Will I Ever Be Good Enough?

Too fat
Too tall
Too loud
Too ambitious
Too hopeful
Too successful

Too much.

Perhaps in that moment you thought you loved me,
I was only a person you wanted to be;
Never one you wanted to be,
With.

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My Valentine

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It feels like forever since I was last here. Writing seems to be a luxury nowadays – just as how time and travel are. Today, I write because my heart is full and contented.

I think I’m in love.

You see, I sat down on the prayer mat sometime during the new year, crying my hearts out, asking God for a miracle. By miracle I actually mean for Him to soften my heart.

I admit, I may not be the best of Muslimahs around, but I believe in the signs He has shown me. All my life,  I make decisions based on what the universe has shown me. When my heart is directed at something and it becomes easy for me to take action, I know that it’s Him doing his magic – the magic of granting our dua’s.

Allah is fair and just – there’s really no doubt about that. He gives me some things that He takes away from others. He makes sure my family has enough sustenance no matter what the inner voices might say. He gives me the strength to go through the tough times. If anything, He has taught me that nothing good never comes easy for me.

Never.

So while I used to cry myself to sleep comparing others who have it a lot easier than me, I now accept the fact that Allah simply loves me more hence He just tests me more.

Today, I am in love.

 

 

Where Do I Go Now?

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The past three years has been the best years of my life. I finally found something I’m good at, and alhamdulillah, earning a living from it. I keep setting the bar up high for myself, and as much as I’m at a position way above than I first started, I often feel like I’m further away from where I want to be.

On my own, I feel at ease. I feel happy. I feel contented and grateful. But when I’m with my peers, I start questioning myself. I start doubting myself. I start wanting to give up. It’s as though I’ve been living in a bubble, oblivious to the outside world. Truth is, I’m just tired being my own cheerleader.

Where do we go now?

Eid as a Struggling Single Twenty-Something

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As a child, I used to love celebrating Eid. I dreaded the fasting month of Ramadhan but I looked forward to new clothes, eating scrumptious rendang and ketupat, and of course, for many Asian kids – the collection of green packets filled with dollar dollar bills. Apart from visiting close relatives on the first day of Eid, you get to spend another day in Syawal with your closest friends from school visiting their houses.

It was kinda cool to bring your friends over when you were ten years old, dressed in the traditional baju kurung going around the neighbourhood and coming home at the end of the day with your bag bursting with green packets. You would know which house gave the envelope, and if you get at least $5 from that house, you’re definitely going back there again the year after.

As I grew older, however, the enjoyment of Eid started to fade away. At fifteen, I despised celebrating Eidulfitri. Eidulftri would be torturous for me since I had to appeased my newly divorced parents – I couldn’t spend more than 2 hours at my dad’s place or I’ll never hear the end of my mum’s wrath. My sisters were busy with their own families, making sure they visit the in-laws before making their way to my mum’s. And for some reason, you start not liking your relatives. I remember bursting out at my sister for coming so late int the afternoon and my make up was already ruined from the frustration of waiting around. The first day of Eid as a hormonal teenager was basically me playing the waiting game.

Eid started to change as I entered my twenties. While it was still as boring as when I was a teenager, I began to prepare the house the house willingly. I bought flowers, new cushion covers, and occasionally curtains to slowly make the house into a home. I volunteered help in the kitchen, making sure I picked up my mum’s recipes to her signature Eid dishes and perfecting them. I made cookies and sweet treats to offer to the guests coming over to my place and made sure there were all sorts of drinks available for them.

As much as I wish Eid is better now as I enter my mid-twenties, I realised that an awkward Eid is a common predicament between peers of my age. Perhaps it’s the having to part with copious amounts of money during the festive period – spending for the house and family, green packets for the little ones, awkward conversations with aunts and uncles who seem to nitpick on every aspect of your life. Or maybe it has got to do with spending Eid as a single woman, wondering when you’d be able to prepare for Eid excitedly for your kids and husband. Whatever the reason is, Eid as a struggling single twenty something is just plain boring.

I make do with baking cookies, cakes and occasionally help my mum prepare the traditional dishes we feast on the morning of Eid. House chores like literally scrubbing the floors get my mind off the fact that each Eid is the same as before – lonesome and boring. I try getting away from celebrating Eid by going to work, but I feel bad for my mum. Though to be honest, I’m quite happy working while everyone else celebrates.

