Sunday, September 26, 2010


The thing with falling asleep at seven in the evening is that you start awake at about 11, completely refreshed and looking forward to a night of no sleep. No, none at all.

Insomnia is not my friend.

Anyways, I logged on to find the other members of my 3K Production (we haven't had a reunion in YEARS!) online chatting about booking our accommodation in Penang when young Evelyn shows up on our shores for the first time since she went away. So there I was, just out of sleep googling away to see what deals were available when I found a sort of decent looking guesthouse...long and short - we've booked, or at least we're on the waiting list and I'm going to hang with my two chicas in November. (Happy Birthday Jenny! What a great gift)

Today when I finally got out of bed (I woke up early because there were raised voices and tempers flying all over the place, my least favourite way to start awake but stayed in bed nonetheless)it was lunchtime and then I decided to drop in at Tropicana to see this girl who sells aboriginal crafts. She was there. She was busy. She led me to another stall run by Burmese women who have banded together, tired of being oppressed from all sides, to try and do something about it.

I took one of them for coffee (a sturdy person who did a degree in Physics back home and who, with the help of a French expat organised and coordinated these efforts) and she told me stuff. I jotted a few notes (difficult because I couldn't understand her accent and had to ask her to spell every second word) and she gave me the contact number of this French expat so I could get the full story better.

I sent one of the editors an SMS pitch and she didn't reply. Young Evelyn (whom I told about it of course) said it sounded like a fantastic story and I could pitch it to the international mags. Think I'll do that. I am slowly stumbling on stories of international interest here (thanks to my pal Al). And people introduce you to other people. It helps being a freelancer and not attached to any one press or agenda. I am enjoying the freedom more and more.

Anyways, the girl tells me about some shocking news she's had from home and nursing her latte she starts to cry. I don't quite know what to do. If it was one of my friends, I would give them a hug. Instead, I go get some napkins and offer them to her. She takes them and dabs her eyes.

"these people, they force them to join the army at 14 of 15, they are not educated, they don't go to university...and then they become leaders, with no education, no idea of how to develop the country, only of how to oppress the people and hold on to power. We have a good climate. We could do so much in terms of agriculture. But they take away our land and make army camps. And then, they don't compensate us. So we don't have jobs, it becomes more and more difficult to survive."

I offer her the only comfort I can. That I would contact the number she gave me. And write the story. Not of the atrocities back home (although that is a more poignant story than most of the so-called stories we cover) but of their brave efforts here, to help themselves. English classes, making soap to survive - vanilla bean, lavender, lemongrass and ...I can't remember what the fourth scent is.

When not breaking down, she is very businesslike. She has a list of things the organisation needs - English teachers, volunteer transportation when they go to sell their wares at fares as they tend to be hassled by the police when they use public transportation, and a better marketing and distribution network. She wants to expand their product base from just soaps to shampoos as well. Is there anyone who could teach them to make shampoos? (Tudor Rose, can you help? You make shampoos, right?)

While she's talking I mentally scan my contact base to see who would do. I remember how I used to hook people up before because there was a time when I knew everybody. And if not everybody, at least lots and lots of people. One of the privileges of being a reporter and someone they all want to talk to.

I wonder if I could still do it.

The girl nurses her latte while I've finished my cappuccino. I want to leave and go to the Curve to check out sofas but she wants to talk some more. I remember a blogpost I read recently about extricating yourself from awkward social situations and make up my mind.

Kindly, but firmly, I tell her I have to go. If I stay because I feel guilty I'll end up resenting her and will do the sum total of nothing to help her. (I know me)

So I drive to the Curve and find that the so-called sofa sale is a sham. I make my way to Ikea and find quite a few sofas within budget but the one I want is not available. At least, not yet. So I give the guy my number and he says he'll give me a call in two weeks. And in case he doesn't, here's the number I have to call. I take the paper, stuff it into my bag and wonder where I'll find an oven for my budget. Esther said Best Dengki. I don't think there is one in The Curve.

So I make my way out of Ikea to look for electrical shops and am stopped short by a stall selling Japanese pancakes (that look suspiciously like French crepes) with different combinations of things in them. I buy three and decide to abort my search for an oven. I will go home and have tea instead.

So Dadda and I end up having tea with the pancakes (which surprisingly, he likes), he is unhappy with events of the morning and tells me what happened. I listen, give my opinion and then go to my room.

And fall fast asleep.

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