November 3, 2014

NaNoWriMo Assertiveness Training

It's National November Writing Month, so this blog will be short. Short but inspired. Thank you NaNoWriMo for teaching me, already in day 3, a few important lessons that I've been working on for the past few years.

Setting boundaries, assertiveness, or otherwise known as - is it NaNoWriMo? No, it's JustSayNO NaNo month... (Well, truth be told, it sounded a lot better in my head while I was taking a short break from my laptop just now.) It's true what they say, "It's a lie to think 'yes, i'll remember that."

Back to the assertiveness training. This month, I have committed (big ginormous lump in throat, afraid to admit it out loud) to the challenge of writing 50,000 fiction words in the semi shape of a novel over the course of November. Yes, this November, yes, NOW. And yes, since you asked, I have finished my word count for the day!

At this second, it is 10:35 p.m., and my cat is scratching desperately at the back door to get out. I know what she wants. She is very clear. Normally this incessant scratching would get me up off the couch. I would do what she wants. (Even though, yes, it's true, there IS a cat door at the front of the house, but still, she does prefer the back door... ). Not today. Need you ask? Really? It's JustSayNO month for me!

Already I have turned down a lucrative proposal to edit a document -extra money, you say, it'll be so easy?  Ha ha. Forget about it! I didn't even have to think about that one. A no brainer.
The new Beaujolais wine with dinner at one of our best friend's houses? Nope, sorry, did you hear me? I did mention that it is NOVEMBER, didn't I? Go without me. (sorry Rob!)

Suddenly, I have this 'Get out of Jail' card - and it's called "words come first" - every thing else (and I mean EVERYTHING) comes later. Or not at all. Even the kids have been forewarned. You will be making your own dinners kids. Or not eating at all. Not fighting about the dishes. You will do them gladly, with a smile. And you will indulge me, your mother, as I have indulged you during your times of need (of which, I obviously did not need to remind them - there were far too many to even remember).

So, I feel (remember, day three only) extremely empowered today. Today, I can say 'No!'
Just try me! You'll see!

If you don't believe me, check out this article from Psychology Today which I just happened to bump into by a psychologist, and as Holden (from Catcher in the Rye) might have said, with a goddamn real PhD, a real doctor for godsake! The Power of No....

image by Hannah Whitaker (taken from said Psychology Today article by Judith Sills, Ph.D)

October 31, 2014

A Halloween Story

A Halloween Story

 By Audrey Gran Weinberg and Yoav Weinberg

The living room seemed dreary to Jeff and his 5 brothers and sisters after their parents had left, all dressed up in costume. Their father, as always, elegantly dressed in suit and tie, had put on a fake moustache. His mother had worn a dress with a leopard pattern that was very short and tight around her body. She had a black mask hiding her eyes and carried a long cigarette holder with her dark gloved hands. 

“You be good, will you? No scary shows on TV, you know Jeff will be frightened, don’t you?” She addressed this to Tim, her oldest son who was already 21. 
“Sure thing Mom,” he said, with a smile. “You can rely on me.” Tim was her darling, and although he smoked cigarettes, drank whiskey and had not so far been able to hold down any job for longer than 2 weeks, nothing he did was ever bad in her eyes.
“Yeah, Mom, of course Mom,” whispered Jenny, who at 11 was always being told to’ behave more like a lady’ - ‘smile and the world smiles with you,’ or worst of all, ‘no one likes a tomboy.’  
“Did you say something, Jenny?” asked Mom, with a frown that creased her forehead. “You really must learn to articulate better!”
Jenny had sighed and went back to the book she was reading.

But finally they had left, and although it was halloween, they could not go trick or treating like other kids at school, since they lived out on a farmhouse, quite a ways out of town. Jeff had begged his older brothers to take him on the bus into town and take him along the route that the others were going, where he would see houses all decorated with ghosts and pumpkins missing teeth and glowing with candle light. He longed to sing out “Trick or treat, trick or treat, give me something good to eat.” His friends at school had already told him what their parents had bought to give out. Candy corn, caramel apples, candies that fizzed on your tongue... He was dying to go, but they all said no, and that it was far too childish, and his mother added from upstairs, “... and bad for your teeth as well, and besides, it’s far too late, and too cold up here in Wisconsin, and the bus only ran until 8:30 so he’d have to miss it this year...” 

Fine, thought Jeff. Fine. I’ll show them! He wasn’t quite sure yet, how, but it felt good to be standing up to his parents and his brothers and sisters, at least in his thoughts. It was dreadful being the youngest. The one who never, but never ever ever got his way. 

“What’re we gonna do?”
“No, let’s play Monopoly!”
“No, Risk!”
Everyone’s ideas were shot down, one by one, by the others. Jenny was still stuck in the corner armchair, the one usually occupied by Father, with her nose in a book.

“I know,” peeped up Jeff, “let’s watch the film on TV!”
“You heard what Mom said,” said Tim, “She said it would be too scary for you.” 
Jeff felt the tears well up in his eyes, but blinked them back. He really couldn’t stand  one more disappointment. What’s the use of having a TV if you can never watch it? After all, how scary could it be to watch a film? It was just make believe, even he knew that. And if it was scary, his brothers and sister were there, weren’t they? He decided that crying would not be an option, since then, for sure they wouldn’t let him watch. “I won’t be scared,” he declared. “It’s only fake, anyway. Not real blood or anything.”

The room became quiet. The others looked at each other. Even Jenny looked up from her book. Most days Father choose to watch the news and then he would click off the TV firmly and pour himself a drink while reading through the evening newspaper. They didn’t normally have a chance like this.

“Why not,” said Tim, with a grin. “Why the heck not?” He loped over to the TV set and clicked it on. For a minute, all they could see was fuzz. Little dots of black and grey buzzing like a swarm of flies. Then shapes slowly came into view, and sounds, muffled at first and then, slowly more audible. 

They all gathered around, and sat on the carpet, watching the film. It was a scary one, alright. The music was creepy and the characters seemed to do stupid things like running upstairs into the dark attic, full of bats, instead of out of the house and calling for help. The plot was predictable, but every few minutes another character was either dead, or badly bleeding. Jeff’s stomach was getting quite queasy and he held onto Jenny’s arm for support. 
His oldest sister, Tina, the one just a year younger than Tim, stood up suddenly and said she was going to make popcorn. Sally offered to help her. The two of them hurried into the kitchen and turned on all the lights there. Soon, the smell of popcorn and melting butter came wafting from the kitchen. 
“Great, having sisters, eh?” Tim winked at Jeff and Johnny and yelled out to them, “Bring us some milk too, eh?”
“Get it yourself, lazy,” shouted back Sally, as she entered the room with 2 bowls brimming over with popcorn.

Suddenly the TV flickered.
“You kicked the cord!” growled John at Tina.
“Shut up! It wasn’t me!” she said angrily.

