Saturday, December 30, 2006

Adventure in the Bayou

I'll be heading to Louisiana, USA on 2nd January with Lehigh University's WinterServe group to work with Warren County Habitat for Humanity (HFH). We hope to build houses for the victims of Hurricane Katrina in Slidell. Read more about HFH in

What a way to start 2007: A new Spring semester at Lehigh, my next volunteer stint at St Luke's Hospital, the Fulbright enrichment program, the MCAT, the Grand Canyon beckons... and of course to kick it off, my adventure in the Bayou!

*A bayou is a small, slow-moving stream or creek. Bayous are usually located in low-lying areas, for example in the Mississippi River delta region of the southern USA. The word was first used by the French in Louisiana and is thought to originate from the Choctaw word "bayuk" which means "small stream".

Eid ul-Adha in Paris

Today is Eid ul-Adha (عيد الأضحى) or Eid-e Qurban in France. Eid ul-Adha is celebrated by Muslims worldwide as a commemoration of Prophet Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son Ismael for Allah (God). Others celebrate Eid ul-Adha as it marks the end of the Pilgrimage or Hajj for the millions of Muslims who make the trip to Makkah each year.

I went to the Paris Mosque for Eid prayers with Marwan (poor Yannicque was sick). It was drizzling and the mosque was packed with people. I had to pray outside on the terrace, braving the wet floor and cold winds. As I was praying with all the sisters, tears flowed down my cheek, competing with my already wet face. I felt a deep humbleness as I prostrated on the floor. How truly blessed we all are; to be given the opportunity to experience life. As I looked around me, I saw faces of many cultures, but all speak the same language to God.

Alhamdulillah (Praises to Allah) for all the blessings and obstacles that we go through in life. I keep reminding myself to always be thankful. And one of the things I'm thankful for was being able to celebrate Eid across 3 continents. Each celebration may be different but the theme remains the same. We are one big Ummah (family) who should learn to love and live peacefully with one another.

Eid Mubarak. I seek forgiveness for all my shortcomings. All perfection belongs to Allah (God). All imperfections are mine solely.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Je t'aime Paris

As I walked down boulevard Gouvion St-Cyr, I couldn't help but smile. The familiar brasserie, the corner Tabac, the beautiful-lit streets, the Ferrari showroom (the F430 Spider taunts me everytime) beneath Yannicque's apartment, the ubiquitious Franprix... Why o why do I always return to Paris, the city where hearts often get broken?

Some of the reasons:
Monuments of Paris: Pictures say a thousand words.

Yannicque (Leila): My French sister whom I used to share an apartment with in the 17ieme arrondisment; with whom I shared many nights drinking tea and talking about politics, religion, love & life.
Marwan & Tijane: Yannicque's wonderful kids who let me practise my 'parenting' & babysiting skills. Precocious and adorable. I will take care of them anytime...
Sciences-Po Paris (ScPo): The university where Jacques Chirac, Dominicque Strauss-Kahn (DSK) & yours truly studied in. ScPo ignited my passion for learning and made me believe that nothing is impossible. Psst, did you know DSK contested for the French presidential election... but he lost. Quel dommage!
Dr (soon-to-be) Thomas Richard: Intelligent & kind classmate at ScPo qui etait mon bonheur a Paris; with whom I spent time studying and walking down the streets of Paris & Versailles. May he find love again...
Rachid - Performing the Hajj right now in Makkah. Alhamdulillah!
Marie-Christine - How can I forget your blind date with Dr Shahrul in London :p
Sebastien - Boleh? Boleh! Why did you move to Toulouse?
Camille - My beautiful ScPo friend... oh how we struggled during Econs lecture!
Etienne - The wrong Etienne who responded to my email but hey look how that turns out!
Amelie & Fabian - Paris is not the same sans toi :(
Dr Alain-Pierre Manine - I had a great 'blind date' with you! *wink... Thanks for cooking delicious Indian curry & making mint tea in the authentic Morrocan style
Anne-Cecile - The only girl I knew who rides a bicycle through the streets of Paris
Aurelien - Where are you, Tariq?
Dr (soon-to-be) Emmanuel Ruze - Whose kitchen in Versailles was our meeting point...
Dr (soon-to-be) Wassim Abou-Jaoude - Emril's Imperial College classmate. What a small world! Ah oui...'un de perdu, dix de retrouver'

Parting thoughts:
I never thought I'll say this but I miss writing Economics & Political Science essays in French! Give me those difficult books anytime...
Walking... just walking down the streets of Paris can be just as thrilling as the passionate French kiss.
I'm in love with the Harp. I want to play beautiful music for my future husband and lull him to sleep...