One day, I’ll wake up on the morning of Eid excited to head to the mosque, dress my family up and head out for the rounds of visiting. One day, I’ll learn to appreciate the merry-making and spamming of family photos on Facebook and Instagram. One day, I’ll teach my daughter how to prepare the raya dishes and get my son to wash the windows and fix the curtains up. One day, I’ll be on my knees on the morning of Eid, with my head buried in my husband’s hand, asking for forgiveness and perhaps shedding a tear or two.

One day, that happy family portrait of mine will be hung on my wall just in time for Eid.

For now, I’ll be contented with spending the morning of Eid at home, with a cup of coffee and a bowl of lontong, watching reruns of Bujang Lapok on the telly with my three cats.

Eid Mubarak everyone.

 

Chocolate Never Disapppoints

The thing about keeping up with social media is that you tend to go through everything you wrote or uploaded in the past decade or so. While things I’ve written in my adolescence have since been buried, I think I only grew up in the last three years or so.

I used to write a lot. I wrote my heart out. I wrote my mind out. Writing kept me sane and my mind vibrant. I was always on a verbal diarrhoea. Writing was my way of communicating, even as a child. I was always told to keep my mouth shut, so I turned to writing. As I grew older however, I learned to keep quiet – even in my writing.

You see, I discovered photography. I discovered that life will always be throwing rotten lemons and tomatoes at you. I realised that no one really gives a hoots ass about what you have to say. Whatever struggles or cause you’re fighting for, there will be others who say you’re in no position to say the things you write about. I just gave up with writing because I could not deal with the naysayers.

Photographs, on the other hand, are amazing. They say a picture says a thousand words, which means with all of my photos combined, I would have published 10 papers or perhaps 3 novels. In another life, I could be a children’s book author if I had not been told that my stories were too wild, imaginative and far fetched without a local context (this happened to me when I was eight). In another life I could have been a journalist, if I had not been told that I don’t fit the bill as one. In another life, I would not have been the me I am today.

Perhaps I will continue disappointing those around me, or maybe I was meant for the thug life. Nothing good ever comes easy, am I right? I’m far from the success I want for myself. It’s not fair for someone else to tell me that I’m done and or that I should slow down. I will walk even faster, run if I must (though I literally hate running), just to prove a point that nothing good ever comes easy, and that time truly heals all wounds.

Just when we think we’ve figured things out, the universe throws us a curveball. So we have to improvise. We find happiness in unexpected places. We find our way back to the things that matter the most. The universe is funny that way. Sometimes it just has a way of making sure we wind up exactly where we belong.

– Grey’s Anatomy

I do find happiness in unexpected places. Some places, morbid. Others, bright and cheery. Whatever curveball the universe sends to me, I’ll be ready in a heartbeat.

Very Fudgy Chocolate Muffins

Adapted from Bright Eyed Baker

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Ingredients

2 cups plain flour

1 cup natural cocoa powder, sifted

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk

1 1/4 cups caster sugar

1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil (I used coconut oil)

1 1/2 cups sour cream (I used 1 1/2 cups milk with 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar)

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

10 1/2 ounces chocolate chips and/or chopped chocolate (I didn’t measure the amount of chocolates I used!)

Method

  1. Beat oil, sugar and vanilla together till fluffy.
  2. Add in eggs and yolk, gradually.
  3. Add in all the dry ingredients except for the chocolates, and alternate with the sour cream.
  4. Beat until well combined.
  5. Add in chocolate chips and mix well.
  6. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  7. Serve with ice cream!

Sea Salt Chocolate Tart

I miss baking. I had to force myself to get off my lazy arse to bake this. And that’s only because I had chocolates and some cream lying around in the fridge which I had to use before the expiry date. I’ve been very productive with my photography business, and I cannot thank God enough for making it happen for me.

If you noticed, I uploaded a few of my older articles onto this blog. I figured rather than let the articles go to waste, I should be letting you all read them! Sigh, blogging is so much more difficult now that there’s Instagram and Twitter. Wait, do people even use Facebook anymore?

This shall be a really quick post because as much I would love to share what’s been going on for me, I think I’ll let the photos do the talking again. Have fun with this recipe! It was major yums anyways.

