Sunday, October 27, 2013

Malta: The Arrival & Excitement

I passed the time quite easily with movies on board. After the two (yes, two) Bollywood movies I watch, I felt like they really pulled on my heartstrings like no other. <I watched Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara & Yeh Jawani Hai Dewani>

When Nuncio (the driver) picked me up, I was giddy with excitement. As we drove from Malta International to my hotel, I felt like I was in the midst of a story book. The only way I can describe it (from what I know) is that it looked like Greece meets Egypt.

Checked in at hotel and couldn't wait to take a long, hot shower. Tiredness began to come over me, but I forced myself to get dressed and go out. Went to an Italian restaurant around the corner, but unfortunately found the people to be quite unfriendly. Came back to the hotel ready for bed. Best to get an early night and wake up fresh in the morning!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Malta: Seven hours in "Do Buy"

Thankfully, I sat next to two fairly pleasant gentleman on the flight from Cape Town to Dubai. We arriving in the UAE in the wee hours of the morning. I forgot to mention that I met a young lady called Geraldine at the boarding gate. She was from Holland and had been traveling for the past few weeks. We planned to have a drink and bite to eat together. We somehow lost each other in the midst of the crowd of passengers flocking all over at the airport - especially around the food court. Anyway - I ended up doing my own thing.

I was adamant that I needed to walk. And walk I did! It was in the final stretch of the transit that I was beginning to lose steam. I was in transit for seven hours. We were going to fly through Cypurs. Stop over to drop off and pick up new passengers for about an hour...

Then the final stretch. What I've been waiting for...

Malta: The journey begins

I had been so busy preparing for my LOA (leave of absence) that I hadn't really given myself time to become excited about my first trip to Malta.

Contrary to many other trips I've been on and had sleepless nights the night before departure, I slept quite easily this time. I woke up in the morning feeling a bit out of sorts...almost emotional.

There's an Academic Year Coordinators Meeting, and since I'M an AYC, it was a great surprise to know that I would be traveling before the end of 2013. I don't hide the fact that I am grateful. SO grateful to have a job. In the past I have been quite expressive about my very dark phase of trying to find work when I came back from South Korea. The only thing that got me out of that funk was gratitude.

I began in December 2011. Five or six months later, I started getting more responsibilities. Seven months after I started, I was offered a promotion. I assumed the position in January 2013 and in July it was announced that I would be the first AYC to travel to Malta for this meeting.

As many would know, living alone comes with many responsibilities - as little as trying to remember to turn off all plugs and the geyser when traveling for a couple of weeks or more. I did all this - with the help of many lists!

At precisely 10:00, I was on my way to CPT International. A million thoughts running through my mind, but mostly my mental checklist hoping that I hadn't forgotten anything. Before long, I was seated and ready to take to the skies.

Next stop: Dubai or rather "Do Buy" ;)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ezan in Ayasofya after 50 years!

Inside Ayasofya in Istanbul, Turkey
Murat, from Turkey, shared this clip with me and I was so intrigued by it. However, it's vital to explain some of the terms first.

Adhan / Edhan / Azan / Ezan is the Muslim call to prayer recited by the muezzin at specified times of the day. For more info on Adhan, click here.

Hagia Sofia (Turkish name: Ayasofya) is one of the main tourist attractions in Istanbul. I was lucky enough to visit it during my whirlwind day tour a couple of years ago. My blog post on it can be found here.

Hagia Sofia was once a church, then a mosque in 1453. The mosque was turned into a museum in 1964. No adhan had been recited in this structure until 2012! This historical moment was captured and this is it:Adhan in Ayasofya after 50 years! It's quite lovely to listen to. Thank you, Murat, for sharing this with me :)


How many of us worry about what "could" happen tomorrow or the next day? Truth is, we have no idea -or control- over the future. Often, what we end up stressing over what may not even happen!

As I wrap up this day, I just read this, which is so apt:

"Don't take tomorrow to bed with you."

Iyi geceler xx

Monday, October 14, 2013

The story of Thomas & Heiko

This story is exactly two months overdue.

Heiko, Thomas & me...

August 12 2012.
It was a Monday – my first day back at work after my two-week leave. I was on a high! It was great seeing all my students again, meeting new students and catching up with my colleagues. I was pleasantly surprised when one of my students came to give me a beautiful "welcome back" bouquet of flowers.