The TV went back to normal. A weird black shadow was following a little girl down a dark alley. The children could see she was in danger. The music was getting louder and more edgy. Jeff could hardly watch, knowing what would happen. 

The lights in the house all went out, as well as the TV.

“Oh no!” They all shouted. It was pitch black in the room, the only light coming from the full moon outside, shining through the half open windows in the living room. Tina got up to find some candles from the kitchen, walking hesitantly and with her hand stretched out in front of her. 
“Boo!” shouted John, creeping up from behind her.
“Aaayyyy!” Tina jumped and bumping against the dish cupboard, lost her balance and fell backwards. “Darn you, John, that wasn’t funny at ALL!”
John burst out laughing, but Jeff realised that his hand was stiff from clutching Jenny’s sleeve. She moved her arm away from him and pried open his fingers, gently. 
“Let’s just go to bed, guys,” she suggested. “It’s late anyway, and mom and father will be returning in a while.”

A few of them grumbled about that and Tim said something about a fuse box, but none of them dared to try to fix it, and eventually, holding hands and walking like a human chain, they inched carefully up the stairs. Each of them fell into their beds, pulling their outer clothes, seeing as it was far too dark to brush their teeth or find their pyjamas.

* * * 
Much later, judging by where the moon had now risen in the sky, Jeff woke up with a start. It was quiet in the house, apart from the sound of the tree outside scraping the side of the house. The moon was big and bright. He saw the shadows of the moon’s face peering down at him. He closed the curtains, and turned over, pulling his wool blanket closer over his shoulders. It was no use. He kept imagining the moon’s face and hearing the scrape, scrape, scrape of the branches outside. Jeff got up, and decided to go downstairs for a glass of milk. Mom always said that drinking milk helped children fall asleep.

Downstairs, he noticed that the lights and the TV were back on. It didn’t seem so scary anymore, now that the lights from the kitchen were all lit, and the small lamp in the living room, next to father’s chair was on as well. He thought he might as well sit down for a bit on the chair, once he had poured his milk, feeling very proud that none had spilled as he did so. He settled into the big chair and although it was at an angle from the TV, he could still see the picture quite well. The film was still on, and he could see the little girl from before, clutching her teddy bear and walking down a wet street, lit by dim street lamps. Only something was different about her, but he couldn’t tell what exactly. He got off the chair, holding his glass of milk carefully and crept closer to the TV to get a better look. 

Suddenly, there was a loud knock at the door. Jeff startled, his glass dropping to the floor and spilling milk all over the carpet. He stood still, torn between the urge to run to the kitchen so he could grab a rag and mop it up and the good manners which beckoned him to open the door. It was really late. No one else was awake. What had Mom said only about a thousand times? ‘Never ever speak to strangers!’ What if it were a stranger at the door? He felt his foot damp and sticky, standing in the puddle of the spilled milk.


The knock was louder this time, and accompanied by a voice, “C’mon, is anyone still awake? It’s us, we’ve mislaid our keys.” Phew, thought Jeff, it’s Mom and Father! He ran to the door and opened it wide, throwing himself at his mother’s legs and hugging her tightly.

“Oooh, you’re wet! Did you...?” she looked at his underpants, which were in fact a little damp from the milk.
“Nooo!!!! I didn’t.... “ He couldn’t say the word. It wasn’t nice to say it. Jeff felt himself blushing.

“Alright, that’s enough now, so, what’s going on?” His father’s low voice seemed reassuring, so Jeff told him how he had spilled the milk. His father looked at his mother, and she looked at him. Jeff could sense their irritation growing. 

“I was gonna wipe it up, really!”
“Alright, young man, back to bed, right now, march upstairs!” His father gripped his shoulder firmly and steered him towards the stairs, when he a sound from the TV in the living room caught his attention. He turned around, still holding onto Jeff’s shoulder, and led him back towards the sound. They met his mother there, and she was white with fury, biting down on her lower lip and looking at the spilled milk on the carpet.

“Jeff, I am very very disappointed in you! How is it possible that you not only disobeyed my orders not to watch the movie, but you also spilled milk all OVER the carpet! You know how I feel about drinking in the living room!” Her voice was becoming higher and louder. Jeff both feared and hoped that she would wake the others. 
“Jeffrey Sidney McGavin,” said his father, “I would like an explanation for this whole state of affairs tout de suite!” His voice boomed out and Jeff cowered, covering his ears with his hands. He shut his eyes, and waited for their next move. Would he be punished with a spanking? In the meantime, both parents started quarrelling loudly between themselves, blaming each other for having raised undisciplined children and for the fact that Tim could never be trusted to do as they asked. 

“You!” said a strange voice, echoing like it came from a deep dark cave, “That is QUITE ENOUGH!”  Jeff opened his eyes, still half hidden between his fingers and saw, with a shock, that a strong muscly arm and hand had come right out of the TV and had grabbed both his mother and father around their waists. The hand pulled them both, unbelievably, into the TV itself. 
Jeff saw them suddenly, looking like little puppets banging on the TV screen from the other side. “Let us out,” they shouted, “Let us out!”  At this, Jeff ran upstairs, screaming at the top of his voice, “Tim, Nina, Sally, Jenny, John, HELP me!!!!”

* * * 

They all huddled together in front of the TV, and tried to decide what to do. It seemed that their parents could not see them, but they could see their parents, alright, standing now in a dark road, with a haunted house in the background. The little girl, who seemed to be sleepwalking, and dripping blood was getting closer and closer to their parents. Sally suggested that they could break the TV and in that way, maybe break the spell that had captured their parents, but Jenny said she didn’t think it would work. After all, wouldn’t their parents be stuck their forever? John, usually quite brave, started to sniff and it was Jeff who comforted him and told him that since it was only a film, there had to be a way they could go get their parents.  

By a vote among all six, it was decided that Jeff, who said that it was his fault his parents were there, and Tim, whose fault it had been for letting them watch the film in the first place, would be the ones to go in after their parents. 

“But how will we get in?” asked Tim.
“You have to yell at me, and push me a little, and we’ll stand like this,” said Jeff, positioning his brother with his back to the TV. They began a pretend fight, and nothing happened. The others were watching, holding onto each other, and glancing behind them and urging them to hurry up, since their parents were now running into the house with dark shadows following them.  

“You’re not doing it right!” shouted Jeff at Tim.
“Well, whaddya want, little punk? I’m not the one who got them there in the first place!”
“Do it right!” said Jeff with his little body all tense and angry. “Finally do something right Tim, you’re such a loser!”
“A LOSER? A LOSER?” Tim turned red, his ego hurt in front of his other brothers and sisters. “Don’t call me that, little punk. You’re the baby with the wet pants!”

“ENOUGH!” boomed the echoing voice behind them, and before they realised what was happening, they too had been drawn into the television and into another reality.

