Since my brother-in-law (my children call him “Ayai”) retired, my sister (she’s “Tuai” – short for indai tuai - to my kids) and her family have been staying at their long house in Sepaduk, about 25 minutes drive from Bintulu town. They only come to stay at their house in town during weekends to attend Sunday mass, sometimes just for day trips. Their long house has the necessary utilities – piped water from LAKU, electricity from SESCO and of course Astro – so life is comfortable there. The only downside is there is poor coverage for mobile phones – so they installed a land line to their bilik.
When dadi and I miss them, we would drive to Sepaduk, close to dinner time, to join them for dinner. I love having dinner at their long house, because invariably they have hard-to-find lauk – jani kampung, jani menua, kasam ikan and not-so-hard to find but fresh daun ubi and changkuk. Sigi pemakai kitai Iban. During our last visit, we were served landak – my sister fried it with ginger and kichap – nyamai wai, mula nyima aku makai, angka tak bau, tang enda bau…bendar diri kami makai landak sambil ngirup Martini….ditambahka jani - benung kami menyanak dia urang bisi bulih jani, nya ipar aku lalu meli sepiak belakang & pah, alu diguring akak aku. Ia kami pulai dibekalka akak aku jani dibai pulai….…puji Tuhan.
My brother-in-law, sister and mother are not so mobile, as they have to take care of my grand niece, Ann-Marie Jeburi. She's named after my mother, Jeburi. She's my niece's 2nd child, she’s 4+ years old but still can’t walk – she was born premature and spastic, with very poor motor skills. In addition to the routine physiotherapy sessions in Bintulu, my brother-in-law and sister would send her to Sibu to meet with the specialist and physiotherapist once a fortnight. The exercises she has to undergo during the physiotherapy sessions are painful, she cries from the pain. It really breaks my heart to know she’s in pain. When Kumang was still home, Kumang gave her her daily massage, not a five or ten-minutes kind of routine, but hundreds of strokes to the limbs and lifting of hips to strengthen her pelvic muscles. She’s improving, now she can sit by herself and she’s learning to walk with a custom-made walker and in custom-made shoes.
Ann-Marie is so pretty and smart, she can speak and sing in English and when she sees a TV programme where a child is without a mother, she would say don’t cry, I don’t have a mother with me either. Bendar aku ngenatka ai mata ke ka labuh maya indai and akak aku nusi jerita iya. Now she’s missing Kumang, they became close since this year as Kumang was home most of the time, waiting for her STPM results. They watched cartoons of the likes of Pocahontas, they sang together, Kumang sang their cartoon song when she was asked to sing during her interview for the teaching course. Ann-Marie’s mother, my niece Julie lives in Johor, she’s a teacher and her husband is in the army – they have 4 other young children to take care of and with her teaching schedule, she is not able to send Ann-Marie for the medical treatment she needs. Plus, with her condition, Ann-Marie needs caregivers with lots of TLCs, and who better than her ini, aki and ini ichit to give her all the love and cares she needs.
My sister Jacinta and my bro-in-law Thomas Igai on their wedding day. They have 3 children: Julie is a marine biologist but opted to become a teacher, she went for teacher's training after completing her degree course; Barry the middle child is an engineer with one oil & gas company in Shah Alam and Wendy is the youngest. Dadi and I congratulated my bro-in-law and sister when Wendy got the offer to do TESL-God granted her prayer for a TESL course - we told them they are successful parents. God truly loves the humble and obedient of heart.
Taking care of a special child is not only physically taxing, but can be emotionally draining, if one is not close to God. There is of course the financial aspect – not just the medical costs but special milk, vitamins, choice food, pampers, hotel charges in Sibu, fuel cost etc to bear. When I reflect on the hardships my sister, brother-in-law and mother have to go through at their beyond-golden age, I thank God for the graces He gave and continues to give us, for sustaining the people I love. I firmly believe that God gave Ann-Marie to my sister’s family because He knows that that’s the best place for her. He formed their faith so they put their trust in Him, the love that He poured out into their hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) was made perfect in them (1 John 12) so they could love others, Ann-Marie, as they love themselves. It’s this love that gives them not only strength and endurance but peace and joy. They have peace and joy, knowing that they are answering the call made to all disciples - to follow the Lord, to carry our crosses gracefully (Luke 9:23) and trusting in God's promise, that He does not put a burden beyond what we can bear and for the things He wants us to do, He gives all the help that is needed. Cor 10:13). We carry our cross whenever we do God’s will instead of our own will. There’s this song I used to sing when I was young,“He ain't heavy, he’s my brother”. Whoever wrote the lyrics obviously knew Scriptures. No burden is Ann-Marie to bear, we’ll get there, for the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).