Wednesday, 17 August 2011

No Time for Herself

It was early June. My heart skipped when I looked at the original production schedule of this project. "Holy cow, we are late!' No video journal had been done and I hadn't been able to raise any funds or complementary resources to carry on. Only this blog was established by eH's Peace Fellows, Maria Skourias. Wow!! I became stressed just thinking about the progress of the project!

And there was my two-year old camcorder -- the only camcorder we had for the video journal -- stuck in Siew Lian's house for almost two months! I thought that she would be the first one to finish her ten video journals as she lives near the eH office and we had trained her to use the camcorder. Besides, she had some film classes in university. Then we would proceed with Nisha and Sulastri, then Lucy, and last, we will train Pong to do her video journals before we film footages of the documentary.

So things didn't go as I planned  and I had to solve the problems.   So I did my Malaysian cry for help, "Ai-yah, the documentary project is stuck at your side now!!" 

"I don't have time ..... SLE hasn't found my replacement yet...I can't leave the patients for your project, I have responsibility, you know!"

What can I say?          

Swee Lian still works in the office on a Sunday after she takes her mother to church.

The slim woman with freckles on her face, and the bright and alert eyes behind the spectacles, is one of the most committed persons I have ever met in the local non-profit circle. In 2004, one of her eyes was found to have developed cataract, but she has been postponing the operation because the SLE Association hasn't been able to find a replacement for her Secretary General cum Office Manager's post. It was hard for any one to follow her footsteps as this lady is known to commit herself to the Lupus patients more than 16 hours a day.  The Lupus members of SLE Association know that she takes calls from them any time - midnight, early mornings, weekends, public holidays including Chinese New Year. If you need to talk to Siew Lian, she will be there, she will pick up the call as soon as you dial her number. That committed.
And she is a volunteer.

Besides, she is a single woman, a Lupus patient who also takes care of her elderly mom and her adult sister who has a chronic illness.  It is very challenging for anyone to single handedly take care of dependants who need total care. I have been in similar situation for more than ten years now - Down Syndrome brother and elderly parents, and a growing daughter. In the last three years, my father's Parkinson condition is making things stressful when I am drained of energy due to the various demands.

Sometimes, I want to give up because I think I can't cope.  And when such thoughts come to me, I have to remind myself that the Salaam Wanita women in eHomemakers' eco-basket project, for example, have more barriers to overcome.  If they can do it, why can't I?

And when this project is going on, the five women's daunting barriers come into my mind every time I get stressed out at home.  I can't give up on this project, I can't give up on eHomemakers, I can't give up anything!!!!

So I keep on waiting for Siew Lian to find time for the project. Snippets of conversations in between her phone calls reveal that she doesn't seem to have time for herself! And so I thought.  I popped an ignorant question to her one day when she darted into the office to return the camcorder, "Do you ever have time to relax your body without rushing from one thing to another, one place to another?"

"What do you mean by 'relax'? I am relaxing by doing all these things!" she dashed off, leaving me with a whiff of energy.

I watched her driving away in her classic yellow car. 

                                                   Swee Lian and her famous yellow car

This interaction pattern between Siew Lian and me, both heads of our respective organizations, has been so typical -- her rushing in for something from SLE to eH, a few rapid exchangtes with me, and me watching her driving her car away in a whiff.

For years, I too had been so rush, so rush, wanting to help others like single moms. It was absolutely draining as I had eH to run, a family of dependants to manage and requests from strangers for help.  There was a time I talked fast, ate fast, walked fast and did every task as if there was no tomorrow.  I thought I was transforming myself from a broken-hearted woman to one with compassion for other single moms. Little did I knew that I was slowly burning myself down. I came down with coughs and colds, stress on the neck and tension headaches. And still felt lost, somewhere, somehow eventhough I thought I was healing from my heartache.

Several good friends held a mirror in front of me and pointed out that I needed to slow down, "No one will die just because you don't respond to the email or the call the same day. Don't be a perfectionist. If it takes a few weeks to reply a request that is not of life and death matter, so be it. Take care of yourself and your family first before you take care of others! You are not a monk!" 

When I didn't take heed, a single mother friend who was my best advisor, threw me a question that sank me down onto the couch to think -- Who will take care of your sweet darling daughter that you love so much if you burn yourself out and go to another world?

Voila, the mere mention of the darling of mine would get me to do anything for her!
Eventually, I learnt to say 'no' nicely and prioritize my time without feeling guilty.  Surprisingly, I became more calm and more grounded as I watched others getting help from networks I opened for them instead of reacting to others' requests all by myself.

"May be I could help Siew Lian to see that she too needs time for herself?" The monk in me thought I could share my learnings with her.  "May be giving her something for pamparing will help?"

I looked around to see what kinds of things women pamper themselves with.  There are spas, facials, restaurants with good foods, retreats, and consumer goods. Ha! Let me try to get some sponsorshiop for this project to pamper the ladies who hardly have had such opportunity!  This project is not just about citizen's journalism but also about helping the five of them love themselves!

I was so excited that I called Siew Lian immediately when I got the Genile Beauty sponsorship. She turned  down the invitation flatly, "I don't need it, I don't have the time, I am not an expensive woman."

"You can get a hot stone massage on the neck, it will help you to relax!"

"I am already relax, why do I need someone to put stones on me? Waste my time!" She glared at me.

I tried several more times to convince her but she didn't want to budge. She told me to give the Rm2000 voucher to someone else more deserving.

"I want to do something about self-love for all of us in this project, can you cooperate?" I was beginning to be very frustrated.

"I am cooperating, I just don't need a facial or a massage!" she retorted.

Swee Lian with a Yves Rocher hamper
I sighed...... like a deflated balloon....I felt as if I had to 'argue' with her to do something nice for her and I always lose the argument........

Then came my birthday. Louise, with her warm Kadazan voice and tactfullness, managed to get both Siew Lian and Lucy to go to the spa with us to celebrate my birthday. "Just one time only-ah? Just for you because you are so stubborn!" Swee Lian emphasized.

And she was her usual self at the end of the spa, giving us her Siew Lian humour about her first spa experience. She even willingly subjected herself for make-up and hair do for a photo-op of me cutting my birthday cake.

Just one more time, right, Swee Lian?  I asked her silently in my mind as I gave Louise a conspiratorial wink. Hee hee.....



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