"Any expectation?", Boss ibu bersuara. Tu standard opening line in our meeting routines. To capture what we expect from the meeting - to know more of certain topics, to get clarification on issues, to get proposal signed off, to learn of project progress, bla..bla..bla....
The table was split 50-50. Half locals, half expats. Of the locals, 50-50 split again. Half muslims, half non muslims. Lepas sorang2 kawan seperjuangan ibu menyuarakan expectation masing2. Semua official expectations belaka. Control macho semua. Walaupun sebelum masuk meeting tadi ramai bersungut sebab the meeting was not scheduled, just a few hours advance notice.
Boss tengok ibu & senyum. Tinggal ibu sorang belum bagi expectation. "Saving the best for last?", he teased. Ibu tengok jam. Pukul 3.00pm. Dalam kepala ligat fikir, sempat ker ni?
"Errr.. yes! I have 3 expectations - on behalf of the muslims. Can I request we have a 15 mins break at 4.15pm? And that we finish the meeting by 6.00pm the latest. And err.. it would be good if everyone can agree that we skip Starbucks order today".
Kawan2 yang lain senyum. The Mat Sallehs sengih2. Muka boss berkerut - tak faham. He's very new in the country. And I'm sure he must have read that Msia is a progressive moderate Muslim country. But from the look on his face, I knew he was not prepared to hear such a request - one made on behalf of the muslim mgmt team members in an office meeting? I imagined, he must be wondering, is there real distinct need for such separatism?
"Any particular reason why?", he asked. "Not that it's not agreeable, but you were very specific with the timing", he added. He looked genuinely concerned.
Ibu ingat masa waktu belajar2 dulu, puasa during Summer. Berlambak depan mata orang teguk Coke waktu matahari tegak atas kepala. The guys ( ayah lah ni...)had challenges "puasa mata" sebab minah2 salleh semua dok sun bathing at their front lawn. Exam waktu berbuka tu cerita biasa. Tu waktu di negeri orang, di tanah asing yang rata2 rakyatnya tidak celik Islam, tidak celik Ramadhan. Ibu fikir, kalau waktu belajar dulu tu mungkin susah nak influence towards a decision to meet such expectations.
Kini, 15++ tahun dah berlalu. Cabaran Islam & Ramadhan bertukar rupa. We are constantly faced with the challenges of "blending" in the sake of projecting maturity & professionalism at the work place. But it bothers me if we had to pretend about our commitment to our faith & our practices. Apatah lagi tatkala kaki berpijak ditanahair sendiri.
"Yes boss! We need to break at 4.15 pm for our prayer, and today is the first working day of Ramadhan. We need to knock off by 6.00 pm the latest so that we can reach home in time for breakfasting with our families", ibu jawab flat in one breath. Sambil betul2kan tudung ibu yang sebenarnya tak senget pun, I made a quick glance around the table; everyone was nodding in agreement, the non muslims alike.
Boss terlopong kejap.
If I'm going to be marked any lesser for voicing that very simple expectation - so be it. I'd rather be known for my stand than having to all the time sway in the direction the wind blows. And besides, I think such a direct hint is a good "on the job orientation" for my new boss
"Oh my! I'm sorry I didn't realise some of you guys are fasting today. You all look energetic as usual, I can't tell!", boss responded. "Yes, of course we shall break at 4.15pm. Take 20, please. Yes, we shall finish by 6.00pm."
I saw my colleagues faces lightened up. I thought I heard "YES!!!!" but in a whisper.
Boss tambah lagi, "And I think if some of you guys can last this long without food and water, I'm sure the rest can survive a few hours without Starbucks."
Ouch! Not sure if that one was received with enthusiasm by the Mat Sallehs. But no signs of coup d'etat. No violent seizure of power, not yet. I think they were all just happy to be let off the hook by 6.00pm.
"Would 6.00pm be too late? Do you have enough time to cook?", an expat colleague menokok tambah - dengan harapan he would also benefit from an early finish.
"Don't push it, my friend. You know the answer." Ibu jawab pendek, disambut dengan soft laughter from around the table.
So that was one expectation tossed across the board room from a working mum during Ramadhan.
My steer to you Boys - speak up! Especially when upholding our commitment to our faith. Or, if you boys esok besar turn out to be the one sitting at the head table, then bear this in mind. There may be people who are shy to speak up, at the expense of them fulfilling their other obligations. Ask more, than just tell.