* * *

Jeff looked around, and at Tim. Suddenly Tim smiled. “It worked!” he said. 
“I told you it would, and I’m not a little punk!” said Jeff, but he too was glad they had made it inside. It looked different from here, and not at all like what they had seen when watching the film. Here, everything was black and white, including themselves. There was no street, no house, no floor nor ceilings. Everything was white, a flat dull white, like snow, only neither cold nor warm.  It was hard to judge depth or where to go at first. But as their eyes adjusted, Jeff began to see they were actually in a long corridor of doors, like in a large hotel. 
“C’mon,” he pulled at Tim’s hand and began to try the doors. “We gotta find Father and Mom!” 

The first two doors wouldn’t open, but then some did, to their dismay. 
The third door was stiff, but did open, slowly, like a heavy door to a vault. It creaked as it opened, like fingers on a blackboard, and both boys hesitated and looked at each other. Jeff inched forward first, and peeked in. It was dark inside, except for a small glow of flickering light far in the distance. “Let’s go,” he urged Tim, who was still holding onto the door frame.  As Tim stepped in, the door closed behind them with a boom. It was dark in there, pitch black. 
“HE HE HE HE!!!” they heard, and suddenly the flickering light grew larger and closer and the boys felt the hairs on their arms rise with fear. They backed up quickly, left that room, slamming the door behind them, and panting as they leaned against it.

Back in the white hallway, they each looked more worried than the other. Simultaneously, they shouted out to their siblings outside: “Help us! Help us! We need you!” They hoped the others would hear them and figure it out. 

In the meantime, they tried another door. This time, Tim was holding Jeff just behind him, and he grasped the door handle and turned. It didn’t open. The handle just kept turning and turning in his hand. The following door, Jeff tried. He reached out, but as soon as he touched the door knob, he jumped back with a cry of pain, “It’s hot!” Both Tim and Jeff looked up and down the long corridor of doors, realising that they couldn’t even tell which doors they had tried and which they hadn’t.

“We can’t give up,” Jeff whispered. “We’re in it now. And we have to save Mom and Father!”

The next door they both grabbed at the same time, and just as it was about to open, the entire door disappeared in a puff of smoke and the boys stepped back, and Jeff felt his heart pumping so hard, that it seemed about to burst out of his chest.

The task seemed endless, and with a knot in his stomach, Jeff realised that he might never see his mother or father again, nor his other siblings. He looked at  Tim for answers, but Tim was rubbing his forehead and looking confused. Then he saw that Tim was whipping his head first left and then right. What was happening, wondered Jeff? He looked where his brother’s gaze had led, and saw the hallway was closing in on them, and becoming more and more narrow, the doors disappearing with a puff of smoke, one by one.

* * *

The boys quickly ran to the last door knob they could see, and pushed it open without hesitation. Rats rushed out loudly and swarmed over their feet, and the boys startled, but pushed their way into the room. In the corner of a dim room, they saw their parents, their elegant clothing dirty and torn, their mother’s hairdo all undone and lying like flat damp strings around her face. His father’s glued on moustache was still handing by one corner but now half covered his mouth. His parents looked up when they heard the rats squeaking and saw their boys, like heroes, standing there before them! “We’re so very sorry,” said his mother softly, in a quiet and sad voice.

At that very moment, the boys were pulled out of the dim room and back into the bright hallway by what seemed an invisible force, but looking down, they realised it was the Hand again. They broke free of its grip and Jeff hugged Tim tightly.

“At least we know where they are!” Jeff said. But as he said it, he realised that they were standing in a very cramped space, with no doors to leave by and no way of knowing exactly where it was their parents were.

* * *

“Tim, Jeff, we’re here!” Suddenly the boys saw, appearing in front of them: Nina, Sally, John and Jenny.  They had been hard to see at first, since they too were all white and grey shadows and seemed more like a cloud of dots than real people. Still, the dots that most resembled John carried a big ax, and they all rushed up behind him, to encourage him to break through the walls.
“Go on, John, if anyone can do it - you can!” Sally said. She turned to Nina, “You know he’s been cutting all the firewood for the kitchen since Father’s back started hurting him.” She turned back to John, and said in a firm voice to the others, “We mustn’t be scared. We can do this thing.” Jenny smiled a half smile but also looked very worriedly at the walls which appeared to be getting closer and closer. The space they were in now resembling a small elevator, more than anything. 

John hardly had any room to swing his ax, but he lifted it high and the others crouched low behind him. “Do it John, do it!” they all shouted in unison, and John lifted his ax again again, only making a small dent in the ever shrinking white walls. 
“We have to shout to Mom and Father,” said Nina, “so they will know we are coming.” 
The children all shouted, “We’re coming! We’re coming!” 
And they continued to tell John too, “You’re so strong, You have to save us all, John!” John swung the ax with all his strength one last time, the sweat pouring off his forehead. With a loud smash, the walls around them suddenly broke open, like fragments of dull white glass.

Their parents rushed to them and held them tightly. They all held each other and wept with relief to be reunited. 

* * *

It was Jeff who noticed first what had happened. 
The world they were in was no longer black and white. The colours had returned and they could hear the sounds of nighttime on the farm. The owls hooting outside, the wind in the trees, and he noticed that the TV still on, but with only the funny looking number dial that showed up when all the programs were done for the night. 

“Forget, forget, forget,” Jeff thought he heard a low deep voice echoing from the direction of the TV, but he didn’t know what he was supposed to forget. 

* * * 

“We’re so glad you’re home, Mom and Father!” said Jeff. “All the lights went out and we didn’t know how to change the fuse, so we were gonna go to bed, but it was pretty scary here without you. I’m so glad you’re home.”

“Oh dearest children, you’re so adorable,” said Mom, and she looked so tidy and elegant, her hair coiled in a chiffon bun on her head, and her make up perfect as always. 
“Now off to bed with you, young’uns” said Father and after kissing them each on the top of their heads, except for Tim, who was taller than he was, and whom he patted on the shoulders, he whooshed them upstairs, where they were, for a change, very happy to go.

The End.

< < < < < > > > > >

October 29, 2014

I can do it all! Can't I?

Doodle 28 Oct 2014
Oh yes, I certainly can do everything I ever set my heart on, yes I can. I say this and I falter, with doubt and worry, and just a tiny bit of stress.

There's not so much I'm even trying to do. At least not compared to the dreams my father had for me as a child. "You can even be the President," he used to say, when we lived in the States. And when we moved to Israel, it was, "... or the Prime Minister."  With his ambition filling my sails, I duly completed a BA in Political Science, and later my MBA. With degrees like these, I could surely sail the complex seas of the world's political arenas.

Only problem was, this wasn't what I was passionate about! For years, the same man who believed in my endless capabilities also noticed that I was rather a daydreamer, a person who could be reflective, noticing how other people behaved, how even a shift in one person's mood could affect the entire atmosphere of a home. He would urge me to watch the news, be a world citizen, be aware of facts and figures. I stubbornly refused, and instead, lost myself in fiction, writing journals, developed a strong group of friends and set up my own family. I didn't follow the path he set out for me. I kept changing course, tacking from one job to another, from one career to the next.

