Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Karim on the mend!

"He's gained some weight and can eat more comfortably now!" These are the words of Hawa, Karim Sulaiman's wife when we spoke a short while ago. Karim, as most of you know, is down with a skin disease called scleroderma, an extremely rare skin ailment.

The kind people at Hospital Kuala Lumpur fetched Karim from his home in Sri Gombak in an ambulance for his medical check-up yesterday, Feb 12. They then sent him back in the same ambulance after recording some statistics.

"Better we fetch and send you rather than come in your own transport 'cos parking is difficult," Hawa was told. But there were other more encouraging news for Hawa and the patient.

Karim's weight has increased from 37kg to 42kg while his arm mobility has also improved. The ailment often cause the tightening of the skin, making it smooth and shiny. It also restricts the patient's movement. The treatment has enabled Karim to eat more comfortably as he can widen his mouth more and this has helped in swallowing his food.

Hawa, continously thanking HKL and the hospital's head of the Department of Dermatology, Puan Sri Soraya Tun Hussein Onn, was also aware that these are early days and Karim still has a long way to go before full recovery. His next treatment is scheduled on Feb 26.

Meanwhile, chin up my friend! InsyaAllah,you'll be fine!

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Sarajevo: The Bosnians remember..

I VISITED Sarajevo a few times in my previous life as a print journalist with the Business Times. This was part of the "on the job training" and exposure one has to go through as a journalist. I was sent to Belgrade to learn about, and provided coverage, of the month-long UN Conference for Trade and Development

Accompanied by friends and officers from the Primary Industries Ministry, we took a train ride to the famous city for lunch. And of course we took a picture of ourselves at the bridge which sparked the first world war. Sarajevo in the early '80s was part of Tito's Yugoslavia. It was a memorable visit indeed!

But a more memorable visit (for a different reason) was the one I made in the '90s when Yugoslavia vanished from the world's map to be replaced by Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia. Ethnic cleansing and political indifference were the midwives for these new nations.

Sarajevo was a city beaten and battered, ravaged by acts of unimaginable cruelty. I stayed at the Holiday Inn, whose windows were shattered by bullets and hotel guests had to make do with minimum comforts. Far cry from its glory days. The nights were cold and the days were warm but damp.

But Malaysia's name had apparently been etched deep in the hearts of many Bosnians, especially those in Sarajevo. Made aware by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who made continous statements about the ethnic cleansing and other acts of cruelty in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Malaysians rallied behind Bosnians in many ways.

I remember being part of the Barisan Bertindak Bosnia (Bosnian Action Front) which was a loose grouping of NGOs and newspaper editors who devoted time, energy and space to highlight the plight of the Bosnians. Tun Mahathir as the Prime Minister then approved the sending of peace-keeping forces under UN sponsorship and ordinary Malaysians took part in a nationwide RM1 fund raising to help Bosnians reclaim their lives.

It was after all these that I visited Sarajevo again. The Bosnians, I later learnt, are grateful people. They remember us well. They remember the rakyat's funds collected via the Barisan Bertindak Boania which were given in two trenches.

The first was given in New York via Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi when he was Foreign Minister attending the UN assembly; and the second via Tun Dr Mahathir in an old mosque in the heart of Sarajevo. The handing over was just after Zohor prayers, meaning that the mosque was sufficiently repaired to enable jemaah prayers.

When we walked in the streets of old Sarajevo, the citizens gave us gifts; souvenirs were bought at discounts; and there were invitations for coffee all the time. It was a visit that held many fond memories. Dr Mahathir, more than anyone, was the reason for the warmth and hospitality that Malaysians enjoyed.

Just before taking our flight home, I stopped at a school which was rebuilt by Malaysian funds. Tun Dr Mahathir and his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah mohd Ali, had stopped at the school because the teachers, students and pupils, and parents wanted to say Thank You.

It was a Thank You that brought tears to one's eyes and made our hair stood on ends. The whole school had lined the yard leading to the hall and the children sang a haunting tune that made everyone speechless.

I recalled that moment and the visits after reading the Sunday Star (Feb 4) where it was reported that Bosnian NGOs had nominated Dr M for the Nobel Peace Prize. It's a report that made my day, and many others too I'm sure.

As I said earlier, the Bosnians do remember, and continue to show their gratitude...

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Karim goes home

AFTER 17 days in the Kuala Lumpur Hospital (I had erred when I earlier reported he was warded longer days), Karim Sulaiman, our ailing friend from Harian Metro, is now back at his home in Sri Gombak.

Hawa, his faithful wife, told me Karim feels good and upbeat about the treatment he has been receiving when he was at the dermatology ward of HKL. He was taken home on Jan 27 and will be meeting HKL's skin specialist on Feb 12. If everything goes as planned, Karim will be warded again on Feb 26 for the continuation of his treatment.

