The Wisdom Behind The Words ‘Waste Not, Want Not’

My sister once said that the word that is sure to grab everyone’s attention at my house is the word ‘buang’ or discard–and she is not wrong. Whenever I hear someone mention anything that could be associated with throwing things out, it is impossible for me to keep my focus until I know what is being thrown out, why it is being thrown out or perhaps what is actually being said.

The saying one man’s trash is another man’s treasure shows that rubbish can be all about perspective. I remember back at school, my friends used to give me their old highlighters, coloured pens and markers, after they found me fishing them out from the waste basket. It wasn’t just that I didn’t have any coloured pens but it bothered me to see people throwing out things that could still be used. While others got frustrated by the inconsistent ink flow or the lighter colour as some of the ink dried up, I saw that it could still leave mark. Dried magic pens may not be ideal for writing anymore but I could use them for colouring, producing something akin to the dry brush effect. And highlighters, no matter how unsaturated could still mark important notes.

My mother, who was getting rather annoyed by my growing collection of bunga telur flowers, old and unusable CDs, bits of colourful ribbons, strings, papers and torn fabric, started throwing them out while I was out at school–only to find them reappear in another day or two. It took her some months before she finally caught my toddler brother waddling from the bin with a handful of broken items and handing them all to me, whispering that he had just ‘saved’ them from the rubbish bin. When my mother taught us ‘waste not, want not’, she could not have imagined the repercussions it left in the house.

Nonetheless, she is quite the ‘rescuer‘ herself, specialising in food recycle and recovery. She grew up watching her grandmother cooked fried rice with a variety of leftover fish and gravy and she herself would occasionally make ‘nasi special’ (special rice) every now and then from a concoction of various curries, ‘kuah‘ (gravy from side dishes, usually eaten with rice) and ‘sambal’ (a kind of hot sauce) that she could pull out from the freezer. What others might have considered to be useless because it’s out of ‘lauk‘, be it chicken, beef or fish, she would pack them and store them for future use.

Which is why it is sad, and sometimes maddening, for us to see the mounds of half eaten food piled high on plates, along with rows of barely touched drinks, that people leave behind at eateries. Papers, with their backs still white and untarnished by ink, getting crumpled and tossed into rubbish bins is as painful to me to watch as hearing fingernails scraping on a chalkboard. And my sister is always going around, turning off unused electrical appliances

My late great grandmother would always say that the more grateful you are and the more you try to make use of what you already have, you would always be blessed with more. I used to think that what she meant was you would have more physical things: money, food and items, because you have less need to buy more. However, the more I think about it, the more I think that there is more wisdom to her words; wisdom that she probably deeply understood.

Because through our dislike for throwing things, we have to constantly really dig into our heads to try and find a use for something nobody pays attention to. When the dough of one of my mother’s early bread making attempts failed to rise, we tried frying it and from that ‘disaster’, we’ve got ourselves some interesting ‘cakoi‘-like fritters that everyone enjoyed. When our collection of curries, too little to be served as side dishes, reaches a formidable size, we tossed them into the rice cooker and get a surprise mix of flavour that we could never recreate. And when I pull out my collection of odds and ends for a craft project back at school, I could come up with something unique that others would call ‘creative’.

The thing is, what people call creativity is usually the ability or tendency to look at the world from a different perspective and finding unique ways to do things or solve problems when unconventional methods fail. And in a world where we are constantly bombarded with quick and instant solutions that are taken for granted, you don’t get a chance to train your mind into looking for interesting and possibly better alternative methods or even the consequences of all of your actions.

And there is something very beautiful in seeing the wonderful possibilities and the many threads that connects the various cycles which creates the universe–all lighting up in front of you, in the form of a chicken-less chicken curry that is left in several bowls after a small community dinner. And when someone asks me if I am going to have it as a dipping sauce with my bread, I smile and wonder upon the wisdom of my grandmother’s words–and then run off to grab the next bowl before someone collects it for the bin.

Eczema And My Right Hand

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My right hand, two days after my last SPM paper – November, 2019. Sometimes an outbreak can happen when you really need to use your hand and there’s nothing you could do about it but to trudge on.

Like the majority of people in the world, I am right-handed. This means that my right hand is my dominant hand, the hand that steadily pours water from a large jug, the hand that holds the broom when I sweep the floor, the hand that reaches out to turn the knob whenever I reach a closed door. I’ve trained my right hand to do so many tricks, big and small, ever since I was old enough to grip an item in my hand that I can now perform a variety of them without a conscious thought. I can write my name without pondering over the shape of an ‘A’ or cut vegetables without wondering how to hold a knife.