Today I find myself immersed in my passions. I am writing - and some people are reading (or at least clicking on the blog ha ha)!  I am creating art, and using art and psychology to help myself and others focus on those beautiful, insightful, intimate moments we too seldom have in life. I am teaching and coaching young adults - hoping to let them find themselves and accept themselves with less struggle than I have done. Finally, I am now coaching people in companies to get in touch with their vulnerabilities in order to work well together and succeed in today's ever changing business world.

Can I do it all? A glimpse of our dinner table:
It is 7:45 pm. Most Dutch families have already eaten their dinners long ago. My devoted partner has served up a steaming plate of something yummy to each of us. "A new recipe" he declares. I have just walked in the door, dressed in clothes that are new and elegant.
"Smells good," I say, appreciatively.
"Mom, you're so late! Where were you?" complains my oldest.
"So, do you want to see what I did for my project? Can you look at it now, finally?" asks my youngest.
"Put some water on the table, please," asks my dear devoted...
"Miaow," says Amy, our cat, as she rubs her tail appreciately around my legs and walks rapidly towards the back door. 'Miaow, please let me out and then let me back in and feed me and then pick me up then put me down, then just rub my chin for a while, if you have the time," she asks silently. I nod at her and blink.(This is how we communicate.) Yes, I will do that too, after the kids have gone to bed, and while I'm catching up on my series on TV or my audio book or while I'm doodling as I do all three.

I can do it all, can't I?

To see some of what I'm doing:
Creative Therapy Facebook page
Linked In Profile

October 20, 2014

Falling into Grief Poetry

It's Autumn. That time of year that I was never very good at coping with. Even as a student up at Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus, in September, the fluffy but threatening clouds would start to roll up together and hover over the hills, and remind me that we are all mortal. Somehow, each autumn, I manage to find myself in an existential crisis of sorts.

In September 1998, my worst nightmare came true when I lost my 4 year old son, Yarden, to his battle with cancer. It was an autumn like no other. And since then, each time the leaves start to turn beautiful shades of yellow and red, and the wind picks up, the skies turn stormy, each time, I want to crawl into a thick quilt for the duration of winter.

A couple of weeks ago, as the seasons began to turn here, I wrote a few poems:

Wake up

Grief is a harsh bully
Poking and jabbing
in darkness of dreams;
in moments of solitude.
Testing with almost images
and miraculous recoveries.

Lonely haiku

and dazed.
No one is here
But me.

Photo Album

I see myself smiling
in every damn photo.
Where is my sadness
     and pain?

"You smiled because of us,"
says my daughter, brightly.

Partly that's true.
And also, I could not cry.

October 13, 2014

5 Min prep for NaNoWriMo

A few people now know that I am planning on participating in NaNoWriMo, but not everyone knows what the heck I'm talking about. That weird abbreviation actually stands for National November Writing Month, where anyone at all can sign up and try to write 50,000 words in the month of November.

For years I've been toying with this idea, but each year got cold feet, (probably due to having moved to this freezing country where my feet are rarely warm), and never even tried. This year, I have had a lot of encouragement from an author called Katharine Grubb - who has succeeded in becoming a published author (Yes! I even read one of her books, and enjoyed it!) by - in her own words,- writing in 10 minute increments. She started a FB group called "10 Minute Novelists"and since I was so kindly invited to join it - I have been getting ínto the mood of writing again, and this time 'for real.'


I am scared to death that I will just write crap, that I won't make it past the first few days, that I will just write stuff that makes no sense, that if I write, it won't have a storyline and will not work as a first draft of a book, afraid that once written, it will stay on my hard drive, fearful of failure and rejection...

And what will I write about????
I have about 3 stories that I'd like to write, but they are all memoir style writing. However, a part of me wants to go for 'the real thing,' which I see as writing total fiction. As if memoir is not courageous enough... and making up a fiction character is somehow better...

So, today, on a chat of the 10 minute novelist Facebook page, Katharine encouraged us to time ourselves for 5 minutes and see how much we could write. This is what I accomplished... (totally unedited)... thoughts?

So, it’s going to be a fun vacation, she thought. Well, maybe fun, maybe not so fun. With the three boys and her husband, she always felt a little out of sorts. They always seemed a bit like aliens, compared to her. I mean, who bikes 120 km to get to vacation, esp when you can bike the whole time you are there. Rent bikes when you’re there. Anyway, they decided to bike, and she took the car. That’s’what they usually did.

It was early evening and they were all sitting at a beautiful café on the beach. It was chilly, but a hot fire warmed the bench and her legs, while she looked at her good looking husband, holding a small cigar between his thumb and forefinger and puffed at it contently. All the boys looked like him. None of them had her red hair nor delicate features. Oh well, it was still good that they could spend the vacations together, she thought.

“No it’s not.’ She looked around but saw no one near by.Certainly no one who could have known what she was thinking.

“it’s not really so fun, admit it.” Ok, so this was true. It would be nice to take a vacation with a girlfriend, or her sister maybe, if her sister didn’t live so far away.

But who was talking? It sounded strange, but really, there was no one. And she didn’t think she was hearing voices.

“It‘s me, “said a voice just under her elbow. It was a black raven.

October 5, 2014

Creative Writing - Part 1

This week,  I got into the mood of storytelling... so I wrote this piece...

Brenda Lynn 1973
Jennifer sat on the bowsprit, her long bare legs dangling over the water, while they motored slowly up the green smooth waters of the Suez Canal.

“Jenny, Jenny” her mother called, “Come help me get lunch ready.” Jenny lazily got up and with one hand loosely holding onto the wire railing, out of habit now, more than from necessity, made her way back, towards the cockpit and then, passing her father and the Egyptian captain, scooted down the few steps into the galley down below.

“What do you think he will eat?” asked her mother, in a low whisper. “Do you think tuna is ok?” Two weeks earlier, they had been in Sudan and opened a can of Spam and offered it, on crackers, to their Sudanese visitor, Mohammed, and his family. They had accepted the proffered food, but afterwards, at their home, when Mohammed had explained the rules of Islam, surprisingly like those of Jewish Kashrut, her mom had felt remorse at having fed them ‘traif’ against their knowledge. 
This time, she thought she’d try to get it right, especially since the Egyptian captain would have to lead them safely through the Suez Canal, a trip that would take them two days, since they could only trail slowly behind all the freighters at the end of the line.

“Sure, mom, I think tuna is fine. It’s fish, right? Mohammed ate fish all the time." 

Jenny took over the making of the tuna salad while her mom asked Becky, Jenny’s sister, to please stop playing with Barbies and to come help out with setting the table. 
Jennifer chopped up some onions, mashed up the boiled eggs and added mayonnaise to the tuna mixture. Celery salt was running low. It was still one of the bottles they had from back home, from four years ago. It stuck together, from the humidity. She opened up the top and scraped out a bit on the edge of a knife. She sniffed it – man, that stuff was powerful! Real celery would be better, but they hadn’t seen that vegetable in years. Apparently, it wasn’t so popular in most of the southern hemisphere. At least not where they had been.