Sea Salt Chocolate Tart

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Tart base (Taken from BBC Good Food)

225g plain flour

100g unsalted butter

A pinch of salt

3 tbsp cold water

  1. Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Stir in the salt, then add 2-3 tbsp water and mix to a firm dough.
  3. Knead the dough briefly and gently on a floured surface. Wrap in cling film and chill while preparing the filling.

Chocolate filling (Adapted from Jamie Oliver)

300g double cream

2 tsp caster sugar

A pinch of fine sea salt

200g 70% chocolate

  1. Heat the oven to 180 deg.
  2. Roll out the pastry made earlier onto a floured surface.
  3. Cover with baking paper, fill with dried beans and bake blind for 10-15 minutes, remove beans and bake again for 15 minutes until golden.
  4. Put the cream, sugar and salt in a pan and bring to the boil.
  5. Remove as soon as the mixture boils up.
  6. Off the heat, add the butter and chocolate. Stir until blended.
  7. Pour the chocolate onto the tart, and chill at room temperature for 2 hours before refrigerating it.
  8. Chill overnight. Sprinkle sea salt before serving.

The One on Body Acceptance

“Do you know Shams?”

“Oh you mean the big, tall and loud girl? Yeah I know her.”

Big, tall and loud – that has become my identifier since I can ever remember. I grew up larger than most of my peers, and even as a child, I was bound to stand out from the rest. I never let it get to my head that the way I looked was more important than the person I am – that is until I hit puberty.

At thirteen, I grew a lot taller all of a sudden. My body developed way too quickly for my mind to adapt to. Boys and peer acceptance started to change the way I looked at myself. I was more conscious of my body, particularly how much I weigh and why I had a bigger built than my friends. I began hating the way I looked and starved my body of the nutrients I needed. For a short period of my adolescence, I kept a secret from everyone I knew – I was bulimic.

For a year, I coped with my parents’ divorce by vomiting out whatever I ate. I would not finish my food and run to the washroom after each meal on the pretext that my teeth hurt from my newly fixed braces. Truth is, I wanted to fit in and look like pretty like my skinny friends in school. I wanted a size 2 figure and long legs that never seem to end. I wanted to look like the models that graced magazine covers. I wanted a 24-inch waist so I could buy that pair of jeans everyone else in school had. I wanted to be everyone else but myself.

It was only when I realized that my bulimia was affecting my canoeing training that I stopped depriving my body of the nutrients and calories I need. I began focusing on my training and working out, supposedly losing weight the healthy way. At fifteen, I was at my fittest and slimmest. Then again, I still had people calling me fat, thick and big behind my back. And I still wasn’t happy.

Then at seventeen, I emotionally ate my way through junior college. I gained back all the weight I lost, with no regrets at all. Life was at a stand still through out the two years because I was just focusing on getting over with the A level exams. It was only when I was due to enter university at nineteen that I realized; I need to start taking care of myself.

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At my biggest in 2009/2010

I began loving my body by loving myself. I started treating my body like a temple (a mosque, if you prefer that analogy) and ate good food that no calories could be wasted on. Jamie Oliver keeps saying that if you want to eat, waste your calories only on good food made out of the freshest ingredients. I frequented the gym and did all sorts of sports activities from rock climbing, to Muay Thai to yoga. I challenged myself to push my physical limits by participating in marathons and scaling mountains. All I wanted to do was to be healthy and feel good.

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Gunung Ledang in 2010

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Conquering Kinabalu in June 2013

The past five years has had its fair share of ups and downs. I have had former partners telling me I was too fat for their liking so they had to leave me. I have had aunts and uncles telling me I did not fit in with the rest of the family because I was too tall and big. I have gotten my heart broken by people I loved because I did not fit the mould they call love.

The truth is, we live in a superficial world. We lust over beautiful images and we yearn for things that are almost impossible for us to achieve. We want to be surrounded by things that are only captivating to the eyes. We want to look like celebrities and wear what they are wearing. We so badly want to be accepted by society.

It took a long time to love myself but I had to. I want to empower women who were facing the same struggles as me. I want to let other women know that they were not fighting this battle themselves. I want them to know that the way they look does not matter, nor does the size of their dress or the number on the scale.

It is their heart that matters.

“Take advantage of five matters before five other matters: your youth, before you become old; and your health, before you fall sick; and your richness, before you become poor; and your free time before you become busy; and your life, before your death.”

