A new grocery store is opening in my neighbourhood and from the looks of it, I know I’m going to love it. Its exterior is like a western organic store and I think I’m looking forward to less driving to Tesco for fish and AEON for chicken. And I hope they keep up with their appearances, no flies et cetera.
I hadn’t been writing anything at all these days. One project I’ve abandoned because I just don’t feel like writing it anymore. I don’t see enough message in it, or my message (in me) through that story is not strong enough, …and I had forgotten what the story was about anyway. Ah, now I remember. It was about revenge, but never mind.
So I thought to myself: maybe I should get a job at that grocery store! Many years ago I wanted to try to be a public cleaner but that didn’t work out, maybe this would be great! I thought of me going for a job interview, being one with no paper qualification, but play a girl who speaks no English and has never gone anywhere but here. I would be occasionally mopping the floors and weighing taugeh and if they trust me maybe I’ll be a cashier.
Yes! I was excited over this thought and I wanted to make it happen. I contacted the HQ of the grocery store and asked whom I should contact for job openings. They responded with a number. BRACE YO’SELF FOR A KAMPUNG GIRL EXPERIENCE, FIFI!
The first time I tried to talk about the idea of my book was in January 2015. I felt like I failed that talk so badly I started putting labels of “You’re not a public speaker” “You really should’ve prepared more” “Mama shouldn’t be there” on myself. Then I talked about it again, before it was published, to an audience in April 2017. I told myself, “You should be prepared now, right? Do better now!” And I brought home the thought that I didn’t again. I really wondered if I wasn’t meant to speak in public at all.
That was funny, you know? Because part of my freelance job requires me to stand up and talk. Why did it make a difference when I began talking about my book?
Then I was invited to a Toastmasters Club meeting.
Maybe it’s the whole “no pain no gain” thing that we’ve been brought up with that causes a lot of unhappy feelings when we do what we do.
That we think success comes with stress so we draw a line between our “life” and work. We think stress is part of a job, therefore we go through it anyway, as we look forward to an escape over the weekend….only to come back all over to that unhappy place.
I was 11, at school recess assembly when I first discovered that my front tooth was forward than the other teeth. A lot of insecurity it caused me, conscious about laughing, about smiling. I already had a big birthmark on my face, I really didn’t need another flaw about myself! I told my friend about it and she said, in an insinuating tone, “It had been all these while.” When I told my parents they agreed too, that my one tooth had always been that way.
One of the thoughts that also occurred to me when my friend said that was “How come all these while I felt fine not knowing?” I was surprised myself that once I discovered about the state of my tooth that I became aware of it. That of course added to my insecurities. Soon it was forgotten. My confidence built up, I was doing okay in school, I had friends nonetheless, for the first time in my life a boy liked me “because she’s smart and pretty”, and I felt fine.
A rather popular quote has been stuck in my head for a couple of days now, and that is a sign I need to sit down to write about it. I gave it a thought and my mind had been contributing ideas to what I wanted to write, but right now as I sat on my laptop with these words, the mind kept quiet; which means I’m just going to write freestyle.
And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
– The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
It was in between 2006-2009 when I read this book. My English teacher, Ms Ng Bak Hon, whom I had grown to love dearly, was a stern woman whose presence could send chills down your spine. For me, at least, I didn’t dare talk or do anything at assembly if she was on duty; it was like she had eyes all over the place. She knew what time we usually arrived at assembly, and she knew what each of us was reading, and if we had been reading something for too long. You see, when I was in school, reading was a culture introduced by Ms Ng. Everywhere we went we had to carry a book. There was no such thing as chit-chatting or just waiting. Our time had to be spent reading.
And Ms Ng would want to see what we’re reading and would scream at us if we had been ‘reading’ the same thing for more than two weeks. As a result, when I borrowed The Alchemist, I skimmed through it. Enough to give Ms Ng an oral summary should she ask later, enough to write a quick review about, and enough to complete it under two weeks.
The only things I remember from the book was the quote mentioned above, and a shepherd who found treasure in his original place. It is only now that I can link his messages to Sufism (true enough, he did say his books were Sufi-inspired). Back then I linked the quote to another book I had skimmed through: The Secret. Law of Attraction, Visual Boards, etc, of the kind.
In my book A Nobody’s Observations I wrote about how Telling The Truth can set me free. So for a while, I’ve been trying to be as truthful as possible. I believe that truth can be delivered with compassion no matter how painful it seems.
But what happens when I’m not being told the truth? When someone was not being honest to me?
I understand that everybody has their own version of the truth, but to take the truth and to sugarcoat it, then dip it in honey, wrap it in shiny paper and wear it on your sleeves feels not quite right. Being only human, I felt betrayed because the person felt I was unworthy of the truth, and that his level of respect for me was close to nothing in the first place. When you respect someone, you strive to be as honest as you can. When you don’t respect, you try to find ways to make yourself look good, or you don’t want me to feel bad, when it would have been more compassionate to just tell me the truth.
I am moved, because this morning I was wondering if after reading A Nobody’s Observations, would people still want to buy my other books? It’s just me wondering. Not bashing myself or anything like that. Then I received this email from a classmate in secondary school. We haven’t even been talking or anything. The last time I saw her was in 2009 at graduation I think.
I edited the personal parts, but you know, these words mean a lot to me. Especially when she wrote about what I wrote to her in 2009. A reassurance. That it’s true: I HAVE been doing this for a while now.
Writers are crazy people who sit down to write anything without knowing who’d read, you know? I don’t even know who’d get my messages. Sometimes I wonder if this craziness is worth it; my time is better spent doing other things. “But I like writing! But it can’t feed me! Do people listen to you?” etc. When I received this email from an old acquaintance, I realised that maybe some of my messages do stick around.
That’s why I still write.
This is to acknowledge that I have received your book today and I have finished reading it. 🙂 *
The main reason why I decided to buy your book is because I was attracted to the title – Nobody’s Observations. I was really curious in finding out the story and I was interested because it was your story. *
After reading your book, I felt enlighten and I realised that I have been doing some of those listed. The book is really meaningful, it really makes us reflect on ourselves. Deep down, I guess everyone knows the right way to think or do. But some got lost or got caught up being competitive with the world. I will read it again and again to serve as a gentle reminder to myself. 🙂 *
It’s been 8 years since we graduated from Secondary School, so the only updates we got were from Facebook or from friends of friends. I enjoy reading your posts that pops up in my feed now and then. You are still as cool as you were back then. *thumbs up* *
I remembered telling you that I want to be like you. So you wrote to me: “The secret is just being yourself and dont try too hard to please.” (This was on the Vday card in 2009) *
As I moved on to polytechnic, I gave myself another name. I wonder if you could remember, I had really bad skin in sec sch. During my orientation, I had horrifyingly red acnes all over my face. I thought I couldnt fit in in my class because everyone was so different. But fast forward, I had the most amazing and happiest 3 years in poly. I was being myself (even with that scary face) and I found really good friends who accepted me for who I am. *
I feel really proud of you to be doing what you want to do. I really respect you, for being such a strong and independent lady! I am still searching for mine however, slowly but surely, I will find it! *
Thank you Salamahafifi (I can still remember how to pronounce your name well), for sharing with us your story. It is really a well written book. I enjoyed reading it. Iam your fan now!! And I would really like to know more about your stories and the conversations with strangers. Cant wait for your next book!! 🙂