His lips were what she remembered most, and how they felt on her cheeks and lips, his honey colored full lips, curved into a smile across the bay, as he drew close to their boat on his outrigger canoe…

“Jenny! Jenny!” her mother interrupted her reverie. If it wasn’t her mother, it was her father, but for now, he was involved in a long explanation to Samir, who behind his sunglasses was steering us calmly through the Canal, nodding occasionally at my dad’s stream of words.

Suddenly there was a lot of noise coming from on deck. My dad’s voice was animated, “Samir, no, Samir! That barge will damage the hull, Samir!” I jumped out of the galley and up the stairs to see what was going on. There were 3 men on the enormous steel barge, which was about 3 feet from us, on our port side. It seemed to be getting closer and had no fenders nor rubber railing. My automatic response was to quickly run to the railing and threw our fenders over the side. “Jennifer!” my dad hissed at me – “No! That’s going to encourage them! And I absolutely do not want them tying up to us! Think of the rats and that barge will wreck the paint!” Confused, I stood there, unsure whether to haul in the fenders or leave them.
“Go back,” my dad gestured and to Samir, “They cannot tie up to us!”

“Yes, yes, Mr. Frank, they can, they give me cigarette and also with their engine, can pull us together.” Samir calmly shifted into neutral, while my father’s face was turning a bright shade of red.
“Samir, this is not good. I paid you to captain our boat and not them. You are responsible but it’s my boat and I am responsible for my family. Do you understand?” His voice was low, and controlled and Samir, behind his sunglasses, may or may not have been listening. I stood there, beside the lowered fenders and gazed at the low flat barge. The men were smoking cigarettes and squatting on the low cabin, in long dark gallabiyahs and white head turbans. They smiled at me, in a friendly way, and waved. I gestured at our pristine white paint job, that I had helped dad redo, only a few weeks ago, while we waited in Djabouti. I shook my head slightly and suggested they go ahead, and pass us,  with a small smile.

At this, Samir was not so happy. He suddenly jumped up from the helm and came over next to me, shouting in Arabic at the men on the barge. They laughed and shouted back, while my dad shouted at my mom, “Get up here, Joyce! Look what the fuck is going on.”

That word, and my father’s apparent agitation, seemed to do the trick. The guys on the barge threw Samir a pack of cigarettes and they waved at him shouting “Masalam, Ya’achi”! Then they revved up their engine, and with a burst of black sooty smoke pulled in front of us and chugged off into the passage ahead, which I hadn’t even noticed had become rather narrow.

September 29, 2014

Creative Confusion

I am sitting at my dining room table, the dishwasher noisily swishing suds onto our dinner dishes. My daughter's cough echoes down the stairs. The light above the table is bright, and I feel under interrogation. I am writing without an urge to write. I just deleted the previous title of the blog, which read "My other half" because I think that's perhaps just something to keep in my journal and not share with the world. After deleting that title, and the accompanying 2 sentences, I sat here a few moments wondering what to write about.
"Mom, can you help me?" my son's deepening voice is not calling from upstairs.
"Honey, should we discuss vacation plans?" my spouse is not asking for any attention either. The cat is fed, Gray's Anatomy over, and there is nothing but doubt and indecision between me and the rest of this white page.

This hardly ever happens.

I accomplished so much today. I even painted. What?!
Yes, and went for a long walk. What!?
Did you notice that I reversed the ! and the ?

There is something about the beginning of autumn that makes me want to crawl back inside myself and find a deep dark warm sauna to float motionless in until the sun begins to shine again.  There's something restless under my skin right now, something that keeps pushing at me to 'do it' to 'break free' to pick a fight, to be a shark. It's raining hard outside. The song "I can't stand the rain, against my window" shows how young I am. My kids won't even have heard of this song. My university students are the same age as my oldest daughter. That means that I am getting older. I lose focus at times. Other times I can concentrate and complete projects in the flash of an eye. I can be extremely efficient, but I can't remember when I was extremely efficient lately.

Is it age or the godforsaken internet that is robbing me of my youthful energy and concentration? There is so much to do - online - that existing in the real world seems so dull in comparison. So slow.

Today, on my walk, through the neighborhood and briefly through the forest, I managed to whatsapp with my sister who lives somewhere else in the world, to answer a few people on Facebook and to take some pictures. I told myself I should look around me, smell the damp leaves resting in the warming mud, and look at the grey green water of the lake. I took a picture of the waterlilies. As I did this, I worried, just for a moment, that my phone might fall into the water. It didn't fall. I thought about taking another picture, when suddenly, out of the blue, the battery gave up the ghost.

Oh good, I thought, now I can finally enjoy my walk. Which I did, looking around me, left and right, up at the sun slanting through the trees, at the forest gardener (who pays him? I wondered) who was cutting the long reeds next to the water. I thought about how my spouse has the same grass cutter - the noisy kind that you wear attached to your body as a kind of harness and spin your body left and right with a flexible blade to cut the long grass. For a moment, his blade dipped into the water splashing water at him, and he, surprised, backed up a few inches. He looked up as I passed, and I smiled. But he didn't smile back. And that was okay.

Later, I painted the waterlilies, after panicking that I had run out of watercolor paper. How does an artist, writer, teacher, workshop giver, creative person with tons of art supplies in her house manage to run out of paper? I found a
half of a page that had a small scribble on one side. I turned it over and painted, while listening to music. It was an hour of bliss.

The dishwasher isn't swishing any more. Now it's filling up again, perhaps rinsing? My daughter is still coughing from time to time. It's a dry cough, and I wish I could help her, but all I can do is empathize.  My son is out of the shower. Soon, he may call me for a good night kiss. I'm still allowed to do that. Maybe not for long. The house is very quiet. The page is filled. The inner critic says it may be rather disjointed. It may not be a piece worth publishing. And yet, this is my state of mind. My slice of tonight's who I am. My other half, after all.

September 21, 2014

Am I a Hypocrite?

I pose this question to myself, as I sit in my house on a sunny Sunday, still in my pyjamas, working a little - sitting in the sun a bit, reading Facebook messages a LOT as well as Twitter. Social media takes up too much of my time, I think.  But it's SUNDAY! True, true, it is Sunday. And yet, I have deadlines to meet, things to do, responsibilities!

I wonder - what is it that I really want to do right now? I have just signed up to a group called "10 minute writers," and feel a bit hypocritical because I haven't written anything in what seems like ever so long, apart from the writeup of my dreams in my journal. And tomorrow is BlogMonday or something like that... So, am I now writing so I'll have something to show? Or because I want to write? Why do I want to write anyway? Is it to become famous? Because it's a childhood dream I have that I still haven't let go? Could it be that some people might enjoy what I write, or even connect with it? Do I feel the muse or a calling?

