Life's Lights and Shadows

4 June 2011

This is my fourth year in Kenya and my blog updates are getting less frequent the longer I stay here! LOL! Looks like it’s going to be a biannual affair now that half the year is nearly over…
Well, it has certainly been an eventful past 6 months. In late January I returned to Singapore primarily to renew my passport (as we don’t even have a Singapore trade office here, let alone an embassy) but my visit also gave me the chance to be with my mother who had suffered a rather bad fall down the stairs at home, fracturing her left eye socket and humerus in the process.

Mum’s ending the year with a bang! She looks like she had a few rounds in the boxing ring with Muhammad Ali!

Fortunately she has recovered pretty well and can be found zooming around in her cute granny’s automobile (her silver NissanMarch), even though her left arm is not as flexible as it used to be. Many thanks to those who offered prayers and well wishes and who paid visits to her. We are most grateful for your care, concern and love.

While in Singapore, I also took the opportunity to raise some funds for the Gabriella House of formation which we are in the process of building here in Kenya. It will house our young Sisters studying Theology and they come from various parts of Africa including Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia…etc. Studies play a big part in our formation and these Sisters will most likely be posted back to their countries to serve in their local Church. Consequently this house of formation will help build the Kingdom of God not only in Kenya but far beyond.

Apart from some African handicrafts and jewellery on sale (and these went like hot cakes), the main product on sale for the fund raising was a CD comprising of songs written and performed by moi. Called “Unconditional,” it was produced in Kenya just before I departed for Singapore. My dedicated fund raising team (you guys rock!) and I spent five weekends at five parishes and the response was just amazing! The parishes in the East were especially generous. We sold close to 4000 CDs and raised a very substantial amount. My Sisters in Kenya and I truly appreciate the kind and generous response of all who contributed towards the building fund.

I never ever thought I’d have a CD of my own – I am certainly no Celine Dion and definitely no Lady Gaga! – but I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to receive some positive feedback on my voice and the songs. Some said they were touched by the lyrics and I was glad to hear that my reflections on faith, hope and love resonated with them. There were also some “rock star” moments when people queued to have me sign their copy of the CD (LOL!) and here’s also a blog post about the CD by an “FSP”. Thanks to all who supported this project and who bought the CD!

Thanks too to all my friends who took time and effort to meet up with me, spoiling me rotten with all the delicious makan sessions, shows and gifts. Your friendship is the best gift I could have and I love you all!

I returned to Kenya in mid March and found myself alone in the Audiovisual Sector as my companion, Sr Maria, is now the new delegate Superior of Mozambique/South Africa. Our one and only lay collaborator is also on a 3-month maternity leave. Thank goodness I have a few novices who come for about 3 hours each day to help out in the apostolate. The DVD I wrote about in my last post is finally out and here’s a teaser clip of it:

The current project I’m working on is the Swahili dubbed version of “It’s Up To You – Prevention of Risky Behaviour in Teens,” a DVD produced by Arche, an NGO based in Milan but with an office in Kenya. In 3 short stories, it tackles the issues of alcoholism, sexual abuse and teenage relationships. We are the exclusive distributors of this DVD which will soon be released.

All work and no play makes us Sisters also burn out fast so on Easter Monday, a bunch of us made a day trip to 14 Falls – a mini Niagara just outside of Nairobi. (More pics here.)

The joy of the Easter season was somehow dampened for me last May 23 when a dear friend who was like an elder sister finally succumbed to her illness of ovarian cancer. Sr Sylvia George, FSP (2 Sept 1961 – 23 May 2011) was from Sabah, Malaysia and we had an immediate connection when I entered the convent back in 1993. As I am a Peranakan, I felt immediately at home with her as we would sometimes speak Malay. I fondly called her Kak Syl (sometimes Kak Epin, her nickname), Kak being “elder sis” in Malay. She was preparing for her final vows and I had just entered as an aspirant. I remember playing badminton with her (we were actually both tennis fans) and she was always ready with her laugh. Yet she commanded respect and admiration as she exuded a serene and mature disposition that said - here’s someone who took her consecrated life very seriously. Although they were not frequent, we shared precious moments exchanging thoughts on life, especially the religious life. She was a wonderful source of encouragement and a model religious but because she was always so slim, I’d tease her and tell her that she’s my model in terms of a figure and she’d laugh out loud her contagious laugh. She always loved soup and for a short period when we were in the same formation community, she’d request I make some soup whenever I was in the kitchen!