Narrated by Ibn Abbas and reported by Al Hakim

Battling with body image issues may be your jihad and the test Allah has given you to heighten your faith in Him. Take that step to improve your health for the His sake so that you can use your time wisely to be a useful member of the ummah.

This goes out to my fellow big and beautiful sisters who may or may not be heartbroken simply because of the way they look:

“A woman is married for four reasons, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her piety. So you should marry the pious woman otherwise you will be losers.”

Narrated by Abu Huraira, in Sahih al-Bukhari & Muslim

Beauty is after all, in the eye of the beholder. Love yourself, and love will come to you, inshaAllah.

This article was first published on The Shawl Label’s Sisterhood Project.

The One on Finding a Place Called Home

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Photographed by Noor Iskandar

The past ten months has been nothing short of freedom and independence to me. I enjoy the ability to pack up and leave for another country in an instant. I enjoy the flexibility of working on my own. And most of all, I enjoy the fact that I am alone responsible for my own happiness.

Recently, Singapore has been crowned Lonely Planet’s top travel destination for 2015. I stopped in my tracks to read the article on my phone to be sure that my eyes were not deceiving me. Yes, I sure do love my country, but what have I missed about my homeland that makes it a top destination for travelers from around the world?

I thought about what makes Singapore so attractive to foreigners. Some said it was the efficiency that impressed them, others loved how safe this country is and the rest just enjoyed Singapore’s little quirks. There was a New Yorker I met in Morocco who got so excited when I told him I am from Singapore, “Dude! Your subways are like fifty years into the future!”

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Man sleeping on the job, Chefchaouen, Morocco, 2013

When I travel, I look for experiences that I cannot find in Singapore. I seek adventure. I seek the wilderness. I seek ruggedness. And most of all, I seek the country life. Perhaps I have always been the kampung girl at heart, preferring the outdoors to city skyscrapers and air-conditioned malls, and my idea of retirement is having a home with enough land for me to grow vegetables organically with love and a butcher who knows me by my name and choice of cut.

I love traveling in ruggedness, not having plans for the day and just sitting down somewhere with a drink and a book to read. I have been approached by fellow travelers asking me about my religion and why I chose to cover my head with the hijab. I make friends with people from all over the world and make it a point to keep in touch just in case I drop by their hometown in my future travels. I thrive on spontaneity and randomness – it makes me feel less guarded and wary, of which I usually am.

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Angkor Wat, Siam Reap, Cambodia, 2014 

Last year, I left Singapore for Europe without a job waiting for me back home. I wanted to do something crazy and bold. I wanted to know what it feels like to be invisible and not know what to expect. I left Singapore for a trip to open my heart and mind. I left Singapore without attaching my heart to anything, or anyone for that matter. I left Singapore knowing that there was a possibility I would not come back.

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Brighton Beach, Victoria, Australia, 2014

In my pursuit to find myself, I realize I enjoyed being anonymous and not having any worry for the uncertainty that lies ahead of me. A friend once told me that this lack of worry is because of a heightened faith in God – like what they say, do not pray for God to make things easier for you, but pray for the strength so you can go through challenges better. When we travel, we learn to let fate take its course while we take a back seat. In essence, we accept whatever happens to us because God has already willed for it happen in our lives, anyways.

Halfway through my month-long trip, I broke down. I was missing my family. I missed my mother, my three cats, my sisters and brother. Most of all, I was missing my nieces and nephews a lot. When I got home after 28 days away, my room was filled with about a hundred balloons. My brother would probably kill me for telling the world about this but he blew each and every one of the balloons. I went over to my sister’s place with presents for my nieces and nephews only to be greeted with hugs, kisses, and fights as to who gets to sit on Aunty Ida’s lap.

My then four-year-old nephew Yan Yan looked me in the eye and asked me, “Where did you go for so long, Aunty Ida? Don’t you love me anymore?”

There are a million reasons for you to go away, but find one that keeps you coming back – I found mine.

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Mia Familia, 2013

This article first appeared on The Shawl Label’s Sisterhood Project on http://www.theshawllabel.com.

On Being the Only Muslim in Town

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Little Mosque on the Prairie was one of my favorite TV shows back when I was in university. Set in a little town in Canada, it tells the story of a growing community of Muslims living with the Anglo-Christian majority. I was always intrigued by the existence of Muslims in areas where there weren’t any Islamic governing bodies or authority.