Where loneliness appeared, was felt, and got away...
Obviously, there are more questions than answers, but what I can say is this: Last night I was home alone, in a quiet, tidy house, having made a good dinner for myself and having entertained myself with a good book and later with a fun TV series. And the muse came up and took hold of me. I had it - I had a beautiful poetic first sentence of something good. It was about Loneliness... I felt empty and bereft. My kids had gone to their Dad's house for the week, and my better half was away for a couple of days. I realized that I was touching some raw emotion, feeling it, like sinking bare feet into oozy soft mud on a warm day. And at that time, late last night,  I had the words to describe this feeling - but what did I do with those words? I let them linger in the air around me, like the faint whiff of perfume of the woman passing me on her bike last week, where I wanted to enjoy the scent just a few moments longer, but could not. I let the words fall, smash, disintegrate... and now they are gone. We will never know what loneliness really felt like to me last night. I lost the opportunity to put them down on paper, or on computer, or anywhere. They are gone.

And this is why I feel like a hypocrite. Because I spend so much time on Social Media - or reading books that friends and various amazing authors have written, admiring their craft, and yet, when the muse hits me, what do I do ? I let it go, pass me by.

I am the one who works as a coach, telling my clients to set their goals and encouraging them to set them higher and more specific and to write them down. But where are my goals? "I wanna write a book someday," is not exactly a SMART goal, now, is it?  How will I ever get there if I don't start writing now, today, everyday, at least for those 10 minutes or especially when the moment of creativity hits me and tickles and demands like "I dream of Genie" to be let out of the bottle!

Yes, it's the weekend. Time to rest and recuperate from the stresses of a busy week. Or is it? Or is life too short to be spent lazing around in pyjamas watching TV and reading other people's ideas and thoughts on Facebook? Is the weekend the time to get up, get dressed, get out there and create and walk in the forest and post a new blog and work on the juicy stuff that makes the day to day life so much more meaningful?

I think I have my answer. And I've written now for at least 10 minutes. So, I am happy. I even plan to get showered and maybe, just maybe, take myself out for a walk on this almost autumn, but still sunny day. 

August 6, 2014

Bursting the customer service bubble

For years now I have been living in Amstelveen, and trying my darndest to fit in, adapt, learn the language, learn the customs, speak more politely, smile more (those who know me know that this is hardly possible as I naturally have a permanent smile on my face most days). And, on the whole, this great effort of mine has born fruit. I have Amstelveen friends, I know what I am allowed or not allowed to say to people at the bus stop (if they are older than I am, then I may speak to them, using the formal 'u' and dog owners are usually friendly too), and yet, I am continuously surprised how difficult it is to get the customer service I think we all would like and deserve.

So, I had an idea to introduce a blog (either here or separately) which would give both good and less-good stories of experiences we have all had, and perhaps even offer the shopkeepers a chance to respond. See, deep down, in my very critical heart, I am a person who believes that everyone and anyone can change and develop, if they really want to! If people here, (and maybe we non-Dutchies need to be the catalyst to help make that change), would start to speak up about how we would like to be spoken to and what good service means to us, then maybe service providers would listen. The thing is that the Dutch are a very stoic people, and good at tolerating difficult situations. In fact, I think the average Dutchman is taught from an early age not to ask for too much, and to be very grateful with very little. Thus the persisting narrow staircases, manual gear shift cars and no airco.

But, as a person who also gives workshops on successful communication, I do know that if we don't give feedback, then the people we communicate with will never know if they are doing a good job or not.

So, I would like to start by giving some good feedback (and free advertising) to a very nice lunch eatery in Amstelveen. - Lunch room EatItaly. The thing is, that here in our fine city full of expats and foreigners and not so poor Dutch people, it's hard to find food that is reasonably priced, but is still high quality. However, at EatItaly, such a combination actually does exist! You can get delicious fresh Ciabatta rolls with freshly made fillings - if not real Italian - than at least a decent replica - such as Parmaham and Provolone with grilled zucchini. They have tables inside and out, and another amazing but true fact is that there are always enough employees working there that you never have to wait very long at all to get your food! And, with a smile, and at a very good price. And, yes, they are flexible, and you can order things off the menu too! And they have a bathroom which you can use for free (which
isn't the case in Hema for example).

So there! Tell me there isn't a good place to eat in Amstelveen and I will tell you that you just haven't been as far as the Van der Hooplaan 'shopping street.' (I did mention it's a lunch room, right? So, probably not open at dinner time... well, nothing's perfect, right?)

June 21, 2014

HvA Teachers go CRAZY!

Seems like a very long time since I have written anything. And yet, miraculously, people are still coming to visit the blog! Thank you, dear visitors! It means the world to me to know that you still care! 

So, the subject of the day is yesterday's fun Personnel Day that was organized by our Sports Dept at the DEM (stands for 'Domein' Economics and Management), which at one point was called SEM (School of Economics and Management), but having gone back and forth over the past couple of years, it seems that the word 'DEM' is the one that is used, so I'll stick with that.

I have to say that each year, the DEM Personnel day gets better and better. Or maybe, I just pick the right workshops!
This year, as you can see here to the left (can you spot which one is me?), we started with Bolder and Wall Climbing at the same facility that the students themselves use when they have a sports class on Wall Climbing/Trust etc....

I really amazed myself by going way out of my comfort zone and at my 4th attempt getting all the way up to the top!!!
Yup, that's me up there! About half way up, I realized that I had gone beyond where I thought I would end up, and from that point onward, I decided not to look down, because I was afraid I might get scared! So, I kept pushing myself up further and further, did NOT look down, and about a meter from the top was about ready to stop. But I took a break, some deep breaths, still refused to look down, and with a pounding heart, pushed and pulled myself all the way up!

I shouted down, "I made it!" and "Block! Block!" and then - dared to look down. I nearly threw up with nervousness, but I had made it, and felt like a champion! Great way to celebrate having turned 51 last week!

The next workshop on my day's planning was called 'Action Painting". I had no idea what it was about, but knew we might get dirty, so I wore my old clothes, but was happy they provided a poncho and gloves to work with!
I also teach something called "Intuitive Painting" in small groups (see here:, so I was quite curious what my competition was up to!

Here's what we accomplished in about 2 hours... It was a lot of fun, with music, group work, getting messy, seeing who worked with plans and who just went ahead and did it... who are the lone cowboys (me) and who knows how to talk to the others and discuss what step to take next (them)...! We didn't do any reflecting (we weren't there to do Personal Development, after all, just to have fun!), but I still enjoyed it - and did the reflecting quietly to myself! Note to self: Stop being so bossy and in control and let others take the lead sometimes!

All in all, the day was a lot of fun, and I met some nice new colleagues who I hadn't ever met before, ate a delicious dinner later on at the BBQ that had tons of fresh vegetable salads (much appreciated by my digestive system) and danced like a crazy person (definitely not like someone my age) for a few hours before they finally told us all to go home already! 

