A junior psychiatry MO in the hospital I am currently attached to came to me one day and asked my point of view regarding whether she should go ahead and volunteer to be a front-liner for Covid-19 screening.
“Kak Afiza, we have been asked to volunteer our names to be one of the front-liners for Covid-19 screening. I am not sure whether I should give my name or not. I am worried if I might fall ill and not be able to handle it.”
I didn’t mince words when I said “I would have volunteered, if I were you. If I am not currently doing my attachment and have to finish this attachment within the timeframe, I would have volunteered. You will certainly benefit from the experience, no doubt about it. In fact, I am planning to volunteer once I have finished with this rotation and am back in my hometown, if they still need volunteers.”
This was not just a lip service for me. I love volunteer works because I always learn a lot by volunteering. I was in Program Khidmat Sosial Negara (PKSN) as a 17 year old girl, and I still remember what a good experience I had as a PKSN trainee. Unfortunately, my study commitment interfered with my love of volunteerism for many years after that (I was in KMB for my IB diploma, and then went to Australia for my medical studies, and then there was that 2 years of that grueling housemanship period to go through). As an MO, I volunteered in early 2014 during the massive flood in Kelantan as part of the PFA team. And then I volunteered to be a polling agent and counting agent for Pakatan Harapan in May 2018 and that was a very illuminating experience. And at the end of 2018, I volunteered under IMARET for the humanitarian mission to Palu Sulawesi to do psychological first aid for the survivors of the devastating Palu earthquake and tsunami. 2018 was a good year for me because I did not take any exam in that year and I was quite free. Unfortunately, for the whole year of 2019, I was swamped with CASC preparation and did not get any opportunity to contribute much. But I have missed doing volunteer works that would jolt me out of the same routine every day. My good friend who volunteered with me to Palu is currently a front-liner for handling Covid-19 cases as well. I would have loved to be able to join her. I have told her before when we were in Palu, volunteerism is addictive.
At each of my volunteer mission, I gained massively in terms of knowledge, sense of personal achievement and feeling of contentment. I love being able to experience how people handle difficulties in life. The reflection that follows each encounter with people who are less fortunate than you is something you cannot get elsewhere. It builds my own resilience and helps me tremendously in facing future difficulties, as I remember how much more fortunate I am as a whole. It told me that life really is fragile and there is nothing much you need to fear because life will continue to happen to you, anyway. You can only do your best and trust God. Volunteerism is not just about having a physical and mental experience that will enrich your life, but volunteerism is SPIRITUAL too. This is something you can never understand unless you experience it yourself. And trust me, you will be addicted to that experience.
(I wrote about my experience in Palu here. You may click the link H.E.R.E to read about it https://afizaazmee.wordpress.com/2018/11/01/palusulawesi-reflection-a-spiritual-journey/)
The next day the junior psychiatry MO told me “I already submitted my name as a volunteer. Feel better about it after talking to you.”
I wished her good luck and prayed for her continuous well-being as a front-liner. The last time I checked on her via Whatsapp she was doing very well and as predicted, she enjoyed the experience.
When you do something that Allah has created you to do – to be a khalifah of this world, to be of benefits to your fellow human beings, to fulfil the purpose of your creation – the sunnhatullah is such that you will feel content. Experience NEVER go to waste. It will make you such an interesting person to talk to, at the very least.
Because we are a sum of our experience.
We Are a Sum of Our Experience
Growing up, I admit that I got easily bored talking to people. I just could not stand the small talk that we are expected to make during kenduri, get-togethers and reunion and I would avoid having to talk to people for an extended period of time. There was nothing for me to talk about with them. Most of them didn’t read what I read…. So what common ground did we have? Zip, zero, nada! What common area of topic and interest can we converse about? Zilch! Bosan! I was bored silly and I just wanted to go into my room and read the latest adventure in my next book. (But of course, my parents didn’t allow me to.)
There were times when I feel like I was more mature than my peers. I didn’t enjoy running around playing ‘police sentry one to jaga’. I just felt like “Apadia ni? Ligan-ligan, lari-lari penat… for what purpose?”. I enjoyed it as a 4 year old kid, maybe. But by the time I knew how to read (I was 5 years old), playing lari-lari no longer appealed to me. I really did not feel it was fun. I preferred card games and chess, book-reading and story writing. So, I got easily bored with most kids my age but I did have 3 good friends in the primary school who shared my interest in reading.
