Maher lives in Chengdu with his wife Natasha, and children Leila and Rahul. An amateur runner and yoga practitioner; he openly admits the difficulty of balancing his activities with work and raising children.
Against all Odds
Hong Kong 2009. These were stressful yet exciting times. Times where everything was possible, yet everything was impossible. Times where we hoped for life, but feared death. Times where the most skeptical became believers. And I, among them, turned to my own invented superstitions.
It was during my 40 minute runs at the Happy Valley Race Course that I started singing my reggae hymn to Rahul and Leila. I would repeat it in my head over and over like a mantra. It was my own prayer to whomever.
First, I prayed for them to hang on as long as possible with their mother, inside her belly. Then, when they were in the Neonatal ICU, I prayed for them to start breathing on their own, to start eating, and digesting on their own. To put on weight and be strong enough to get out. I prayed for Leila’s test result to show no sign of intestinal necrotizing, and for Rahul’s apnea to stop.
I always carried 2 dollar coins with me. I would stop by the Frangipani trees inside the racecourse, kiss the coins and throw them at the feet of the two trees I thought were the frailest and neediest looking. And I would repeat my prayers.
Often, I would look up, and between the glowing skyscrapers try to spot the majestic kite eagles that fly the skies of Hong Kong. If I spotted two at a time, our day would go well.
It was then, in apartment 20F of the V-Residencies, Causeway Bay that against all odds, it happened. I didn’t expect it, and didn’t even expect to try it. It was awkward and ugly. But it was there undoubtedly: my first padmasana. In my eyes it was like a rare sporting moment when the ultimate underdog becomes the champion. Me, the stiff runner, from a notoriously stiff family; I suddenly found myself in the lotus pose.
Everything else happened as well. Rahul came out, and then Leila came out. The New Year came and all our relatives flew to Hong Kong. We celebrated with the twins at home. When they grew stronger, we returned to Chengdu. Slowly, normal life returned and the feel and memory of these strange times vanished.
I sometimes miss that edginess; the feeling of improbable yet realized hopes.
I remember the coffee in a jam jar and the triple layer peanut butter sandwich I prepared every Friday evening and kept in the fridge. Early the next morning, I would drink the ice-cold coffee in the car to the airport. I would board the 7:10 China Airways flight from Chengdu to Hong Kong. Up in the air, I would savor my sandwich. From Hong Kong airport it was straight to the NICU. Wash hands, facemask on, and I could finally see Rahul and Leila.