenty layers, and from these layers came daily supply of eggs and the village children were saved from blindness due to hypovitaminosis A.

"Even my mother back home have more chickens than that!" I whispered to a Ugandan standing next to me.

That was how hard life was for a Bangladeshi. I also noticed that a Bangladeshi would always cast their net whenever there found a water body. Small species of fishes or even fingerlings were sold in fish markets. From this I could conclude that they were really lacking cheap protein sources.

I also learned that piped water in Bangladesh was unsafe for people like us. The foreign instructors, they all were using coke for almost everything, even for brushing their teeth. They all knew that piped water was not safe for them.

Abas Sudar learned it the hard way. He had a serious bout of diarrhea after drinking the so-called 'safe water'. He had to be rushed to the hospital.

In the hospital, we were shocked to see that a doctor there did not even know how to put up a drip properly. He was struggling, confused which end of the transfusion set to put in the fluid bottle and which end to place the needle!

Luckily Abas Sudar's diarrhea did not last long. After that scary episode he would never again throughout our stay in Bangladesh tried the piped water, even when they said that it was safe.

At first the farm workers who were mostly Muslims were keeping a distance to us. I guessed they had been mistreated by the White masters for so long that they develop inferiority complex within themselves.

It took me a few Quranic verses to make them aware that we were really their Muslim brothers. Only after that they would come close and talked to us. Before I went home, I gave away a lot of my personal things like perfume, slippers, and even sarong to some of them.

While going around Dhaka looking for souvenirs to bring home, for the first time I saw a hailstorm. Ice balls, as big as your clenched fist came hurtling down from the sky breaking anything that came in their way.

I saw many cars lost their windscreens by the ice balls. Taking a break, the English instructors and us went to Senargoon hotel for afternoon tea. Everybody was staring at us.

They must be thinking who were these Bangladeshis having tea with White Masters. Senargoon hotel was just like a heaven compared to its surroundings.

After about three weeks of complete absence of members of the opposite sex (besides the participants of the training), the sight of beautiful international airline stewardesses was sure a welcoming sight for young guys like us (more so with a newly married man like me).

On our flight home, we decided to make an overnight stop in Bangkok. The taxi driver recommended us the hotel to stay in for the night. He even asked us what were our plans for the night.

Being curious what Bangkok could offer young men like us, we told him to fetch us at 7.30 pm. He was right on time. Without us asking, he brought us to all the places that Bangkok was 'famous' for. I meant the red district.

We strictly told him that we just wanted to see and not to participate. I was shocked to see how low human beings could be if they did not have enough money.

Girls were kept in a glass house and 'sold' to interested buyers for servicing their never-ending lust. Just like a cattle auction!

We learned many things about life in Bangkok that night. I also saw with my own eyes how two Arabs, dressed in robes and with rosary beads in their hands, behaved when they were out of their own country. Lying in a couch in one corner of the hotel's lounge, the elder of them two voluntarily confessed to me that he was so exhausted after enjoying himself with three ladies. It was only half past ten then!

There and then I realized that it was not the dress that would determine your behaviour. It was the god-fearing character that determined how you act when you were out of the watchful eyes of the religious department enforcement officers.

We believed we were far better Muslims than those Arabs. Our faith in god was still as strong as ever and we successfully withstood all the satanic temptations coming from the glittering Bangkok's nightlife. We left Bangkok with a feeling that we had seen them all, all the talks about Bangkok's nightlife.

In the office, I briefed the staffs about my training. I told them that Malaysia was a heaven compared to Bangladesh and we all should be thankful to God for having been born and raised in this wonderful country.

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