As I grew up into my teenage hood, my father did not think I had enough maturity to attend a boarding school as a 13 year old girl. I thought he was wrong… because I felt like I was matured enough to handle it. But looking back, I think my interpersonal skill was not that good. Haha. I don’t think I could survive communal living as a 13 year old because I was a very self-centred young girl. I didn’t like to share any of my stuff. I didn’t like it when people wanted to share food or drinks with me…. because I geli hahaha. And in hostel, most kids really like to take other people’s stuff and I would have made a lot of enemies if I went into the hostel environment with an attitude of obvious stinginess like that (as opposed to subtle stinginess LOL)
As a 16 year old girl, I was finally allowed to attend a boarding school of MRSM Langkawi. Even then, I had to adjust quite a bit. I made sure I had two bottles of water with me in my room… one bottle was exclusively for me and another bottle was for anyone else who randomly requested for my water. (My problem solving skill improved, see? People requesting to share my water was a problem to me hahha! But I found ways to maintain my ideal of what is hygienic while also being able to fulfil their request.)
As a teenager having to be in a communal living, I learned how to do small talk. I still preferred talking to someone who shared my interest (by this time I took up poetry writing, thanks to the influence of my roommate, Miss A) but I was no longer that awkward or that bored around people. Over time, I learned to be less self-absorbed. Previously, if things were boring TO ME, I just wanted to get out of that situation and cut the conversation short. Because I felt like, if I was bored, then of course you must feel the same way too. By cutting the conversation short or not engaging at all, I saved BOTH of us from being bored with each other. We can now go and do something else with our time. More efficient use of our resources, right?
But because of having to be in a communal living, I gradually understood the value of good-quality friendships (not just ANY friendship. But GOOD QUALITY ones, ok. Please take note.). With no family around other than hostel friends, I learned that my life was more pleasant when I had good friendships in the hostel.
Before living in a hostel and mixing with people who are not my own family, my idea of friendship was pretty rigid. “If we don’t have anything in common and therefore neither of us will be interesting to the other, then I don’t really want to spend time with you because it will be so boring.” Peer pressure…. It did NOT really work with me. Even if I might succumb to peer pressure and societal expectation occasionally, it wouldn’t be sustainable. Sooner or later, I would have analyzed whether or not this kind of activity/behaviour/mindset MAKES SENSE and gradually I would have escaped from such pressure by choosing other friends or shift my attention to books. When some people had a whole lot of friends to always do things together (pi kantin sekali, pi toilet satu geng), I didn’t understand it. To me, it was so time-consuming and inefficient to wait for everyone to be ready before we can make a move. My idea of friendship could be described as mutual convenience… when it was not convenient, we should be able to separate for awhile. Not EVERYTHING must be done together.
Me: Kalau kau nak pergi kantin, kau pergilah kantin. Kenapa aku nak kena ikut? Aku nak pi library.
Friend: Nanti lepas pi kantin, kita pi la library. (she ‘pujuk’ me)
Me: Kau tak nak ikut pi library pun tak apa, aku tak suruh pun kau ikut. Kau pergi kantin, aku pi library. Nanti kau dah habis makan, kau datang la library. Atau kita jumpa balik kat kelas.
That was basically how I behaved when I was young. I didn’t feel I need to bend myself backward to change my habit in order to cultivate friendships because if problems in my life arise, I was sure I could handle it myself or my parents would handle them for me. Friendship was nice but I didn’t always need to do everything with them all the time. It did not occur to me that they might need me to do certain things with them and I should be kind whenever I could rather than thinking too much about expediency and efficiency. (Being kind…. being accommodative… those were new to me. And to be honest, I did not expect them to accommodate me – we could just do things separately – and neither did I know that I should provide that to others when I had first joined communal living) I was like, if I can do things by myself when you guys don’t feel like doing it, why can’t you do the same thing too? Just do it by yourself if I don’t feel like doing those activities with you. More efficient, kan? Easier for everybody, isn’t it?
But when I was in the hostel of MRSM Langkawi, my friends and roommates were the ones who would help me with Add Maths, Physics and Chemistry (remember, we didn’t get to attend outside tuition as a hostel student). And some of them did not share my love of reading or writing and they were normally not someone I would feel any kind of friendship towards. But because I NEEDED them, I gradually learned how to mask my boredom, asked for their help, and sometimes I rendered my own service to them by correcting their English essays and improving their grammar.