Karim's ailment affects the skin, and I'm told its called scleroderma. It is also known as systemic sclerosis, a very rare autoimmune disorder that can affect many organs and tissues. According to published accounts, the ailment is 3 times as common in women and is most likely to appear between the age of 30 and 50.

A cure for the disease is being researched all over the world. A person afflicted with the disease see changes to the skin,, especially of the face and fingers, which becomes shiny and tight, leading to difficulty with movements. Other parts of the body may also be affected, causing difficulty in swallowing, shortness of breadth, palpitations, high blood pressure, joint pain and muscle weakness.

Hawa, expressing gratefulness to everyone who has been helping Karim through his ordeal, especially the specialists and doctors at HKL, said Karim feels better and finds swallowing his food easier compared to before the treatment.

The hospital has also trained Hawa to keep Karim on several physiotherapy routines. She's hopeful that all these will help her husband on the road to full recovery. The couple continue to receive well-wishers, bringing physical and moral support.

Of Ah Longs and part-time taxi drivers...

FELLOW bloggers Ahirudin Attan and Jeff Ooi were accorded a fair bit of publicity in recent weeks. Some mainstream media gave them space and highlighted their court cases, while some of us walked with them to the court room in Wisma Denmark.

While their cases are heatedly debated in and outside blogosphere, I was attracted to two news item this week - one concerns the big fight againt Ah Longs, and another one about civil servants moonlighting as taxi drivers.

Judging from the slant given to these two items, I get the impression that Ah Longs will be here to stay and continue to terrorise borrowers (read small businessmen shunned by banks). And I also sensed that civil servants who use their spare time trying to make ends meet by being taxi drivers may not be allowed to do so without being harassed.

Let's look at the Ah Longs first. The authorities are suggesting that action should, and would, also be taken against the borrowers. Well Sir, this is easier said than done! May look good on paper and make good TV sound byte, but not so doable lah...

Who are Ah Long borrowers anyway? Has anyone done a comprehensive study on them? Anyone got a reliable data base? Are you an Ah Long borrower? Is your enighbour one? Does anybody know? Can Datuk Michael Chong help identify who they are? Or can Rakan Cop seek them out?

Will we see an Ah Long reporting to the police: "That so-and-so is a borrower, and I am the lender." Will that ever take place?

Or will the borrower saunter into the police station and declare: "Tuan, sayalah itu peminjam dari Ah Long so-and-so. Tuan mau bikin apa dengan saya? Tuan mau saya bagi maklumat siapa itu Ah Long? tuan ingat saya gila kah?"

The Ah Longs thrive because financial institutions do not fully support free enterprise. Not many banks genuinely help genuine businessmen in dire straits. That's the story I hear repeatedly where Ah Longs are concerned.

By wanting to take action against the borrowers, I think the authorities are missing the wood for the trees.

Listen to Bob, an Ah Long forced-believer: "I just can't borrow money from banks! I have a legitimate business, a sizeable staff, an office building. I ran into some cash flow problems. I sought some financing from banks. I filled countless forms, interviewed by many officers, made to declare numerous items.

"And then I got a NO as an answer. Why? Because I'm regarded as a bad risk, having been blacklisted for defaulting old loans. I've paid ALL these loans. I've got documents to say I'm clean. But I'm still under Bank Negara's black list.

"Can you fault me for going to my neighbourhood Ah Longs who roll me so that I can continue to run my business, ensure my staff are not put to the street, and keep my clients happy? I pay dearly for these loans, yes. Where are the banks when I need them?"

And listen to Ari, a government clerk during the day and a taxi driver at night: "Abang, I'm a family man. My wife is working. I have to school-going children. I live in a low-cost flat. I bought it for RM25,000 about 10 years ago. The lifts break down very often; the staircase are full of grafitti; the toilet leaks.

"My family takes home about RM1,500 a month. My loan repayment for the house is RM180, my motorbike loan RM100, my groceries is about RM200, my marketing is RM60 a week, school bus fees take it another RM80, hire-purchase for my refrigerator and television is RM140. Then there's my petrol bill, pocket money for the two girls, tuition, money for my old folks, the odd night to the pasar malam...

"Abang, tak boleh survive on that kind of gaji! So when my brother in law suggested I drive a taxi at night, it was god-send! NowI'm saving to buy my own taxi, I can at least take my family to Port Dickson for a Sunday outing. After the petrol price went up, even that is no longer possible.

"You want to know how many Government servants drive taxi? Plenty! It's not a haram business! What's wrong if I drive a taxi to enable me to save, buy new clothes for my children, support my father's medical bills. Hello! You ingat semua orang bawa taxi kaya kah? It's a very competitive industry Abang! Not many people take taxi anymore because they are also affected by the rising prices."

Bob and Ari are just two hardworking fellows. They are very responsible people. They need support and encouragement. They feed and clothe their families as best as they can, even if they know the risks are high and sacrifices are truly burdensome.

Surely they can't be faulted. More than that, surely they need help.