Thank you Sports team for the great organization, and thank you HvA DEM for paying for this great day!

February 16, 2014

Finally Living Wholeheartedly

I can't believe that I made it to week 5 of the 6 week online course in Wholehearted living! 
Brené Brown, (PhD - Expert in Vulnerability, Shame and how Imperfection leads to Joy!), has been leading this course that I bravely signed up for it - and bought the required journal, art supplies (yes, of course I had stuff at home, but it's always fun to buy more!!!), and the book "The Gifts of Imperfection" (yes, also by Brené)...
I didn't know what to expect, except that it had to do with Art Journaling 
and finding a way to live wholeheartedly! 

February 10, 2014

Thesis stress

Previous semester I have been busy writing my thesis. It is the very last project in order to finally graduate, on the other hand it is the very first project I had to do individually and not as a group.

I have to admit, I underestimated it. I was asked by the commercial director of my internship company to write an export and marketing plan to Southeast Asia and in the meanwhile continue to work as an intern at the company for 2 days a week. 

The thesis was supposed to be "only" 35 pages. This quantity has never been a problem for me before, unfortunately, there were many writing aspects that had to be taken into consideration that were new for me. For example: constructing a theoretical framework, using correct APA referencing, writing in-depth recommendations with supporting arguments etc. 

Luckily, Ms. Ciulli, my supervisor pulled me through the process. She set internal deadlines for our group, and took the time to discuss our progress and answer questions in one-to-one meetings. These have been very helpful and motivating to me in times of stress. 

Many of the students did not manage to meet the initial deadline of the final thesis draft, therefore we had the option to postpone the final hand in date. This was not for free though, yet I another month of tuition fee. I am sure this has increased the quality of the project majorly, so I guess it was worth it. 

Even after handing in the final draft, the stress keeps hanging in my head because of the insecurity of getting a go or no go advice. Another point is that the presentation for the defense has to be prepared and practiced because it is 20 percent of the final grade.

The company which I have done my thesis for have asked me to keep working for them part time after graduation. This is a positive forecast knowing that the study loan payback has to start some day!

Almost a graduated bachelor of international management, almost a business to business salesperson and most importantly almost no more stress (about school). Ready to enter a new phase of my life...only one positive feedback away.

February 3, 2014


During the exchange I chose the subject:"gender, ideology and power". This concerned the positions of men, women and transgenders in society, school and the workforce. It was interesting to learn what differences there are between the genders and how the power is divided between them based upon the various cultural ideologies. For the end report the students had to choose a topic concerning this subject. I chose "Women in Islam, oppressed or privileged?".

There are two sides of every story

This drawing inspired me to reflect on the difference of the interpretations of the cultures wherein I was raised. I was born as a daughter to a Dutch mother and a Malay father. I lived the first four years of my life in Malaysia, and was raised the rest of my life in the Netherlands. Going back to Malaysia for the exchange programme, I started to wear the veil, first because it is common in their culture to wear a veil as a muslim woman. But the time I spend there and the people I met have given me several new views on the position of women and the relationship and the roles of men and women in the different societies. I found it very interesting to see how one culture sees and portrays the other, and how this differs from how they view themselves, meaning, how many misunderstandings there are. I came across this article by Yasmin Mogahed which I could definitely relate to:

"A Letter to the Culture that Raised Me

Growing up, you read me the Ugly Duckling. And for years I believed that was me. For so long you taught me I was nothing more than a bad copy of the standard (men).

I couldn’t run as fast or lift as much. I didn’t make the same money and I cried too often. I grew up in a man’s world where I didn’t belong.

And when I couldn’t be him, I wanted only to please him. I put on your make-up and wore your short skirts. I gave my life, my body, my dignity, for the cause of being pretty. I knew that no matter what I did, I was worthy only to the degree that I could please and be beautiful for my master. And so I spent my life on the cover of Cosmo and gave my body for you to sell.

I was a slave, but you taught me I was free. I was your object, but you swore it was success. You taught me that my purpose in life was to be on display, to attract, and be beautiful for men. You had me believe that my body was created to market your cars. And you raised me to think I was an ugly duckling. But you lied.

Islam tells me, I’m a swan. I’m different – it’s meant to be that way. And my body, my soul, was created for something more.
God says in the Qur’an, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (49:13)

So I am honored. But it is not by my relationship to men. My value as a woman is not measured by the size of my waist or the number of men who like me. My worth as a human being is measured on a higher scale: a scale of righteousness and piety. And my purpose in life – despite what the fashion magazines say – is something more sublime than just looking good for men.

And so God tells me to cover myself, to hide my beauty and to tell the world that I’m not here to please men with my body; I’m here to please God. God elevates the dignity of a woman’s body by commanding that it be respected and covered, shown only to the deserving – only to the man I marry.

So to those who wish to ‘liberate’ me, I have only one thing to say: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

I’m not here to be on display. And my body is not for public consumption. I will not be reduced to an object, or a pair of legs to sell shoes. I’m a soul, a mind, a servant of God. My worth is defined by the beauty of my soul, my heart, my moral character. So, I won’t worship your beauty standards, and I don’t submit to your fashion sense. My submission is to something higher.

With my veil I put my faith on display – rather than my beauty. My value as a human is defined by my relationship with God, not by my looks. I cover the irrelevant. And when you look at me, you don’t see a body. You view me only for what I am: a servant of my Creator.

You see, as a Muslim woman, I’ve been liberated from a silent kind of bondage. I don’t answer to the slaves of God on earth. I answer to their King." (Yasmin Mogahed)

After the exchange I kept on wearing my veil in the Netherlands. The veil now has become a part of me, I feel naked without and I do not go out of the house without it, and when we have male visitors I also wear it inside of our house. Luckily, I have not had any bad experiences yet since I came back to the Netherlands. Actually I have had many good and nice reactions, I also managed to find an internship which I thought might be harder for girls wearing a veil. My manager has given me many tasks as his representative such as attending networking events, hosting at fairs, representing at workshops and much more. This has given me more confidence as a veiled muslim woman in a men's world of business suits and ties. I have also noticed I am approached with more respect and people, especially men, do not look at me, or touch me in an inappropriate ways anymore. I feel empowered, respected and beautiful with my veil. This was another positive change/growth the exchange as given to me. 

January 6, 2014

The most exhausting day of your life

When my father got out of the hospital after 2 and a half week we agreed to go through with the wedding.

My fiancé had asked my father for my hand but he never officially asked me if I would marry him. Just the evening before the wedding would take place he took me to a quiet spot at the beach and went down on one knee. The moonlight reflected on the sea, and we were surrounded by the sound of the waves crashing on the beach..eventhough we were about to get married the next day. He sounded so nervous when he was telling me why he wanted to marry me and asked if I wanted to marry him too. Of course I said yes and accepted his ring.  