Having born a Muslim and lived in a country and region where Islam thrives, it is pretty much easy to take everything for granted. Halal certifications are aplenty in Singapore, and halal certified or Muslim-owned cafes are sprouting like wild mushrooms. Across the Straits we have Malaysia, where almost everything is halal for Muslim consumption. Needless to say, Singapore and the Southeast Asian region makes being Muslim fairly easy.

I never had the chance to live abroad but my wanderlust needs have brought me far and wide across the globe in search of my true existence as a Muslim. I struggle with my faith sometimes so traveling helps me to strengthen my love for Islam and my Creator. In my few years of traveling, never have I been faced with a huge challenge until quite recently.

I packed my bags for Daylesford, Victoria in Australia for a food photography workshop with Ewen Bell and Iron Chef Shellie. Truth be told, I did not do a lot of research for this trip. I did not look at the map to figure out where exactly Daylesford is, and neither did I Google “halal restaurants in Daylesford”. Shellie did most of the cooking and baking, so I merely wrote in to Ewen saying that I do not mind seafood, but strictly no meat of any kind.

The best thing about Australia to me is the ease of being vegan, vegetarian, paleo, gluten-free, kosher, halal and whatever-allergies-or-food-preference-you-have. The diversity coming from all sorts of cultural and religious backgrounds is taken into account to form an accepting and open society. Sure, there will be always a small minority who thinks the whole world is against them and stir up trouble, putting a bad name on the beautiful and kind majority of Australians.

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On my way to Daylesford with another participant, Atlanta, we discussed the food scene in Melbourne because after all, Melbourne is the city to be in if you are a foodie, cafe enthusiast, caffeine addict and avid Instagrammer. Basically, hipster was born in Melbourne. It was a very exciting experience for me to hear first-hand stories behind the ever-thriving food industry in Melbourne. Atlanta is a manager of a Middle-Eastern restaurant in the city so she would definitely know a thing or two about running a restaurant.

Upon our arrival in Daylesford, I was greeted with even more food lovers. Olivia is a stay at home mum who makes everything from scratch – even butter; Winston is an avid cook who runs his own blog; Leslie is a grandmom who takes beautiful photos and of course, there’s Ewen and Shellie. I was to spend my weekend with not just foodies – they were food connoisseurs.

And there I was, the city girl whose biggest accomplishments when it comes to food is to make her own pasta and lasagna sheets. Needless to say, I was about to get schooled about food and my biggest assignment was to ensure they were halal for my consumption. It was a “rusa masuk kampung” moment whenever I entered a restaurant for dinner as heads turn towards me. I felt a bit like Cinderella because I stood out from the rest with the obvious headscarf covering my hair

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I had no clue on what to expect during the first dinner. We had the Degustation menu where food magically appears for 5 or 8 courses. It was my first experience with fine dining and I was superbly excited. Thankfully, Olivia is a vegetarian so I didn’t feel like such a party pooper for having a special dietary requirement. I went vegetarian for the entire weekend and truth be told, vegetarian food has never been so delicious. Although there were times the beef or quail or chicken the others had look amazingly delicious, and there I was with puppy eyes wishing I could have some.

On top of making sure there was no meat on my plate, I had to ask about every single thing that was on my plate. I really did not have to worry but I wanted to be sure I knew what I was eating. One of the entrees we were served was a garden of seasonal vegetables and flowers, and it was served with some black little crispy things which I thought was blackened garlic. To my amusement, it was in fact a type of edible soil. It was a literally “makan rumput’ moment for me.

While I wished I could have some of the chicken or kangaroo meat that was served, I relish the fact that I was able to experience something out of the ordinary during the workshop. Food is such an integral part of my life, and experiencing food in a way that was beyond amazing is something I am thankful for. I came back from the weekend inspired and ready to try out some flavours and vegetables I never knew would go so well together.

I am thankful for living in a city where halal food is readily available, and I can only empathise with Muslims who live in far-flung places having to always question how halal the food is for their consumption. It is certainly not an easy task, to dictate for yourself and put in real effort as to what is halal and what is not given your living situation but it is also a blessing because it is when you are the only Muslim around do you really test your faith as well as your understanding of the religion your believe in.

Wallahua’lam.

This article first appeared on Halalfoodhunt’s Halal Diaries.