Later that day, on my way from the elevator to my apartment door, I passed an elderly gentleman walking steadily and slowly with his walking stick. He was an Asian man who I've seen around. I always assumed he was visiting children/grandchildren in the building. I greeted him as I walked past. He didn't greet back, but said, “Those are very nice,” – referring to the bouquet I was carrying. I soon realized why he didn't reciprocate my greeting when I saw his hearing aide.

I stopped next to him and we exchanged random banter about the flowers. In no less than two minutes, a lady joined our company. I’d seen her around the building as well. She was petite, had grey/white hair around her face and wore a cautious, nervous-looking smile. They two were husband and wife.

In a space of three minutes I learned that they moved from Hong Kong to Cape Town ten years ago. The gentleman, Thomas, was an English teacher at a public school and his wife, Heiko, was a housewife. As soon as I learned that this elderly couple were staying on my floor, alone – I immediately knew I had to get to know them better.

Let’s have tea together some day?” I suggested.
Our apartment is very messy right now, so we wouldn't want to invite you in,” spluttered Thomas. The words came out slowly and he seemed to run out of breath easily.

My experience about making plans with people which never materialize happens too frequently. It was now or never.

Are you free right now?” I asked.

And off the three of us went to the Woolies Café downstairs. Something told me that these two people had an interesting story. Especially after learning that he was Chinese and she was Japanese. They made Hong Kong their home, before deciding to move to South Africa.

Their story...

After settling at a table, we placed our order. Heiko ordered tea for herself, hot chocolate for Thomas and I had my regular Mocha.

I was so curious to know what brought this couple to South Africa. Thomas explained while Heiko sat smiling – looking back and forth from Thomas to me. I explained to them that I was an English teacher and had the pleasure of meeting people from all walks of life. I had to remind myself to speak slowly and clearly. Thomas was deaf in one ear.

When our drinks arrived, I noticed that Heiko was confused – who did she order the tea for? For Thomas or for herself? My guess was right when she asked me, “You live alone in Cape Town?” – something I told her just a couple of minutes before. She repeated the same question several minutes later. 

The more these two people spoke, the more my mind went into turbo-mode …wondering what I could do for them. I never grew up with grandparents and I had a tendency of 'adopting' elders.

What do they do all day?

At OUR age, it’s very easy to fall asleep,” said Thomas.  
Do they watch TV? I wondered. No – they don’t own a TV. Then how do they know what’s happening in the world, if they don’t buy newspapers – would it even be relevant or interesting to them if they never left their apartment?

Heiko told me that she enjoys reading. Lovely! A hobby we share. However, I was blown away to know that she is reading and re-reading stacks of newspapers from Japan, given to her by someone she knew at the Japanese embassy. The newspapers are two years old.

Just the two of us…

But where are Thomas’ and Heiko’s family? 
The two never had children.
Would they ever go back to China or Japan?

I have no family left,” said Thomas with no expression.
I looked over to Heiko and asked about her. “I can’t leave him alone,” she said – referring to her husband.

Trying my best to swallow the lump that had formed in my throat, I asked Heiko what they planned on having for dinner. I can’t exactly remember what she said, but I do remember suddenly losing my appetite. My heart sank when she told me that some days, she walks all the way to the end of the Main Road to buy sushi for her husband from Spar. 

Heiko…please be careful when you walk and when you cross the street. It’s very busy and the taxis drive very fast,” I cautioned her. 

At the back of my mind, I worried that one day she may forget where she lives.

My quick shopping run

Could you please wait for me for a few minutes? I need to buy something for school tomorrow,” I told them. First I paid the bill for our drinks and hurried to the food section of the store. I called my mum and quickly relayed the story about the couple I had just met. I told her that I needed to buy food for them. It was a chilly evening and soup would have been ideal. Walking down the aisle of baked goods, while talking to my mum, I found myself looking for bread that was soft. 

I hurried back to Thomas and Heiko who were waiting for me at the café.

Shall we go?” I asked them.
As Thomas stood up, he said that he went to pay the bill, but they told him that I already paid for it.
You shouldn't do that. You’re a young working woman and there are two of US,” he said.

I simply smiled and told him that it was my pleasure and that I had invited them out. Also, this certainly wasn't going to be the last time we meet.

I had to mind my speed. Even though Heiko’s memory is clearly deteriorating, she was able to move faster than her husband, whose mind was sharper but was slowly losing his hearing. He walked very slowly. What would have taken me roughly 3 minutes took us about 10. 

Refusing a gift is bad in my culture

Arriving on our floor, we strolled down the passage. We had to pass their door first and as we said our goodbyes, I handed Heiko my shopping bag. Her sweet smile was quickly replaced by a very deep frown. 

A look of seriousness had also taken over Thomas.