Instead of 07-07-'12 we the wedding took place on 18-07-'12. We were exhausted after this stressful period but the date could not be postponed any further because the holiday of our guests was almost over! One of my friends even missed the wedding because her flight was a few days before. Familymembers have been busy with preparations for our wedding. They decorated the house and cooked all night enough food to feed the whole village. 

On the day of the wedding I finally got to wear my dress that was specially made for me from my design. My mother gave me something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. My sister in law did my make-up. In the meanwhile an aunt of mine accidentally ironed a hole in the traditional Malay suit which the groom was supposed to wear. They managed to fix it in time but it was stressful for a moment. 

When everyone was ready we went to the mosque where the nikah (Islamic marriage) ceremony would take place. It is different from marriage ceremonies most people are used to in the Netherlands. In Malay marriages the ceremony is actually between the imam, the groom, the brides father and 2 male witnesses from both sides of the family. I only had to give my consent for the marriage when my father asked me prior to the ceremony.  

My husband therefore had the hardest tasks, the ceremony was mostly in Malay and he had to reply to the questions in Malay correctly. He did not learn the language yet so it was nerve wrecking for him to remember what he had to say. Eventually everything just turned out to be fine. I did read a poem to my parents, which was an very emotional moment and, as usual, my mom and I cried together. 

After the official ceremony at the mosque everyone went back to my fathers house at the beach. The buffet was ready and everyone ate, many village people, family, friends and also tourist came over to congratulate us and eat. 

In the afternoon, we had to sit down of a "stage" so our guests could take pictures with us and speak out their prayers/ wishes for us while sprinkling traditional flowers, leaves and rice over our hands. One of my younger brothers and two of my brothers in law both entertained us with dance performances they prepared for us. Afterwards we went to the beach to take pictures.

All day people came by it had been a long day. When finally the night has come we passed out on the bed of exhaustion and we slept like babies until the next day.

January 4, 2014

Fairytales do not always have a happy ending do they?

 The next day I went to my final exam, it seemed to be quite easy. I couldn't really concentrate because I wanted to finish as soon as possible to be able to spend time with my hubby-to-be. After I answered all of the questions I hurried out of the exam room. 

 I checked my phone on the way to his apartment and I saw several missed calls from friends of my father.. I started to call them back.. They asked me if I have heard anything from my father and if I know where he is because he didn't answer his phone. I told them I don't know, my father lives on an island 600 km from where I stayed at that time so I wasn't able to just go visit him to check. 

 The phone call concerned me so I tried to contact my father as well, he didn't pick up.. The last time I spoke to him he was feeling sick, but there were friends at the house taking care of him so I thought he would be feeling better quickly. When nobody answered the phone I called my cousin to ask if she could check where he is. The village he lives counts only 300 people, everyone know each others where abouts and since it is an island there are only 2 ways out.. 

 As I arrived at the apartment I told my fiancé about the phone calls, I started to feel that something was wrong, he tried to comfort me but it did not help. After just 10 minutes my cousin called me back. She told me that I should meet them at the hospital as soon as possible because they didn't know if my father would make it, I was shocked and asked her what's wrong and then she told me: 

 She went to check at his house, all the doors were locked but from the inside so that was odd. She started calling his name but nobody answered. Then she decided to climb up the walls of the wooden house to peak under the golf plated roof top,  she saw him lying there in his bed. She called her brothers to get help, they broke down the door and found my father, his body was Moving, but he gave no reaction to their calling. They were now on the way to get him to the hospital on the main land, it is a great task to travel that distance if you do not know how much time you have left. Since he was not responding they had to carry him into a car, to get to the side of the island closest to the main land. 

 Later she told me that the last ferry of the day already left and therefore they had to put him on a matrass in a open speedboat, when they finally arrived at the port of the mainland it was low tide so the boat could not dock, there was no option but to wait till the water started rising again. When they arrived at a hospital, the doctors took blood samples and made x-rays. The doctors could not find anything significant quickly but they did not trust the situation and adviced my family to take my father to a larger hospital where they could make a brainscan. This was another 2 hours travel by ambulance, in total they have been travelling with my father for over 9 hours to get from his house to the hospital were he could get any help.

In the meanwhile, I was desperate to get to the hospital to see my father, but it was over 700 km travel to get there. We checked out if there were any flights but the first one would leave the next day. Therefore we decided to get the transnational nightbus  which would be an 8 hour drive. We packed all of our belongings and left, unfortunately without the chance of saying goodbye to all of my exchange friends.

 We tried to grab some sleep in the bus, the airco was freezing which made the ride very uncomfortable. When we finally arrived at the hospital the next morning, it was a scary experience. The hospital was not like any hospital I have seen before. I felt like I was in a war movie, where you see a large ward, with dozens of patients lying next to eachother, I saw people with black limbs waiting for amputation, bleeding bandages, unbearable noises of people screaming and moaning, and a bad smell it was undescribable. It was an unforgettable experience which made me appreciate our care system and facilities in the Netherlands so much.

 Then we got to see my father. His arms were tied to the bed because his body was moving with spasms and when he opened his eyes, they were empty, like his soul had left. The scan showed there was an abnormality in his brain. This hospital seemed incapable of helping him as well thefore we decided that he should be transferred to a semi-private hospital in Kuala Lumpur next day to ensure he would be treated. Yet another travel by ambulance for 4 hours. I went with him in the back of the ambulance. The ambulance was racing with the sirenes on all of the time, he already seemed to gain more consciousness. He could not speak but his eyes made contact with me again, everytime he closed his eyes I was still afraid to lose him. I prayed in his ear all way long until we arrived at the next hospital. 

He was taken in to intensive care and he was examined intensively, they could not define what exactly was wrong with him. He was in and out of consciousness for over a week. Still unable to eat, or speak. We saw him emaciate more everyday. My strong, handsome, proud father as I have known him turned into someone he would never want to be, weak, dependent, disabled. It hurted me to see him like that, fortunately my fiance stood by me every second, we spend days, and nights next to his bed, taking turns with other members of my family. In the meanwhile family and friends from the Netherlands were arriving, for our planned wedding, we had to postpone the event, but they flew over anyway to support us. Because at that time we did not know if my father would make it. 

 In the second week in the hospital my father gained more conciousness. They have given him a cocktail of antibiotics, they assumed that he had meningitis. He could slowly start recovering.  His short term memory was affected, he did not remember anything of the previous weeks. He had to practice how to speak again, and since he had been bed bound for over 2 weeks, with almost nothing to eat, he needed physical therapy to strenghten his muscles to be able to keep balance and walk again.

 His recovery came almost as sudden as his sickness, it took some months for him to become  "normal" again. For me it was a emotional rollercoaster. From being happy, to sad, to scared, to angry, to hopeful and finally grateful. Thank God, I am blessed to have my friends and family who have supported us during our ups and downs, even when I was so far away. Every difficulty in life gives us an opportunity to learn and grow.

"Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear.." (Quran 2:286)