Ah Paris, I miss you already....

Glimpses of Paris

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

bld Gouvion St-Cyr, Paris

Hidayah & her Economics lecturer, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (former Minister of Finance of France) - photo taken in 2000

I'm heading home to Paris, the City of Angels, home of my French family (Yannicque, Marwan, Tijane) and wonderful friends from Sciences-Po days & France Telecom (grace a Rachid!)

The Fall semester is nearly over... phew! Forget the nerve-wrecking exams, forget the endless papers to write, forget driving in the cold Keystone state... I'm spending the winter break in magical Paris where love was found and lost...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Hartford Seminary & Yale

What else did I do in Connecticut?
1) Thanks to Mike Lewis who drove me to Hartford, I managed to meet up Zalman's family. I had a lovely time in his house. We went to the parks and the Windsor Mosque for Friday prayers.
2) Walked around Hartford Seminary (white modern building) where Zalman, my Singapore Fulbrighter friend is currently pursuing his Masters of Art (Religious Studies).
3) Steve brought Ali & I to have Malay food at Kari Restaurant in New Haven. Teh Tarik, Tom Yum soup, Mango Chicken, Nasi LemakSambal Stingray... yum... (but nothing compares to the Sambal Stingray back home)
4) I visited Yale (Lux et Veritas & some Hebrew motto - I think it's Or YomZotam Yom). Very 'Cambridgish'! Yale like Lehigh are great schools in poor, rough neighbourhoods.

Thank you Stephen Gerard Lewis for driving us to and fro (hey, I offered to take over the wheel, remember?) from Pennsylvania to Connecticut. I will not forget the brake malfunction problems, interesting conversations in the car (yes, we will find you a Malay wife soon!) and the detours to the Palisades and not-Cherry Hills White Castle! Lehigh students unite!

Thanksgiving in Connecticut

We drove about 4 hours in the heavy rain to Connecticut (yes, home of "Who's the Boss?") to have Thanksgiving Dinner with the Lewis. Ahh... my first Thanksgiving turkey, pumpkin pies, delicious vegetables and desserts; in the company of warm American families with big hearts!

Thanksgiving reminds me of Hari Raya (Eid). How similar our celebrations are! Lots of food, lots of laughter, lots of sharing and giving! I am touched to be treated as part of the family.

A big Thank You to the Lewises, the O'Connors and everyone in Waterbury. I truly enjoyed spending time with you all :)

Lehigh Boleh! (Lehigh can do it!)

Some more notes about Lehigh University:

When Asa Packer founded Lehigh University at the end of the Civil War (in 1865), he wished to provide a well-rounded education for young men that combined a liberal and scientific education with the necessary technical skills to increase the prosperity of the region.

Until a recession in the 1890's diminished the value of the Lehigh Valley Railroad stock, Packer's endowment allowed the institution to offer its education free of charge by competitive exam. This, plus its blend of engineering and liberal arts, attracted some of the nation's brightest students, many of whom went on to distinguished careers in industry and engineering.

Unlike other engineering schools of the day, Lehigh was never envisioned to be an "Institute of Technology" but always a University, combining both scientific and classical education for its students. Initially there were five schools; four scientific (civil engineering, mechanical engineering, mining and metallurgy, and analytical chemistry) and one of general literature. Over time, additional areas of the arts and sciences were added and engineering curriculums were both merged and expanded.

Lehigh’s well respected School of Education started as (and remains) a graduate only level program. This is based on the principle that you need to learn primary subject matter well before you can learn how to teach it to others.

American Football

I recently watched a football match between Lehigh University and Lafayette College. A football ignoramus (I don't even follow the World Cup), I suddenly became a football enthusiast rooting for Lehigh's Mountain Hawks.