Before I realized it, I had learned an important lesson. I shouldn’t have judged people so soon.
I. Shouldn’t. Have. Judged. People. So. Soon.
Some of these people who I would never be interested to be friends with just because they did not have similar interest as me, were actually really fun people to be around. All these while, I didn’t spend enough time to get to know people (because there were always other fun books I would rather be reading), and therefore before I could get to the point of appreciating their good qualities, I was already bored and I walked away thinking that it was too time-consuming to be their friends. Or I would think that the pros of this friendship did not outweigh the cons. But when the situation NECESSITATED me to tolerate them for awhile because I NEEDED their help, gradually I learned over time that “This girl is not that boring actually. She may not like to read. But she has other worthy quality that I could learn from. She is quite funny. How come I didn’t notice that before?”
So I compromised. “Kita pi Dewan Makan, lepas tu kita pi Library.” While having an outing, I compromised and agreed that we “go to Ismail Group for chocolate first, then we go to the book shop.” Slowly, I learned that efficiency and expediency were not the only thing I should focus on in my daily life. Sure it is more efficient to straightaway complete your task and not having to wait for others and not having to take their preferences into account. But when you are in trouble, you would have no friends to help you because you haven’t spent enough times with them for them to even bother that much about you. And that is a fatal mistake! There’s a reason why human beings are social creatures. (Look at how difficult it is for people to stay at home and NOT socialize in this current crisis of Covid-19 pandemic! We are social creatures!)Because our survival as a species depends on us having pro-social characteristics. Being sociable is a matter of survival in certain situations (but I was rarely, if ever, in a situation where being sociable is a matter of survival LOL. But yes, I had read stories and books on how knowing some important people in their lives had helped them out of a tight situation)
(However, until now I am picky about my friendships. I cannot emphasize how important it is to have friends who are WORTHY of your compromise. I compromise my efficiency and expediency of doing things for you, because you are worth my effort. I could have gone to the library straightaway instead of waiting for you, but I wait because I know you are not comfortable eating alone. I value you that much because I know we have similar worldview, similar principles, and you are a kind-hearted person who I trust. But if you ever repeatedly do things that violate my ideals of what is right and wrong and then you do not listen to reasons and stop becoming worthy, I am no longer willing to compromise my efficiency and expediency for you.)
One of my friends had told me “If you had judged a song by its boring intro and stopped listening before getting to the beautiful chorus, you would not get an accurate impression of the ENTIRETY of the song.” (See? I have friends who talk this way. Who give me insight and correct my view and enrich my experience. This is what I mean by worthy friends.)
I didn’t understand it at first. But I get it now. You see, some people need small talk to feel at ease with other people at first. Some people need to be guided into a feeling of safety before they can feel comfortable revealing their true opinions to someone they have only just met. Everything has a beginning. A song has its intro and then a pre-chorus and then a chorus. Every story starts with an introduction to set the context, and then the story progresses to conflict, and then it reaches the exciting climax. If you are not patient with the introduction part, you will not be able to experience the exciting part.
It was my experience of living in a communal setting (first in MRSM Langkawi, and then in KMB, and subsequently having housemates while studying in Australia) that actually improved my disposition and my sociability. These days, I was always quite surprised when people described me as an extrovert. (Have I really improved that much? LOL.) They couldn’t be more wrong. I agree that I am not a shy person and I have pretty strong opinions. But I am an introvert. No matter how much more sociable I am now, I will always need some portion of alone time at the end of the day. My weekends are for ME… to read and recharge. I will always prefer small groups over large groups. I will always be more serious than jovial. I will always prefer reading than attending kenduri. I will always take more time to warm up to people than most.
Or maybe…. I am an ambivert with a preference for solitary activities? I don’t know.
I also attribute my improved sociability to my volunteer works throughout these years. I tolerated A LOT of small talks and boredom (during the initial ice-breaking period) because I know I could not do volunteer works alone. In doing volunteer works, you will always need other people’s help and cooperation. You have to meet members of other NGOs, you have to cooperate with leaders of the place you are volunteering in and whether you like it or not, you MUST talk to them. I look at small talk and being sociable as a SKILL SET that I need to master in order to do my work. Small talk is more tolerable now and not much of a problem these days. And trust me, anyone can do it when they practice enough!
Because we are a sum of our experience.
