Opinion

That family secret

JULY 24 — It was a swelteringly hot day in rural Ecuador. The double doors opened, and the nurses and doctors pushed a hospital bed out of the operating theatre.

On the bed lay an adorable little baby boy, just waking up after his operation and beginning to move about. His family of eight had been anxiously waiting for him outside. 

They had travelled two hours that morning by bus, waking up at 5am, so they could bring him for his 20-minute surgery. They cheered as the surgeon explained that all had gone well. His father kissed the surgeon’s hand, and the whole family shook the hands of everyone on the team. “He is the youngest child in the whole family!” they told us. “He is our golden boy.”

The family network is very important in South America, very much like it is in Malaysia as well; people take care of their own family members very well, despite the financial and physical difficulties in caring for the more elderly and infirm, or the very young. 

I don’t have to tell you that it is a stark contrast from what is happening increasingly in the developed world, where I have seen many patients alone for days in the hospital in England, or suffering alone at home, and occasionally dying alone, with nobody beside them. Many people rarely see their parents, some separate completely from the rest of their family members, and old folks’ homes are thriving.

We should be very grateful for our family network, no matter how complicated they may be, or how large. Obviously, this depends on the situation at hand, and there are many situations where separation is probably the best idea, but that is outside the scope of this article. 

Today I am simply saying that one can gain a lot of confidence and hope with the power of the unconditional love given by one’s family. I have another story for you to illustrate what I mean.

A few nights ago, we went for dinner at a small family-run Ecuadorian restaurant. It was very small, almost a shack, and the father was the chef, the mother the waitress, and the three very young children were running lots of errands. Their six-year-old daughter ran down to the nearest store to get us cold drinks, their five-year-old was wiping tables, and their four-year-old was helping her father marinade some chicken. 

The image of the last paragraph in your mind must almost remind you of the story of Cinderella. “What a way to grow up,” you must be thinking. But the reality was light years away from being gloomy or dreary.

The kids were really excited to be given the chance to serve us. They were putting the cutlery on the table carefully, as if they might break, looked at us curiously (there were a few Caucasians amongst our ranks), tried saying hello to us in English, and ran to hide behind the counter and giggle whenever we spoke to them. 

Their mother was watching her children carefully out of the corner of her eye, occasionally picking them up and giving them a kiss or a hug. We had initially wanted to order some fairly expensive food to share but she convinced us to try something cheaper that she said was nicer with fresher ingredients, and she was right. 

The chef came out of the kitchen to see how our dinner was going and explained to us that the chicken we were eating had just been running around their backyard this morning. They gave us free fruit at the end. 

The radio was blaring with local folk music, and the parents were humming, their children singing, our conversation was flowing with it, everyone tapped their feet to the beat, and the meal we had there was absolutely lovely.

Outside of this beautiful bubble, any cynic could tell you that they were probably not doing very well and couldn’t hire extra help at their restaurant. Business was probably slow and they did not have any of the ingredients for those more expensive dishes we wanted, just in case nobody ordered it in that day and they would have to throw it away. The kids were probably supposed to be in school but there are few kindergartens in small towns like these. Times may have been hard for that little family. All we saw was a snapshot.

But how well they were coping with the problems that they faced. What simple happiness radiated out of that small little restaurant. The smiles on their faces and the pure joy they seemed to gain out of work was what attracted us to walk inside in the first place.

As we left the restaurant that evening, the whole family stood outside waving goodbye, and wished us a safe trip onward. They actually refused to let us tip them, handing us the change firmly, saying it was their pleasure.

So just to conclude, the next time you’re on a hunt for some support or courage, try looking at home first. Make an effort to get closer to your family, appreciate and support them, and they will do the same for you.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

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