Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Renaissance woman

Kak Z is one whom I would consider as a Renaissance woman.

She was sent to Cairo to study while she was still young. Got married and 13 and delivered her first child at 14. In the meantime she did not quit her studies. She sent her eldest newborn back to her mum, while she continued her studies with her husband.

He was doing his Masters then, and she her degree. And it was at Al-Azhar University!

During their summer vacations they would go to Europe to work so they can support themselves. She says for just 40 days of work, the wages can support them for a whole year in Cairo. Sometimes he would set off first and she would follow suit later. The mode of transportation was by ship. Imagine a young girl alone on a ship during those times? Sometime times they worked along side each other, other times they had to split up to different countries.

One year, she told me, her husband worked in Denmark while she worked in Sweden. I was terribly impressed. I have not had the chance to visit either Denmark or Sweden. So I asked her if she could speak Swedish, she said, yes, just enough to get by.

So I asked her what languages she knew. She could speak Arabic, Malay, Thai, English, Kelantanese Malay and some Swedish. And she understood formal Quranic Arabic as well! Imagine that!

What did she work as those summers? She said in Holland they look after roses. They picked the roses, got rid of the thorns and packed them for the florist. At the other places, she did whatever she could do; clean people's houses etc. Basically she was not shy of working hard.

When her husband was still alive, she was a full time housewife and she worked from home. She taught women how to read the Al-Quran.

But since her husband passed away, she needed a more feasible income to put her children through school and university.

And what does she do now? She is both a shepherdess and a designer! Imagine that! She owns a boutique that caters for weddings. She designs the dresses for the future brides and the bridesmaids and hires some workers to become her seamstresses, to put her design ideas to work. She must be doing very well because she says there is a 6 month waiting list.

And how much would a bride spend for her wedding? A few thousand dollars. On average for one wedding she prepares between twenty to forty dresses. Some for the bride herself, for the various ceremonies, others for the bridesmaids, bride's mum and possibly brides sisters as well.

On certain months (namely during the Hajj months) she sells sheep. I asked her if she did well last month and she said they managed to sell 30,000 sheep. How does one goes about selling sheep I asked her. Surely its not a common profession for a woman. She said in the beginning it was fairly hard. She had to physically get down to the sheep pen, looked at every single one of the sheep, inspect them because each sheep needed to be branded and graded. Imagine that!

Slowly, she said, she taught her eldest son how to look and label the sheep. And slowly he is helping her in handling the sheep.

This year she had 10 workers working for her in slaughtering the sheep. But they didn't need to slaughter all the sheep. Some were bought by various Hajj pilgrims and slaughtered at a different slaughter houses.

And her working philosophy continues to astound me. She says, even while doing business one must be generous to one's rivals. If her sheep were all sold out, and she has a regular customer coming back to her asking for more, she would direct her customer to her rival business whose shop is next to her.

"Kita kalau berniaga ni tak boleh dengki. Dia selalu sangat dengki kepada saya. Iri hati kalau tengok kambing saya cepat habis. Saya tak tamak, saya jual tiap ekor untung $50 sahaja. Jadi orang ramai beli dari saya. Bila kambing saya habis, saya tolong jual dia punya. Lama-lama dia segan dengan saya."

"Kerana rezeki ini semua Allah yang bagi. Kalau kita lokek dan tamak nanti Allah tak beri kita lagi. Kalau kita murah hati, Insyallah Allah nanti murahkan rezeki kita."

Her talents and fearlessness is remarkable!

That is how generous Kak Z is, always sharing with me her life experiences and her life philosophies. I realize that what goes around really does comes around. For everything we do, we have to be generous and kind to people and if we work hard at whatever we do, Allah will repay us handsomely for it.

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