I remember her coming to sit by my bed as I was recovering from an illness (I had quite a few while in the Philippines!) and I sulkily chided her for not coming earlier! I can’t remember what she said – probably something like “better late than never” – but I really felt consoled and comforted by her presence. Over the years, as we lived in different countries, we did not have the chance to see each other much but she was always in my heart and we kept in touch. She was also on the mailing list for my blog updates. When she got onto Facebook, we communicated more frequently, especially last year when she was placed in isolation during her illness. She’d send me messages about my blog, photos I’d post on FB and also shared with me about her illness and why she wanted some privacy. Here are some snippets of her messages to me (and a few of mine to her):

WO: Hi Ka Epin! Actually I'm already home and will be leaving to go back to Nairobi on June 21. I thought you're still in Rome. When are you returning to KL? I do have some friends and relatives there so I may make a trip to KL see them but not sure at the moment... Will keep you posted if I do and hope you'll be back by then! …….
SG:Really? Ok keep in touch [am still among the Romans] hope to see u soon!

SG:why am still this hour...i slept at 7.30pm due to fever...and got up a while ago to pack up my things....and check my email and true enough **** sent me a msg...he leaving for BKK tomorrow for echoing "continental encounter"///pray i'll be ok for tomorrow's travel
SG: ha ha double msg...both private and public...ada delirium morning
WO: all the best there! enjoy the yummy food - tom yam soup you will like I think... Regards to the sisters there. Get better soon! XX

SG: oh my god wen...your fashion-xmas show...see through oh.. huhhhhhuuhh
WO: Hi Kak Syl, LOL! Sorry to scandalize you! That's my ethnic costume. Tried first with an inner sando but all of them were in white so it didn't work so decided to leave and dress as any typical bibi does - that is the nyonya. ……. and this explains what the nyonya kebaya is -

SG: ya back to green...ordinary in extraordinary lah! how are you?
Pray for Malaysia...hayayyy as usual Govt not allowing the xtians to use the word ALLAH!

SG: HI ITS ME again.... ***** is in nairobi still ka? she is a golden jubilarian, this June right? wonder if she's coming home to celebrate it with her co-novices!

SG: Hi Wen! Thanks for your unceasing prayer. Feeling strong due to the prayers of the Congregation. Sometimes feeling boring...always in my only lah....
I got your email re: ********* but then saya jatuh sakit so cant do anything yet....
WO: Hi Kak Syl, Sorry haven't been online much becoz of power failures and been busy with our media festival which just concluded. No worries about the ******** So what exactly is your sakit? ***** told me to pray for you as you were undergoing a hysterectomy. Then I got news from ***** that you had cancer 4th stage! Later they said it was cancer of the uterus. Then I heard that you had been unwell and weak since early this year. Anyway I'm glad that you are recovering and you're responding well to the chemo. Pls email me more details if you're up to it, esp since you're bored! Lots of love, and still praying for you
SG: Its ok Wen ... am proud of you doing much good for our community in Nairobi. More power to you...there is so much to be done by the Daughters of St. Paul in the world today! Am happy that *** emailed you the *****
My sakit, its ovarian cancer, some bad cells went to my right lungs, but it seems its ok now...maybe healing is taking place. At first, the doctors could not determine where the mass was..till the day of operation that they believe its in the ovary...strange coz no pain at all, and thats the problem! I've gone through a series of ultra sound-CT Scan, X-ray, several lab it...i've experienced all, but amazingly I did not experience pain at all...I have submitted myself to all the requirements of the Docs with much serenity and this is a great blessing/grace God has given me...reason, I dont know!
Well, I hope ****** will not spread abt my stage. I told ***** just to tell the srs that am undergoing this treatment without further-detailed info for the sisters...I dont want it to be a burden, and I dont want them to think this and that about me, coz I dont think it helps psychologically.... Not that am not grateful for their concern and prayers but at this time I also need "privacy of spirit"...
Ya end of the year, I felt I was not feeling good but Docs could not find out whats wrong with me. I had LBM and thought due to food...then the doc said, due to acute gastric, had medication for one month and still not healing, then referred me for ultra sound then found the tumor but cannot be determined, where, either in the intestines, ovary, lung...strange!
Thanks for praying for me still...miracles do happen...if He wills...and I believe so....your prayers always make me strong and I thank God am collaborating with His grace, quite well...think so...he he for me always!

