Sunday, January 04, 2009

Story from My Mother III

Story from My Mother III

Yesterday was Friday 2nd Jan. My mother asked me to drive her to town, she wanted to do some shopping at Kedai Janggut opposite the post office. Kedai Janggut is a sundry shop selling provisions, the owner was a Chinaman sporting long white beard, hence janggut. I remember the man back 20 years ago, but these days a Chinese woman is running the shop, probably his daughter. Four years ago, when I was back here, my father also likes to do his shopping at the shop. I accompanied him a few times then. I dropped off my mother at the shop, and then drove off to the ATM machine a block away. When I got back, she has finished her shopping. My mother told me the reason she shopped there is to ask if my father owed them any money. No he didn’t.
Perhaps I shall give some background here. Most businesses in rural Malaysia also act as small time bankers to the villagers. Most people in rural Malaysia have no fixed income. Even if they have regular work drawing salary, their incomes are small. Worse, most of them have big families, and virtually nothing is free, not even healthcare, kids education and welfare for the poor and disabled. Yes, since a few years ago, the Govt has been providing welfare payment to the very core poor, but it just cover the basic, RM150 a month for a single person. Nowadays Govt also provide for basic housing for single mothers, disabled and old people under PPRT (project perumahan rakyat termiskin), but if that single mother/widow has full grown able bodied son/s, she is also not qualified.

So these small businesses, ie sundry shops extend credit to the poor, just to tide the over in the form of groceries etc. As lender, they are also nice and forgiving, they don’t ask for your money every time you visit their shop, but your record is kept in a small notebook (the so called buku tiga-lima 555).
Why would you extend credit on your goods without any collateral? Its goes back to the culture of the people. For Malay Muslims, all debts must be paid, unless forgiven. The Muslims believes that in the Hereafter, at Padang Mahsyar, all our good deeds will be counted; the bad deeds will be deducted from that. If you owe any debt to anybody, the person will come to you asking for the loan back. That day you will have no money, except your good deeds.
So he/she will say to you, “if you have no money, let me have some of your good deeds, enough to cover for your debt to me on Earth.” So you will have to pay back your debt with your good deeds. What if you have no good deeds left? Well, you will have to take on his/her sins/bad deeds instead. That is why when a man passed away; his relatives and children will find out if he owes any money to anyone and will settle the loan for him.

So in a sense, extending credit to Malay Muslims is no risk. Only that it will take time to get your money back. Tahiron told my mother that the Chinaman who buys the palm oil fruit from my father gave loan of RM100 to my father, to be counted against the next sale of palm oil fruits. My mother told me that the price of palm oil fruit has fallen from a high of RM800 per tonne, down to RM250 today.

Back to the story of selective welfare help. Kak Tuminah, neighbour has 3 school going kids, she has also 3 adult sons. Her husband Anuar died about 4 years ago. He didn’t left her with much, just an acre around the house, an acre of rice field and the old dilapidated house. Two of her adult sons are working, Khairul works in Shah Alam, getting about RM800 a month and Izam works at car accessory factory, getting about RM600 in a good month, working on piece/work done basis. She didn’t get anything from JKM (welfare), the reason given is that she has adult sons to take care of her. She cant work, she has 3 school going kids. What she get this year from Baitul Mal(wang zakat) is RM500 to help with cost of sending her children to school. Nothing else. She told my mother at times like this, when money needed to buy school shoes and books, she would cry herself, because there is nothing to pay for those expenses.

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