And because being right-handed is the norm, there had never been a need for me to learn otherwise. I wasn’t taught to write, use a saw or open jars with my left hand. And I would have been perfectly fine not knowing how to if I didn’t develop dyshidrotic eczema on my right hand.

Dyshidrotic eczema is a skin condition where itchy, and sometimes painful, blisters develop on your palms, fingers, and/ or the soles of your feet, usually for around two to four weeks. Often, the skin could swell or dry out and crust over which makes it vulnerable to cracking, even tearing the skin altogether into a cut. I would have to constantly keep my fingers slightly curled or I might accidentally stretch it too far and tear something. At times, the wound or the blisters could get infected and that could increase the duration of a flare up. Sometimes you could have a number of flare ups in a row and you end up having it for a few months straight.

I would consider mine to be comparatively less intrusive as mine is limited to the fingers of my right hand, and very rarely, the base of my palm. My left hand and feet are completely free of it and I don’t have to worry about not being able to walk or unable to hold anything at all. At the same time, whenever my dyshidrotic eczema flares up, I would rekindle my admiration towards ambidextrous people, those who, either by force or by choice, have developed the ability to do a wide range of actions on both hands.

One thing that I’ve never noticed until I had my first outbreak in my mid teens, was how much I completely relied on my right hand. It is only when I am forced to perform the simple everyday task with my left hand, would I realise how strong, dextrous and well coordinated my right hand is. I could sweep the floor of the whole house and the only complaint I’ll make is how much I dislike sweeping but when I have to do it with my left hand, the dining area is enough to make my wrist feels like I’ve just returned from a workout. Wiping the table takes twice as long or I’ll miss patches of splashed soup and dried rice. And I wouldn’t even think about which hand I’m using to twist a jar cover open until I’ve split another thick, hard and crusted skin.

When I was younger, I had a strange need to be (what I thought as) independent, flexible and versatile. I wanted to be able to fully function on my own even if I am limited by circumstances or if things were to change. I would train myself to do odd things like carrying heavy things to and fro, turning the door knob with my toes without spilling the filled mug in each hand or placing a number of objects precariously over my head as I walk around with my hands full. I wanted to be the epitome of a jack of all trades to the most extreme level I could take it for the sake of independence, should I be forced into such a position where I only had myself to rely on.

And yet, I thought of big things like not being able to use both hands or not having anyone stronger to help me lift things up. I didn’t think about the completely natural way I whip air into my eggs for a baking project, dig a large hole with a trowel in my garden or gently pouring compost tea out of a bucket and how utterly useless my left hand is in such tasks.

And the thought of my naïve worries and attempts is frustrating, amusing , humbling and illuminating all at the same time.

Because, really, no matter how hard we try to cover all of our weaknesses, we’ll always be limited in some way or fashion in some aspects of our life. It is simply our nature as humans to be limited. It doesn’t mean that we should just give up and say “I just can’t” but we also don’t have to scramble about higgledy-piggledy trying to do the impossible. We should just take a step back from all the messier parts of life and really consider what matters–how we should develop our strength to support it and work around our weakness as to not damage it. And then carefully and mindfully, try all we could to reach our end goal while appreciating the gifts we are blessed with, even we can’t really see them.

Some people say that there is no light without darkness. I don’t fully agree with that but as a once avid stargazer, I do know that it is only in darkness we could see the stars. When the sun’s blazing rays stretch from horizon to horizon, it is impossible to catch even a glimpse of the little diamonds in the sky. We know that they are still there like we know that gravity would pull us down when we jump but it’s only when night comes and the city lights dim that we pull back the curtains and gasp at the beauty of a star speckled sky.

As for me, I still truly admire anyone who has taken the time and effort to switch back and forth between two hands but I still am very, very grateful for the amazing things my right hand can pull of and the tiny amount of work my left hand could manage. And whenever another round of blisters start popping up, I’ll try to take it as a reminder and a prompt to discover all the wonders I’ve been blessed with and praise Allah with a heart full of gratefulness.

And just try not to be too upset when my finger burns and I have to sweep the floor again.

Halal Consciousness

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I found my mother diving deep into the lists of JAKIM halal certified bakery products on the Halal Malaysia Official Portal (www.halal.gov.my) and when I asked her what she was up to, she told me about a professional Muslim baker she found online who was showing off their preferred brand of butter. When asked if the butter was halal, the baker assured that it was, even though it was missing any sort of halal approval logo. Just to be sure, my mother searched through the directory of JAKIM certified halal bakery ingredients and even looked up other products that we had been using, which do display the approval logo, just for comparison and the butter that the baker was displaying was nowhere on the directory.

Just imagine the thousands of Muslims who watches their video and took them at their word that the butter is indeed halal and may buy them for their own personal consumption. Imagine hundreds more who have bought and consumed the baker’s products, sweet goods sold by a Muslim entrepreneur , who probably only consider halal to be anything that doesn’t say ‘pork’ on it. And this baker is not the only one.