WO: Hullo Kak Syl? How are you? I heard you are not allowed visitors? Was planning to fly over to pay you a visit this coming weekend but maybe now I should not book my air ticket na!
But seriously, hope you're responding well to the chemo or whatever treatment they are giving to you. Thanks for sharing the details of your illness - I just realised I have not replied to this but just managed to send you a card c/o **** Hope you got it.
I know cancer patients have their good days and their bad days. I pray you will have more good days than bad ones. I passed ****** a DVD some time ago of a movie based on a true story of a breast cancer patient. It was for ****. Not sure if she still has it but will ask her to pass to you through ***** if it's still with her. It might provide some consolation.
While you are having this "grace-filled" time alone with the Lord - parang extended retreat! - please offer your suffering for two intentions of mine: *********
Finally I would like to share with you a beautiful quote from one of my heroes - Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati in a letter repyling to his sister when he was ill with TB -
"You ask me whether I am in good spirits. How could I not be, so long as my trust in God gives me strength. We must always be cheerful. Sadness should be banished from all Christian souls. For suffering is a far different thing from sadness, which is the worst disease of all. It is almost always caused by lack of Faith. But the purpose for which we have been created shows us the path along which we should go, perhaps strewn with many thorns, but not a sad path. Even in the midst of intense suffering it is one of joy."
So my prayer for you my dear Kak Syl is that amidst your 'suffering', you may be filled with abundant graces and not feel sad because the joy of Christ is deep within you. May you overcome this illness and be even stronger than before. I want to see you very much alive when I next visit Manila (or Malaysia) ok?!
Here's a familiar song to lift your spirits up.

WO: Hi Kak Syl, Thanks very much for your card and gift sent through ***** Truly appreciate the time and effort you took to write! Glad to know that you are responding well to the chemo and not feeling too bad after each session. It is heartening to also know that you are taking everything with much gratitude and faith. Keep the candle burning! Yes I am indeed ceaselessly praying for you. Please offer your sufferings for me too - for my daily conversion and also my midlife journey/challenges!
SG: Gd a.m Wen2 [Philippines time]
Thanks for your msg......just a small pasalubong ma....not much he he
Well, if I am responding well to chemo and taking everything with gratitude and is all because of your [all of you in the congregation] PRAYERS. The Lord has heard your prayers. I am forever grateful to God for all of you. I have 2 more sessions to go [5th and 6th] Remember me in your prayers okey? Regards to all...Imagine I didnt have the chance to see ******, coz am not allowed to expose myself due to my low immune system....I feel good actually but have to obey doctors also! he he
ps. how's your project [film? not sure what is it now he he] When you are back to Singapore [one day] can help also organizing seminar on media education in Malaysia....I mean we form regular Media Education [kind of a program] dreaming...he he

SG: Hi Wen2....tnx for the beautiful bday greetings and prayers. You are so wonderful. So, how's your apostolate there? am proud of you...hope oneday can do something on media animation in Msia!!!!
Take care...bila cuti2 Singapore?

There must be a big celebration of LIFE, right?
Know that you are in my thoughts and prayers TODAY!
Kak Epin [he he he]
Ps. Thanks for your prayers for me all these while!

SG: Hi Wen....I believe you sent me msg last time...have to scroll down to see he he he
But this is just to let u know, I really enjoy the presence of **** and also **** in a community even for a short while....we just sent them off while ago... praying that they will have safe journey ....Wen, I am interested re: seminar on human dev & sexuality....can share handouts ka? pls lah!
Thanks for your prayers all these on my feet now!

SG: Am happy that you had a wonderful time with your mom....thought kau ikut balik Singapore! he he he...i saw some pix via news feed he he Happy Triduum for Alberione's anni this Nov 26.

WO: Happy feast of Alberione Kak Syl! So are you really walking and fully alive already? Because I thought I saw some pics of you and I said, wow, real miracle! So happy! You can check out some more photos of my mum's visit I've posted. Meanwhile, stay healthy!
SG:Happy Feastday 2 u 2....we celebrated it today @ SSP Makati. But I didn't go he he he..takut kalau ramai orang...
Ha ha, am fine by the grace of God. Yes, it is a miracle for me!! Life is in God's hand! Yes, death is certain but the day, hour, etc is only known to God. This wed I will have my Blood Test after 3 months [after chemo] Hope all is fine. I surrender everything to HIM.
Maybe one day I will share what really experience and all that.....Before, I didn't even know that some sisters were already crying and of course known well to PG...even the infirmarian...even the doctors are so sorry to tell them the bad news.......and those moments I didnt even think negative about it, and I cant even remember if I have surrendered everything to Him, I was just taking it calmly, and thats all....but when I was discharged there were moments that many things that would enter my mind and enough to make me tremble...and that was fighting bet life and death....weLL ...HE KNOWS BETTER.
Ok need to tidur oledi....its 11pm...just finish reading some materials for tomorrow's meeting.
Ps. ***** asked me to pray for Sr. Ursula who had recurrence...I guess she should be fine...she only needs to stay positive and do something to divert attention. [coz I was told that she always stay in her room]