If we don’t seek out worthwhile experience, we will be stuck doing the same thing over and over again. There is nothing substantial to your existence. Your worries consist of every day mundane thing that do not give any special meaning to your life. When people like me meet you, we will regret spending the time tolerating your boring intro… only to find out later that even your chorus is a monotonous, dull torture.
So, when you have the chance to seek out new experience, volunteer yourself for it! Beautify your chorus! Inspire people around you!
But be warned; the side effects of having varied experience is that, you will find yourself having a higher standard of what constitutes a worthy chorus. Over time, you will be more picky with who your friends are and who you spend your time with.
Civilization & Volunteerism
One of the first signs of a civilized society is having its members being helpful to each other.
I could not demonstrate this point better than by asking you to read this insightful excerpt below, taken from an article written by Remy Blumenfeld.
Years ago, the anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about clay pots, tools for hunting, grinding-stones, or religious artifacts.
But no. Mead said that the first evidence of civilization was a 15,000 years old fractured femur found in an archaeological site. A femur is the longest bone in the body, linking hip to knee. In societies without the benefits of modern medicine, it takes about six weeks of rest for a fractured femur to heal. This particular bone had been broken and had healed.
Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, you cannot drink or hunt for food. Wounded in this way, you are meat for your predators. No creature survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. You are eaten first.
A broken femur that has healed is evidence that another person has taken time to stay with the fallen, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended them through recovery. A healed femur indicates that someone has helped a fellow human, rather than abandoning them to save their own life.
Isn’t that amazing? Helping fellow human being is the first sign of civilization!
So, volunteer and help your society! It is a marker of a civilized person.
And right now, it is very easy for everyone to do their part in helping their society. Sacrifice your freedom of movement for a while in favour of staying at home. That’s all it takes.
Let us, the health care workers, stay at work for you. All you have to do is stay at home to help reduce the spread of this Covid-19 pandemic.
I understand that you might be bored at home. But this is a very ideal time for you to beautify your chorus! I have mentioned before that your chorus is made beautiful by your experience. But experience can also be gained indirectly by reading books that you would not have the time to read without this lockdown. Read inspiring stories! Read autobiography! Read fiction! Enrich your life experience by reading about things you never knew before. Or if you don’t like to read, watch documentaries! That works too!
If you are a parent, maybe this is a time to teach your children to master a particular school subject beyond his/her syllabus. When I was a child, my father would teach me the next year’s syllabus just to make it easy for me to master my subjects later. And it was really quite helpful.
My nephew, Eshan, who is only 9 years old is trained by my sister (a statistician and a lecturer) to do a mathematical task that I had only learned as a secondary school student. I am so proud of this little man. As my very first nephew, Eshan occupies a very special place in my heart. I have such a gooey soft spot for Eshan, right there at the centre of my chest. (Soppy, I know. LOL)
I think I am a very cool aunty to all my nephews and nieces. (Hahhah perasan! But this is proven by the fact that they love hanging out in my room so much whenever they ‘balik kampung’. No other rooms hold allure to them but mine. So, bersepah bilik aku diorang kerjakan. It spoke volume of my patience that I tolerated that from them, okay? Haha) I used to feel despair whenever they cried while I was baby-sitting them when they were around 1-2 years old. I would quickly give them back to my sisters whenever they wailed loudly. I didn’t enjoy being an aunty then because they couldn’t talk, they didn’t have any meaningful fun play and I was bored and wanted to continue my reading.
But as they grew up, I could relate with them better. We could play games; Eshan and Aayra are very good at scrabble, chess and card games and they love playing verbal fluency games with me (and sometimes they beat me too!) I could tell them stories. Or we could go out to the movies (Now that their mothers trust me more to take care of their kids LOL. But not more than one at a time LOL). But kids below the age of 4 years old just hate me even when we are blood related. My siblings told me it was because of my eyes. “Scary, garang, mencerlang.” (Of course I don’t believe them. There is nothing wrong with my eyes.)
So yeah parents out there…. I suggest that you play games with your children at home and engage their minds and their intellect. But if your kids are younger than 4 years old, I also have no idea how to engage with them. You have to come up with the idea yourself because I am hopeless with really young kids! Haha.
Books Of The Month
The first book I would like to talk about this month is written by a very famous thriller novelist by the name of Dean Koontz. I had read a few of his books over the years but I stopped for awhile because I told myself that I need to read more non-fiction to increase my general knowledge.