I wrote about Halal labelling more than 10 years ago but I think in the new age of online entrepreneurship and social media, this topic deserves to be revisited from a different angle. While in the past, what you consume is probably only going to affect yourself, your family and your close social circle; with everyone sharing their food on Facebook and Instagram and the ease of setting up a business online, your decisions now could affect thousands, both directly and indirectly. Someone may be tempted by your recipe; buy your food; had their curiosity perked by a new, untried ingredient or simply share the post to someone else and extending the chain of influence to hundreds more.

Your careless decision could negatively affect a lot more people than you may realise.

I remember a man who sold spices and processed food at the pasar tani (farmer’s market) we used to go to every week, who would give my mother a long and detailed answer on each of his products whenever my mother asked him if something was halal. He told mom that as the middle man, he would thoroughly check if the product he sells is truly halal especially if they were prepared at small informal and unregistered home factories. He even visited their homes where they prepared the products before he would be satisfied enough to sell them. This is the kind of commendable attitude that all responsible Muslim sellers should strive to own.

However, the responsibility is not just limited to the provider. We, as the consumers, should also take the matter seriously and not to simply assume that something is halal because “A Muslim sold it”. We could check the labels to make sure that a trusted body is regulating and monitoring the halal status of a product and that they had given their approval. We could try talking and discussing with small sellers to see how conscious they are of using halal ingredients in their food. We could raise attention and concern by pointing out questionable halal status of food that is advertised or displayed online, in a proper and polite manner, to educate and warn each other.

It is important to remember that halal does not simply stop at ‘anything that isn’t pork’. Food additives, which are present in basically everything these days, could be derived from bones of various animals which are not slaughtered according to Islamic guidelines. Eggs could be coated with fecal material which are not properly washed off during food preparation. Plates and cooking utensils used to cook pork may not be properly cleaned before they are used to serve food for us. And a lot of these things are hard to be properly observed because they are done behind closed doors, which is why approval by a regulating body can be a blessing, but it doesn’t mean that we should trust anyone who just say ‘oh yes, my food is definitely halal’.

As Muslims, making sure that our food is permissible in Islam is such an important matter as we believe that what we eat could affect us in long lasting ways. It is crucial that we take responsibility in checking and monitoring, not just what we eat, but what we prepare for others to the best of our abilities so we would live under His guidance and blessing.

On Writing And Emotions

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There are times when I could honestly profess that I love writing; but although the passion itself waxes and wanes as time flies, one statement always holds true: writing is my favoured way of passing information.

When I speak, I am shackled by my whims and impulse. Half-baked thoughts and incomplete words are tumbling over each other, guided only by my current sentiment that disintegrates at the next moment to be replaced anew. It’s like a wild cooperation team with a leader who switches their strategy everyday and everyone is scrambling to keep up with half the needed resource.

However, when I write, I am forced to fully form my sentences in a methodical and grammatical manner. It allows me to look for exact words that could convey the specific information in a particular way. Even when I don’t have the words to precisely identify a particularly vague and shapeless thought, I can still describe it in a satisfying way, closest to being accurate.

And like using a conditioner in your tangled hair, it allows me to better separate individual strands of thoughts from my emotions; which helps me to present my opinions honestly from my mind, unclouded by spontaneous feelings. There have been many times when I can feel the excitement bubbling beneath the exterior when I speak, bordering on desperation, and it’s nerve-wrecking how much influence it has to the words I say.

I still have emotions leading my thoughts when I write but they are much more grounded in my beliefs and principles which form the person I am. Even when I do write in a fit of passion and you could feel the emotions brimming from my words, it comes from a more honest and constant stream of expression — not the whimsical feel of the moment which are often not even accurate to how I really feel on a deeper level.

Because, really, our emotions are often at the base of our inconsistencies, which is the signature trait of a human being. History is full of dutiful and honourable men who call for fights to the death or even wage war upon one another. Gentle mothers who sense a threat aiming at their child could transform into raging behemoths and hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

To strip ourselves of all emotions is futile and impossible (although I could not say I haven’t tried) but to fall victim to the bully that is our impulsive thoughts is to beckon chaos and regret.

I believe that the best choice for me is to embrace my sentimental side in all of its paradoxical nature and to try my best at cultivating it into a semblance of a civilised being. One who is aware of the changes within and holds fast to the pillar of faith that gives it structure. I hope to guide my emotions instead of letting it have full control over steering me.

Which is why writing is my favoured way of passing information. It gives me more control on my words, what curates it and how I present it, with an accuracy I could never achieve when I speak.