Besides pouring over our exchange of messages, I also spent my mourning over Kak Syl’s passing by viewing the video of my first profession in which she was the commentator – just to hear her voice and see her “alive” and in a way to celebrate a “final” mass together… I decided to upload those portions where she appears for those who also mourn her passing and who may also appreciate these glimpses of Syl. (Some of you may also recognise your younger selves!) Here we were back in 1997! (please excuse the video quality):

Kak Syl was not the only friend I lost this year. In February, another dear friend in the convent, Sr Ursula Marti, FSP, also succumbed to ovarian cancer. She was from India and we met in Rome during the course of preparation for final vows. As we shared many common interests, we fast became good friends. I last spoke with her at Christmas last year and her usual cheery voice was no longer cheery. I prayed intensely for a miracle but as with Kak Syl, God had other plans for her. Both of them had relapses.  Only the good die young? I guess it’s true. They were both wonderfully good and must have been ready to meet the Lord. I thank God for gracing my life with their presence and I thank them for the gift of their friendship. It is such a heartbreak to lose them and I miss them both. I can only rest in the hope of a sweet reunion with them some day in heaven.

Well, heaven is where I hope I’ll eventually be heading too. Perhaps as part of the preparation, for some months now, I have been contributing a short reflection on the Sunday mass reading through Buona Domenica, an initiative of Sr Jocelyn in Singapore. The contributors are all Daughters of St Paul from Singapore – Sr Karen in the Philippines, Sr Lynette in Taiwan, Sr Jocelyn in Singapore and myself in Kenya. We take a Sunday each. If you'd like to subscribe to this weekly reflection, write to Check this Sunday's reflection here.

And I guess it's time for me to check out too! Thanks for reading. I hope it made up for my silence for the past months. Please stay healthy and may the rest of the year be filled with more lights than shadows for all.



  1. condolences for the loss of your dear sister fren, sr wendy..

  2. Thanks Wen for the sharing and the video clip of Kak Syl. I called her Kak Syl too occasionally, when I am in a light mood. Otherwise Sr Syl. :-) Yes, I am still hearing her voice and laughter very clearly in my mind. After her burial, our schedule is now back to normal but we can feel that it is no longer the same. All of us are still mourning, each in our own way. If you notice, Wen, in your video clip, there are two other sisters who are also no longer with us: Sr. Greg and Sr. ... (I forgot her name, she was the provincial secretary). 1997 was 14 years ago! I remember that year was our first year in LST Marikina and therefore we were not allowed to attend your first profession, except for Mennen because she is the sister of Bing. Soon we shall be celebrating our anniversary of profession too. Mine will be the 16th, and yours 15th. :=)


  3. Shirl, do you mean Sr Sol? She managed to keep her illness which was breast cancer so quiet, we only got to know about it when it was too late! Yes it's unbelievable how time flies! The little boy my brother is carrying at the start of the clip is my nephew, Martin, who's now 15 going on 16! Happy anniversary later this month!

  4. Glad that your mum is better. That's such a bad fall. Please send my regards to her. When are you coming to Melbourne? To sell your CD & have a rock concert?
    Sorry to hear about the death of your 'sister' Sr Sylvia.
    Take care & God Bless.

  5. As per usual your blog is as interesting as ever. You really have found your true vocation in life and I am amazed by all the good work you continue to do. So sorry to hear about your Mums fall, but glad she has/is recovering well. She sure looked a mess in the photos. So sorry to also hear about the lost of two of your close friends Sr Sylvia George and Sr Ursula Marti. The emails you shared with Sr Sylvia George were very moving and it seems you were a real inspiration to her in her last few months of her life when she was unable to carry out her normal duties. You have touched my life allowing me to read your chilliandlime blog and I am forever grateful that you are a friend. Whenever I see a sunset I always think of you as when we were on our Contiki tour you always seemed fasinated with the sun setting.
    Keep up all the good work you are doing. You have definitely lite up my life sharing all your stories.

  6. Thanks for your ever-inspiring C&L. Especially grateful for sharing your memories of Sr Sylvia and Sr Ursula. Such beautiful Sisters. I'm sure they will remain among us and be sources of many graces.
    Blessings for all our upcoming feasts, especially Pentecost. May the Holy Spirit fill all of us with graces galore. Also blessings for feast of our Queen and the whole month of St. Paul.
    With love and prayers, SMLea

  7. I was so happy to read your blog. it is really marvelous and enriching, Congrats dear for all your good work. You are really doing well May God give you more strength and insights to work for His Kingdom. How is your Mam now , who is looking after her ?
    Take care dear remembering you in my prayers.
    with much love priya