Thursday, September 11, 2008

There are a lot of Ahmad Ismails among us

Before I worked in my present department which is a local authority I was working for the federal government, the Ministry of Health to be specific. After my diploma training I was sent to Kelantan. I think the Ministry had a policy then to send their young just trained officers to the east coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu. Being young and unmarried we had lesser problems compared to those with families.

Although the population of Kelantan and Terengganu are mostly Malay the officers sent there were multiracial. This reflected the multiracial composition of the government service then. Although I was there for only one year it was fun. We never grouped ourselves as Malays, Chinese and Indians. I worked and stayed in a Main Health Centre at Pasir Putih, Kelantan. The Hospital Assistant (now Medical Assistant) was on a 24 hours duty. In actual fact we were all on 24 hours duty but in the case of the Hospital Assistant he cannot leave the Centre in the 24 hours. We had a doctor (Medical Officer) but he would only be summoned when necessary. Otherwise needy patients could always be sent by ambulance to the Hospital in Kota Bharu.

My Hospital Assistant used to spend his weekends in his kampung in Terengganu so a relief Hospital Assistant had to replace him. Normally this relief came in the form of my friend Ong Eng Guan who was stationed in a Sub Health Centre in Cherang Ruku. Ong was from Pulau Pinang and he was already married. But his wife had to be left behind since she was working.

Ong was given a sofa and a bed in the clinic for him to rest to sleep. But instead he chose to sleep in my quarters. It was a win win situation for both of us. Ong could watch my TV, something which he could miss had he stayed in the clinic. For my part I have a friend to talk to. The best thing for both of us was Ong could cook and he cooked very well too. So when Ong came we would go to the market to buy fresh food for him to cook. Sometimes we even called our friends from as far as Kota Bharu to enjoy the food prepared by Ong with a little help from me. My neighbour a Chinese Staff Nurse was also fresh from training. Sometimes we called her to join us too.

Things came to an abrupt end when I was offered a job at my place of employment now. Actually I was doing the same job. The difference being the people I serve. Formerly I was serving the rural population who are most Malays. Now I am serving the urban elite who are mostly non-Malays. I have no problems mixing with my new workmates who were also multi racial.

But here I was welcomed by a few racists who were similar to the present Ahmad Ismail. After reporting for duty for a few days I was wondering to the other sections. One racist whispered to me 'There are a lot of mangosteens here'. I was puzzled as I know my office is an office and not a fruit market. There are also no fruit trees around the office building. Then seeing that I was still confused he told me what he meant. All my life this was the first time that I heard this kind of racial slur.

As the years passed by and many of my multi racial friends retired and their places were filled by Malays. I know about the New Economic Policy but for me I was missing something. I had fewer and fewer friends who could speak English. So I had to look outside my office to find people who could speak English. In a way this irked some of my Malay bosses. One boss told me 'You know these people are 'pendatang'. How can you make friends with them?' Another Ahmad Ismail.

One day my big boss who is a Malay of course called me and my Malay Chief Clerk to his office. He wanted to know about one of my non-Malay colleagues. As a true comrade I told him nothing but my CC blurted a few things. I in turn told my colleague about this meeting and what the CC told about him. As a result my colleague and this CC had an argument. My Malay Chief Clerk came to me and asked 'Why did you side this 'bangsa asing?' I simply replied 'I won't rat against a fellow officer. Another thing, if I have to choose between a 'bangsa asing' colleague and a Malay non-colleague like you I'll choose the 'bangsa asing'. This Ahmad Ismail must had reported this confrontation to our big boss because this boss suddenly changed his attitude towards me ever since. Another Ahmad Ismail, this one holding the highest post in a government department. There must be scores of Ahmad Ismails working under him, me excluded.

As you can see there are a lot of Ahmad Ismails among us.

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