Sunday January 20, 2013
Living a pitiful existence
By VANES DEVINDRAN
email@example.com Photos by ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE
ASAJAYA: With a strawberry pink wide brim hat covered most of her face, old Sarimah Serian only peeked at the cameras clicking away as she sat fishing in a wide muddy stream.
With a smile, she beckoned media photographers to come close before asking what the occasion was that called for her photo to be taken.
“You have come to see what I caught? Well, nothing for now but the fish will bite,” she said in Bahasa Sarawak laced with the dialect of the Malay community of Sadong Jaya here.
After showing off her wooden fishing rod, she called out an English “Thank you!” and turned her focus back to fishing, giggling to herself.
Policeman Cpl Suhaili Pawi, 52, stood at the nearby roadside, not surprised by Sarimah’s reaction to the limelight.
“You have caught her on one of her good days. If not, she will be hurling curses at you,” he told reporters recently.
He should know for Suhaili has been Sarimah’s unofficial guardian since they became neighbours five years ago.
Apparently, Sarimah and her 40-year-old daughter lived in a house built under the government’s housing project for the hardcore poor on the land adjacent to Suhaili’s home.
Unfortunately, both are believed to be mentally unsound and living in dire conditions.
Cpl Suhaili did not have the heart to look the other way so he took it upon himself to make sure both had enough to eat and if they fell ill, he would take them to see a doctor.
The daughter, Jerah Sempeng, receives welfare assistance of RM300 a month but not Sarimah.
Due to their mental state, Cpl Suhaili was given the green light to handle the aid money, which he uses to buy them their rations and other necessities.
However, with the increasing cost of living these days, Cpl Suhaili is forced to fork out extra from his own income for the two.
Even the electric supply to the duo’s house is taken from Suhaili’s home.
“How can you look away? It is pitiful to see both of them and so I try my best to watch over them just to make sure they have enough to eat and they are alright. But there’s a limit to what I can do,” he lamented.
He said the house might look good from the exterior but inside, it was dirty with broken plumbing.
True enough, a look inside showed an environment unfit for living — from the dark stained walls to blackened dirt covered clothing all meshed in the corner.
Later in the kitchen, Sarimah hummed a tune as she washed her plates. But the water which drains off from the sink splashes to the floor due to broken piping.
As a result, bits of leftover food like rice grains and dried anchovies spread all over the wet cement floor, making it dangerously slippery for the old woman.
If she is unlucky in fishing, her normal diet for the day would be plain rice and sambal belacan (shrimp paste).
On the right is the separate bathroom and toilet which are obviously broken.
Furthermore, the house has no proper access so one needs to negotiate the drain’s ledge and make their way through the overgrown bushes to get to it.
Cpl Suhaili said there would be days when the smell due to the unhygienic condition of the house would blow towards his own home.
He said the story has it that Sarimah was not always like this.
“If I’m not mistaken, she had six children but her husband gave them away for adoption except for two, including Jerah.
“The separation is said to have taken a toll on her and I guess she got depressed. From then on, she appeared to be in her own world,” he said.
Her husband had since passed away and it is not known what happened to the other children.
Cpl Suhaili said Sarimah would have her good and bad days and when it was the latter, she would walk aimlessly on the roadside yelling all sorts of things.
“She even bangs on her pots and aluminium tin while berpantun (a kind of traditional Malay poetry).”
He said mother and daughter are living under the same roof but they do not share things like foodstuff.
He would need to buy separate items for them as they refuse to share.
Fortunately, he said Sarimah was blessed with good health as she recovers from any illness quite fast even from a recent dog bite.
“They cannot continue to live this way. It’s not healthy for them. They need a cleaner environment and additional assistance in terms of foodstuff. I will help as much as I can but I’m afraid it is not enough,” he added.
Members of the public who wish to help can contact Cpl Suhaili at 011-1208 7220.