Not a Toffee Nut resilience

She hailed from war-torn Palestine, with hope of a new life in a promised land. She was beautiful, intelligent and extremely resilient. She braved the isolation of being a new immigrant in an English speaking country, and left her beloved father whom she has been taking care of since her mother died. She was the prized youngest daughter and the protected sister – but they let her go because of the new future Canada promised. Now, in a twist of fate and God’s plan for her – Canada will be the place that will make or break her.

This is the story of a sweet 25 year old I know. On a weekday afternoon while completing my translation of a play for Teater Ekamatra in Vancouver Public Library more than a year ago, I was greeted by a whisper of a salam. When I shifted my focus from the laptop’s screen to the person standing next to me, I was struck by this girls’ beauty. She has all the typical Arabic physical gems you can think of – sharp nose, fair skin and so well-groomed you would think she belongs to the Birmingham Palace. When I returned her greeting in Arabic, she broke into a wide smile and literally threw a verbal avalanche of Arabic sentences. I had to quickly stop her and let her know I dont speak Arabic, and that my hijab means I am Muslim but not necessarily an Arab. She said sorry, and her almost perfect English came out of her mouth. It turned out that she just got married to a Palestinian-Canadian, and moved to Vancouver the same time I moved there last year. She saw me – a woman with a hijab on head typing furiously on a laptop in the library, and was eager to make a new Muslim friend as she had been alone most of the time at home.

We had coffee after that, and what followed was a sweet sisterlike friendship between the 2 of us since we shared so many insecurities as new wives, new country, lots of time in our hands and a deep love for the beautiful Vancouver Public Library. We had many exchanges (and public debate!) about how we are holding up Islam in our respective ways. I introduced her to Starbucks, and taught her how to pronounce ‘Toffee Nut Latte’ properly without confusing the barrista.

One fine spring day last year, she called me to say she needed to see me. She sounded desperate and I got worried. I said I had dinner plans with DH after he finished work but she insisted on coming to see me even for a short while. And so she did.

That meeting, was my first window of a trouble marriage. I didn’t like the fact that her husband did not allow her to mix with other Arabs, and only allowed her to be friends with me, and a few other non-Arab ladies. I couldn’t understand his rationale – as she needs to be with her community who speak the language at least, so that she will not feel so lost. I, on the other hand – have the luxury of in-laws and other Malay community members who are already good family friends to my husband’s family, and yet I still feel isolated a fair bit from good ol’ South East Asia. So imagine how it is like for this Palestinian girl. She was contemplating divorce then, and I remembered telling her to rough it out. It is a marriage throught thick and thin after all. I recommended John Gray’s books on Men are from Mars .. and she read them to find answers on how to communicate her needs to her husband.

A year passed, and my life moved by several leaps. I was back in Singapore last year, and was very much focused on having my life and DH’s settled in Singapore. Then she called long-distance and said her marriage was over. She had quite a gruelling time with her husband that it was warranted that divorce was the answer. He was, regrettably, dishonest to her and her family from the beginning.

At that very moment this 25 year old’s world stop spinning. She had a choice of returning to Palestine, where in her own words, she knew that divorced women are scorfed – or stay in Canada, alone, with no money, no job and not knowing what holds in the future. She also knows no one, besides me and a few other women.

I remembered sitting in my yellow sofa in my Singapore flat that day, and crying. I felt so helpless I could not be there and be the friend I knew how. I knew Palestine was not the answer for her, because unlike you and me – there is not much future for her in a wartorn country yet to settle its political affairs. But how do you do it when you are literally sebatang kara? All that she has were some jewellery that she has been pawning to buy phone cards and bus tickets, and that dear readers, is enough to make me feel useless and teary.

But alas, she did rough it out. DH and my MIL fixed her up with a South African family friend, and now she is renting a room from them for a cheap price. She has decided that Canada will be the place for her for at least the next few years so that she can gain her Canadian citizenship, and then in the meantime she is pursuing her studies and try to find work part time.

How her course has changed. Just over a year ago, she had come to the big North American land to live a married life, escape the harsh reality of the turmoil back home and seek a better future. Now, she is all alone – with nothing but uncertainty in front of her. All that she holds true to her heart – is Allah’s hands in guiding her.

In all my travels and the many individuals I met or interviewed, no one, and absolutely no one impresses me with a a resilience as mind-blowing as hers.

This song was sung by a girlfriend at my wedding. I had always wanted to dedicate this song to all my nieces during their weddings eventually. But till then – this one goes out to her. Specially for my Toffee Nut Latte friend.

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small when you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances but they’re worth taking
Lovin’ might be a mistake but it’s worth making
Don’t let some hell bent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance


  1. subhanallah, lagi besar dugaan orang eh? thanks uja, for sharing this heart wrenching episode of another woman’s life. i hope n pray that she will brave through this and come out stronger and triumphant.Amin.

  2. how difficult life must be for her..and here I am whining over the smallest and most trivial stuff! I hope things turn out right for her with God’s help and Will.

  3. nazrah and anedra, thanks for the prayers for her. I get teary thinking abt her all the time, and you are right Anedra, I worry abt small things too and complain complain complain.

    Her journey is my inspiration, and one day I hope to write a happy ending abt her too.

  4. This entry is sad.

    I am reminded…
    that I must always be grateful for all I have.

    And I am reminded…

  5. such a sad sad story…:( easy for me to say..but i hope she doesnt give up. May Allah give her strength to move on..

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