This is for you – please enjoy…it will keep you warm,” I told them.
Are you crazy? What are you doing this for?” asked Thomas.

Neither would take the bag from me and I was so surprised by Thomas’ sudden physical strength as he resisted my handing him my gift.

When I looked over at Heiko, her eyes had welled up with tears.

Do you buy gifts for your students?” Thomas asked me.
Actually, I do,” I replied.
…well, do they give you gifts too?” he continued.
Thomas. The very flowers that sparked OUR conversation was FROM a student.”

He continued looking at me, took the bag from my hand and walked towards my door. He was going to make this very difficult for me.

I walked over to him, looked him in the eye and said, “Thomas, in my culture it’s very bad to refuse a gift.”

He didn't take his eyes off me. Heiko merely stood there, with her arms crossed – looking confused.

At last…

Thomas asked what I had bought.
1 x butternut soup
1 x vegetable soup
1 x white rolls

He said he would only take the vegetable soup. Since he’s diabetic, he's unable to eat the white rolls and butternut soup. I could make peace with that. The three of us said goodnight, but as I entered my door, the lump in my throat grew in size.

What / Who do they have?

I sat on my couch and tried to reflect on what just happened in the past two hours. Hot tears welled up in my eyes. I needed to eat dinner, but had no appetite whatsoever.

I imagined that Thomas and Heiko could very well have been my grandparents.
They could be my parents.
They could be me.
This thought scared me.

Living in a foreign country. No living relatives. No children. Almost no contact with others. Oblivious to world events. 

What do they have? Each other.

The energy and excitement of my first day back at school melted away. I needed to get out of my apartment. I needed to go out. To speak. To laugh. I knew exactly who I wanted to be with.

I made a phone call and within a few minutes I was in the company of special souls. They listened to my story of meeting Thomas and Heiko and empathized as I wept in front of them. At the end of the evening, I felt slightly better, but little did I know the great impact these two people would have on me.

Hesitant to follow up

For days after, on my way to work early in the morning or coming home late at night, I would pass Thomas and Heiko’s door. Sometimes there would be no light peeping through the blinds. How would I know if they’re okay? I was so hesitant to knock on their door or offer them help.

Perhaps it was not in their culture to accept such “gifts”, but I could not accept that I could ignore this elderly couple.

The letters begin

On Friday last week, before going to work, I slipped a note under Thomas and Heiko's door. It was a short note to let them know that I just wanted to know how they're doing. Since I come home quite late and leave rather early in the morning, I don't get to see them.

This evening when I arrived home from work, I found this on my door.

It read:
Dear Sheetal 
Thank you for the "food" the other and and your thoughtful note. 
You are young and kind. But let me at my age teach you something - everything can be carried beyond a reasonable limit, so that it is not longer practical or wise. 
[He went on to tell me about a young and generous Chinese man who has recently been forced to sell his business and is moving back to China]. 
...He was too generous to other people. 
You are not a business woman either.
That said, we are delighted to know a person like you - and a neighbour. We shall get together some weekend
At our age, we have some "problems" with "life" which in all your joyful youth, you will not understand. 
We will go out for coffee!
Sincerely, Thomas
If Thomas and Heiko are uncomfortable accepting gifts from me, and are happy just to accept my friendship, then that is what I will be happy to offer.

Remember, angels come in all shapes, colours and sizes - and these two people, since meeting them, have taught me something quite remarkable. I'll keep you updated as things develop - even if they continue via handwritten letters!

Monday, October 7, 2013

The "joys" of living solo

For me, today, living alone means:

Craving something warm & decadent for dinner, but settling for tea. Not even with a slice of toast - it would've taken too long to make(!!)

My TV hasn't been receiving any signal and frankly, I couldn't really be bothered!

...instead, I was in bed at precisely 19:20 with 3 issues of PSYCHOLOGIES Magazine. Pages of mental stimulation. Oooh the things that excite me! (Seriously?!)

The tea I just had has made me even hungrier, but there's no way I'm getting out of bed now. Unless there are those gorgeous red Lindt balls on my kitchen counter. I'm kidding, ok.

So here I lie in bed, wondering what my life would be like if I came home to a family. Without a doubt I know I'd prepare food for them, if need be. I actually get pleasure in making for others. But for myself? Pssshhttt!

Living alone has its perks, for sure. But I think the benefits of co-living are far better.

I'll also use this time to update my Gratitude Journal. While I have been saying my daily prayers of gratitude, I have neglected actually writing them down.

Best I get to it then...!
Good evening to you!