Some football scribblings:
Lehigh University is notable for its rivalry with nearby Lafayette College since 1884 (where the the 2 teams have met 142 times).
The rivalry is the most played in the history of US college football and is considered the best in all of college athletics.
Go Hawks!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Kansas & Missouri

I was in Kansas City, Missouri for the Alpha Delta Kappa (ADK) International Teacher Education (ITE) Weekend last week. It was fun meeting so many sorority sisters from all over the USA! They pampered the six of us with gifts, hugs and well wishes. I am so touched by their passion and dedication towards education. I hope the young educators will follow their footsteps and continue the noble quest of imparting knowledge to others.

Thank you sisters for showing us what real sisterhood is!
Good luck to my co-ADK ITE Scholars: Eve from Estonia, Widya from Indonesia, Elina from Latvia, Gabriela from Peru &; Petra from Czech Republic.
Let's cherish our wonderful memories in Kansas, the land of the Wizard of Oz and Missouri, the land of Sunflowers!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hidayah's Sorority

When a group of dedicated and passionate retired educators got together, it was nothing short of fun and good camaraderie!
I am amazed at how the Alpha Delta Kappa (ADK) sorority sisters are very much involved in the community - from guiding young educators, to knitting scarves for homeless families for the winter, to welcoming a foreigner like to me their homes and hearts...

Thank you sisters for accepting me as a member of the family! I am proud to tell everyone that I am a Sorority Girl!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Jalan Raya di Pennsylvania

Eid Mubarak! Selamat Hari Raya!

Our morning started with Eid prayers at the Whitehall mosque (I drove like the wind, bypassing all those long trucks on the highway so as not to be late). The mosque was packed with Muslims of all nationalities. Everyone was dressed their best. The Malays wore their baju kurungs (even Amrin who came down from New York City to celebrate Raya with us) amidst the biting Fall winds. Hamidah and family even wore matching blue baju kurungs. Steve, pakai baju Melayu la!

Allahu Akbar! The takbir brought tears to my eyes as I sat in the prayer hall, my first Eid prayer far away from home. The sisters around me embraced me warmly. I then passed a compilation of Hari Raya songs to Hamidah and Rohana from Singapore. Eid is not complete without Saloma & Ahmad Jais' "Selamat Hari Raya" songs!

We then had breakfast at the mosque - bagels, donuts and coffee. The mosque was decorated with balloons and banners bearing Eid greetings. The kids were also entertained by 2 Mascots & 1 Superman! What a brilliant idea! We later headed to the sprawling countryside where Hamidah lives. More delicious food and interesting conversations followed. We had so much fun taking pictures at her backyard, amidst those gorgeous red and yellow Autumn trees.

After Steve & Ali successfully solved the computer problems at Hamidah's house, we headed home to Bethlehem for dinner at my house (most of us had classes that day but we skipped them to celebrate Eid). Amrin who had to leave for New York managed to sample Kak Alo's delicious Lontong, Rendang and kuih-muih. Yes, in the spirit of Hari Raya, Kak Alo took the effort to prepare all those food and we even changed the curtains in the house! When I told Emak this, she complained that there was no one to help her cook in Singapore now that I am in Pennsylvania! :)

Dinner was good. The girls also brought food (courtesy of Lehigh dining meal plans). We laughed and ate Kuih Tat, Kuih Lapis and pizza too! Most of us are far away from home but our Hari Raya outings made us less homesick. Ika and I are now inspired to cook Nasi Minyak this Friday to continue with the Hari Raya celebrations!

Khairil Johari Johar's Sepasang Kurung Biru broke the silence of the night as I tidied up the house. My heart grew heavy and my eyes went moist...

Tiada salam atau ucapan
Tiada pesan tanda ingatan
Suasana penuh keriangan
Ku teringat pada seseorang...

Tetamu datang tetamu pergi
Namun tak tiba orang ku nanti
Hanya sepasang kurung nan biru
Menjadi teman mengubat rindu ku...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A smile from a homeless man

I was driving home tonight from my research class, thinking of the 15-page analysis paper due tomorrow... argh... While waiting for the light near Fahy Bridge to turn green, I looked out of the window and saw a homeless old man dressed in worn out clothes. He was kicking the dried Autumn leaves on the pavement. He saw me looking at him. I smiled. His tired face broke into a warm smile. Then he walked away in the cold night dragging his torn shoes. As I drove away, tears rolled down my cheek...

