It is a pleasure to live in Brunei, a true dar-ul-salam. The people and the settings are uncomplicated, peaceful in contentment, rich in culture and safe and nurturing especially for children growing up. As a result, Meeza has a different childhood from mine; hers is one that is quiet, serene and pious brought about by her secure and loving environment. Her years in Ugama school gave her a composure I can't ever have. It was I, her mom, who reached out and clung to her, the child, for comfort in one moment of fear when we hit turbulence on air. She recited her surahs calmly and steadily, while all I thought about was my impending doom.
In my childhood, the first realization of who I am, was when Zainab, my patrician grandmother, washed for wudhu and donned her pristine 'talukung' to do her solat. Immediately, after her dua at the end of praying, we, the smaller ones, rushed to kiss her hands and her cheeks. In the afternoons, she would sit down on the wooden floor, a thin stick on her hand pointing out to her children the tajwids in the Qur'an.
She and my grandfather and their younger children whose ages were not far from us, lived in a huge, wooden and water-logged house which was connected by bamboo bridges to the smaller houses behind. On those flimsy pathways, we flew our kites and watched for green snakes slither on the water underneath. When it was our time to read the Qur'an, we sped to the smaller houses to escape. Expectedly, because we were the Hollywood-fed, part-time 'hacienda' children (referring to Rosalinda's land-owning roots) who preferred to play and be restless and rowdy as their horse-riding ancestors. Omar, the secular one, seemed not to mind that we were not at par with our cousins in Qur'an reading.
Then, the time came when we felt that something was on the air, when the young uncles and aunties went for their studies, became doctors and alims and chose to stay in exile in far away lands like Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia. I remember having seen the pyramids in postcards and opening parcels containing tasbihs and hijabs for the adults and gold-plated pens for us children. We did not see them for a very long time; only the ones who went for haj or umrah did meet them. Soon, the seventies came and everything changed. It was a turbulent decade for Muslims in the Philippines. The eighties was the time for peace-making and happily for us, the now weary uncles and aunties came home and embraced their secular elders. The future now looked hopeful.