Postcard from Zaharah: Nik's vision for a better future

LONDON: Nik Johan Arde Nik Yahaya has a firm, far-sighted vision for his young family. For someone who is blind, he has a clarity of vision that exceeds most of us.

"I want to be the provider for the family, that's all that I want to do," said Nik as his children, Ayra Qarlisha, 8, and Aryan Qasley, 4, played boisterously in the front room of their house in Oxford.

Nik doesn't know what Aryan looks like and the last time he was able to see Ayra or the outline of her face was about six years ago.

But what Nik lacked in vision, he has been more than compensated by his determination and more importantly, by the strength and love of his life partner, Dr Nurul Huda Mohamad Fadzillah, whom he described as his backbone.

Huda's holiday in Switzerland in 2002 took a romantic turn when the medical student from London met the then 29-year-old sushi chef at a Japanese restaurant in Lucerne.

Huda knew Nik was losing his eyesight but the decision to tie the knot was not made on the spur of the moment, despite Nik giving her the option to walk away from the blossoming relationship.

"I think when you love someone, no matter what… I just know that he might face other degenerative conditions," said Huda of the macular degeneration that Nik discovered when he was in the kitchen 21 years ago, a year before they got married.

Fast forward 21 years later, Huda is now a sexual health and HIV consultant in Oxford.

Together with Nik, they run RD's Satay, a successful satay-making business that supplies the Malaysian delicacy in frozen packs to households and businesses in England, and even Ireland and Scotland.

Nik's skills in handling the knife, something he acquired from his sushi days, have not been forgotten as he adeptly cut pieces of meat in their newly acquired business production unit in Bicester Business Park, Oxford.

Their dreams have been partly realised — they now produce between 5,000 and 6,000 sticks of satay a week.

With the loss of his sight due to inherited retinal dystrophy, Nik's other senses have been further enhanced.

He knows when the satay on his Japanese charcoal grills are cooked and not overdone.

"When you lift it from the grill and it is stuck, then you know it is overcooked," said Nik, from Keramat, who has come to accept that he had inherited this condition from his parents.

"My parents were close cousins. My siblings have chronic diabetes. Some have ear problems and I have problems with vision.

"I discovered it while working in the kitchen in Lucerne.

"Sometimes, I was able to see zigzag lines or black spots in the middle. When I look at you directly, I can only see a big dark circle in the middle.

"I have to turn away, only then I could see something," he said when I realised that he was turning his head a lot when speaking to someone.

"I now walk into walls and lamp posts," he said jokingly, accepting the fate that had befallen him.

Huda, blessed with the organisational skills to manage her time at the hospital and her now growing satay business, said Nik was housebound.

She acts as his eyes when they are out of his comfort zone, and she guides him everywhere they go together.

She also has the ability to switch off when she is not working as a consultant and concentrate on the satay on the grills.

When one sees the pair at work, selling their satay at events such as the Malaysian carnival, food festivals in and around London and Oxford, one could be forgiven for not knowing about Nik's condition nor Huda's occupation and her busy schedule.

He speaks to his customers, who patiently queue for hours to get his satay, as if he could see them while he expertly turns and fans the meat on the grills.

Nik admits to being depressed, more so when he is not doing something.

However, his love for cooking has helped him pick himself up. His determination to provide for his family also helped push him to realise his ambition.

In his comfort zone, which is his home, Nik is able to prepare food for the family and look after the children.

When they were small he could bathe them and change their nappies but now he is unable take them to school or fetch them.

In his kitchen, things must be left where they are.

"I don't need to supervise him in the kitchen as long as his things are where they are," said Huda, who knows Nik's condition is untreatable but is nevertheless grateful that it has only a slim chance of being passed on to their children.

"We are not related by blood. You need to have this gene inherited from one of the parents which then means you have a 25 per cent chance of carrying it."

A restaurant, their ultimate ambition, is not an impossibility for this couple. Already, their satay is making their way onto tables in the UK.

Nik's vision and Huda's love and support are just one of many inspiring stories of how people can conquer life's adversities if you set your heart and sights on what you want.

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