How cold it must be for him! How warm it was for me in my car.
How cruel the wind must be, blowing at him through his thin jacket! How snug I feel in my black leather jacket bought from St. Germain-des-pres in Paris.
How sore and cold his feet must be! How warm my feet will be in my heated bedroom.
Where will his next meal come from? When will I finish all those assignments?

As much as I was thinking of pampering myself with a US$329 L.L.Bean expedition haversack, I ask this pertinent question. Why the extravagance? Had I not been blessed enough?

Thank you kind Sir for the gentle reminder. Yes, we sometimes forget how fortunate we are.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Soup Kitchens

Lehigh University students take on Washington DC [DC Serve Fall 2006]
Lisa, Xochitl, Cheryl, Ali & Hidayah spent 4 days during the Pacing Break to volunteer at the following places:

Martha's Table: a non-profit organization founded in 1980 dedicated to fulfilling the needs of low-income and homeless children, families and individuals. McKenna's Wagon (7 days-a-week) mobile soup kitchen feeds the hungry and homeless at 9 locations in DC.

Dinner Program for Homeless Women: a non-profit organization providing hot, nutritionous dinner and social services to 60-90 homeless women and their children. Together with Zacchaeus Kitchen, the Dinner Program also serves breakfast to an average of 275 men and women a day, 6 days a week.

Capital Area Food Bank: the largest, public, non-profit food and nutrition education resource in the Metro Area. They distribute millions of pounds of food to the community and educate thousands of local residents on hunger, poverty and nutrition issues.

*Hidayah has done some reflection from her experience and would like to start a similar program under her Gedung Kuning Foundation. Pls. email her at if you are keen to hear her thoughts on the homeless problem and how we all can help.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Washington DC

We spent our rest time from working in the homeless shelter to soak in the sights and sounds of USA's capital. Ahh... those lovely monuments and fascinating museums...

Who can forget:
1) Whirlwind driving and getting lost in DC, Maryland, Virginia (the Pentagon!) & historic Bristol (!?); yet no one complained :)
2) Drinking Chai tea and eating yummy Nepali-Indian food (especially after fasting and being tempted by all those delicious food we prepared at the shelter)
3) Trying to finish endless Lehigh's assignments while we were there (yeah right)
4) Reflecting on our experience volunteering at the various shelter
5) Trying to catch some ZzZzz...
 amidst loud snoring
6) Cutting, washing, cleaning, packing, serving food... all in the name of humanity
7) "Igor, where are you?", "Ali, hurry up!"
8) Lawyer Marc & preppy Frenchman... alas, I live in Pennsylvania...
9) Craig from Montana on a secret rendezvous with Alice... *wink...
10) Carlos, the silent room-mate in suit and tie!

Lisa, Xochitl, Cheryl, Ali & Igor (our Croatian friend), thanks for being such good sports! I miss you all :(

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ramadan @ Lehigh Valley

I miss "bubur masjid" (porridge prepared by volunteers at the mosque), the Ramadan bazaar and all those delicious kuih-muih (cakes)! I miss Emak's cooking and praying Terawih at Al-Falah mosque...
But I'm also enjoying Ramadan with my Bethlehem family (Philip & Kak Alo), as well as my Muslim friends in Lehigh Valley. As Eid approaches, P. Ramlee's Dendang Perantau echoes in my mind and brings tears to my eyes...

Di hari raya
Terkenang daku kepada si dia
Kampungku indah nun jauh di sana
Ayah serta bondaku

Di tepian mandi
Danauku hijau yang aman damai selalu
Nun di sanalah tempat aku bertemu
Aku dan dia

Ramadan Mubarak. Maaf zahir batin.

Lehigh Fulbrighters

Lehigh Fulbrighters are such a warm, united and fun lot! Anna Rendon, aren't you lucky to have us under your charge? *wink...

Remember, how we all met at 6am to take the bus to NYC for the Fulbright meeting; our impromptu meeting with the Maldives Ambassador; Louis singing near the United Nations headquarter and Hidayah's funky New York haircut! You guys are simply the best!