But his book by the title of The Eyes of Darkness was made famous for the past 2 months because it was said that Dean Koontz had predicted the occurrence of the Corona virus. And the book was written in the 80s!
Let me show you the “evidence” that has been circulating around to say that Dean Koontz had predicted this Covid-19 event.
So, you see, I was so curious and I wanted to read this book. But because I could not find it anywhere (it was, after all, published in 1981, more than 3 decades ago. I wasn’t even born yet!) so I then downloaded it from an online library that I was a member of.
I must say that I prefer Dean Koontz current style of writing compared to how he wrote decades ago. But I guess, every author must be allowed to gain experience and some polish before they can write excellently. Having said that, the plot was actually quite good.
The synopsis (spoiler alert!):
A young mother had been mourning the death of her son for the past 1 year. Her son passed away in an accident together with other kids in a camping trip. The mother was discouraged from seeing her son because she was told that her son’s body was very badly mangled, and therefore they had a closed-casket funeral. However, one year later, strange things started to occur around this young mother. She started to doubt her sanity and her own perception because of the poltergeist-like occurrences in her house. She attributed these strange events to grief and lack of closure secondary to not looking at his son before he was buried. So the young mother requested for the body to be exhumed to help her get some closure. However, the moment when she requested for the exhumation of her son’s body, FBI/secret agents/ secret police started to hound her. She and her lawyer boyfriend (who also conveniently happened to be an ex-spy LOL) tried to get to the bottom of the mystery. They finally found out that her son was actually alive and was held at this lab as a test subject to study the effects of a virus originating from Wuhan. All those strange things that happened to this young mother was because her son had developed telekinetic and telepathic ability after being infected by the virus. Her son had been trying to send a message to her to rescue him from this lab.
I give this book 3 out of 5 stars (I was engaged enough. But I felt like his style of writing was not much to my liking compared to his later works.)
Would I recommend this book to my readers? Well, if you are curious enough to know whether Dean Koontz really did predict the arrival of Covid-19, you can read it too. I downloaded this book from an online library I was a member of. I don’t think you can find any new prints of the book nowadays. If you are interested to read this book, let me know, and I will give you the link to the website via email. (You have to become a member of that online library, though. And I am only willing to share the link to those who are REALLY into books. I am too selfish to share that online library to everyone because my experience tells me that when something becomes popular, they will start charging you the price of your membership. So I might as well share that website with those who are only seriously interested)
So the question remains… had Dean Koontz REALLY predicted the arrival of this deadly corona virus? Haha. An article discussing this topic is already available in Google. So jangan malas, google it yourself 😛
The next book I had read in this month was a memoir written by Daoud Hari, a Zaghawa tribesman who had worked as a translator for various reporters who were covering the civil war and genocide in Darfur.
He had lived through a harrowing experience after being captured by the Sudanese Government in one of his translating mission with Paul Salopek, a renowned reporter who was on an assignment from National Geographic.
The whole story was basically about his Zaghawa background in Darfur, his various assignments as a translator and how he was finally captured by the Sudan government. Fortunately, while working as a translator, he had made a lot of useful friends, most of them are International reporters who knew powerful people. They helped releasing him from capture and he finally escaped to the US and wrote this memoir (See? This is an example of how cultivating good relationship with others is a matter of survival. Never experienced this kind of situation myself. Because I will always take precaution against needing someone for survival matters. But this kind of situation can certainly befall you. When you are in that tight spot, having a solid network of relationship is an absolute advantage.)
I give this book 2.5 out of 5 stars. It was pretty average to me. I have read better memoirs of similar experience. I was not engaged enough throughout the reading. I think there was a lack of balance between facts and sentiments.
And this is the problem with writing memoirs. You cannot have too much facts, or the story becomes too dry. You cannot have too much sentiments, or else the context and the message would be overshadowed by too much emotion. You must have the amount just right. And I guess, this is the problem with this book. I need more sentiments to be there so that I can be more invested in the outcome of the story.
But by the end of the book, I wasn’t invested enough. I was simply glad to finish reading it so that I could move on to the next interesting book.
Still, you guys might want to judge for yourself. How about reading other reviews about this book in Goodreads website before deciding whether this book is worth your money and time? Who knows, you might like reading this book!
Until next time, my dear readers. May Allah deliver us safely out of this Covid-19 catastrophe. #StaySafe #StayAtHome. Much love and may Allah bless all of us.