CHRISTCHURCH: A Singaporean woman's husband is in intensive care at Christchurch Hospital after he was shot at the Al Noor Mosque in the terrorist attack on Friday (Mar 15).
Ms Hamimah Ahmat said on Monday that her Turkish husband Zekeriya Tuyan, who's a Singapore permanent resident, is in a stable condition but still “seriously ill”. Both of them are in their 40s.
Mr Tuyan, who remains unconscious, was rushed to the hospital in critical condition after the attack. But following multiple operations, Ms Hamimah said his situation had improved a little by Saturday afternoon.
“So far, he’s making small improvements,” Ms Hamimah told Channel NewsAsia from the relatives’ waiting room just outside the intensive care unit.
“But I think at the moment it’s about waiting. The doctors are doing their best to prevent complications, (especially with) the kind of surgeries and wounds he has had.”
If Mr Tuyan’s condition continues to remain stable, Ms Hamimah said doctors could remove all his wires and tubes within the next one or two weeks.
Over the past few days, Ms Hamimah has tried to be by her husband’s side as much as possible. But that’s not always possible, as the couple has two sons aged four and nine.
They are handsome, active and playful. The older brother bounced a ball through the low-ceilinged corridors of the hospital, attracting rebukes from his mother as she spoke to Channel NewsAsia. The younger brother was constantly calling out to her.
Ms Hamimah said her four-year-old doesn’t really understand what is going on.
However, her nine-year-old knows 50 people have died, although not exactly in the context of what had unfolded, and that his dad was affected and was now “sick”.
So, Ms Hamimah splits her time between her husband and her two kids. “I have to juggle because I have to look brave in front of my young children,” she said. “I’ve got no choice.”
MADE IN SINGAPORE
Their family life has its challenges. She raises her two children by herself in Singapore, where she works as a speech and language therapist at a Government hospital. Mr Tuyan is an information technology (IT) worker in Christchurch.
But theirs was a modern love affair made in Singapore, when as strangers they often saw each other on the North-South Line MRT while heading to work. Mr Tuyan had been working in Singapore for 10 years.
They tied the knot in 2008, taking their vows in Singapore and in Turkey. Their first son was born shortly after. And when he was five, Ms Hamimah got a scholarship to do her doctorate at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.
The family decided that they should stick together, so Mr Tuyan quit his Singapore job and off they went to New Zealand for three-and-a-half years. Mr Tuyan eventually found his IT job, and they settled in.
So much that Ms Hamimah conceived again. “I tried for five years and didn’t get anybody,” she said, laughing. “I got pregnant while doing my PhD.”
After completing her doctorate, Ms Hamimah had to return to Singapore as the scholarship came with a bond, and her mother – hitting 90 years old – was ill.
Mr Tuyan was supposed to go back too, but he could not find a job in Singapore. So he stayed on in Christchurch as he liked his work and was gaining experience. Ms Hamimah was okay with that. He had “sacrificed his career” for her while she furthered her studies.
“The plan was for him to come back by June this year,” she said. “He was starting to miss the children and me.”
On Friday morning Singapore time, Ms Hamimah sent her four-year-old to the childcare centre. She was not working as she was on leave. Her nine-year-old did not have school as he was on e-learning.
So she switched on the computer to get her son’s homework. But he was in the toilet, so she logged onto Facebook. The first post on her news feed was from the Canterbury Muslim Trust Group.
That’s when she found out.
“I know my husband goes for Friday prayers in that masjid,” she said. “I gave him a call. He didn’t answer. A few calls more, he didn’t answer.”
Ms Hamimah called his office, but he had not turned up. She called him again and again. “I called all the friends I knew but all of them didn’t pick up,” she added. “So, I’m starting to put the pieces together, because they would all be at the masjid.”
Eventually, one of her friends who worked at Christchurch Hospital called to say Mr Tuyan was in the operating theatre. She would eventually find out that they wanted her there quickly, worried that he might not make it.
“There was no time to think about why, or to be angry or philosophical about it,” she said. “Just to make lots of prayers and to find out how to get here as quickly as I could.”
However, she discovered that her son’s passport was expiring in a matter of days, so she rushed to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority building to get it renewed and expedited.
But in these moments of desperation, help was not far away.
Ms Hamimah’s good friend helped her book flight tickets. Her sister-in-law, who lives in Melbourne, tried to get on the first plane to Christchurch. Members of the Muslim community in Melbourne were arranging airport pick-ups and contacts in Christchurch.
“She has been a great support for me,” Ms Hamimah said of her sister-in-law, adding that she had helped greatly with the kids. “I don’t know what I would do if she didn’t come.”
Ms Hamimah landed in Christchurch on Saturday morning local time, got into the car of a Singaporean friend who lives there, and went straight to the hospital.
What was her first thought when she saw her husband in that condition?
“Just to get him back,” she replied softly after a long pause. “But at the same time, understanding that he’s in Allah’s hands.”
SKYPE AND SNOW
From more than 8,000km away, Mr Tuyan bonds with his children via Skype, usually over the weekends. Ms Hamimah often leaves the video chat on for the entire day. And this is when dad teaches his older son how to recite the Quran.
“It’s like as if Baba is there with us, you know,” she said, using the term the kids affectionately call their father by.
Every year, they would make it a point to meet up twice – during the school holidays in June and December. The last time they got together was last December, when Mr Tuyan went back to Singapore.
On Thursday evening Singapore time, the family Skyped again. They don’t usually chat on weeknights, but this time was different. The four-year-old wanted to see his Baba.
And so that night, they talked and joked a lot. They discussed plans to go for the minor pilgrimage in Mecca. If that didn’t work out, they discussed where they would go for their next holiday. They wanted to see snow.
Ms Hamimah said her younger son was unusually chatty. “I thought that was great,” she said. But she knew that it was already early Friday morning in New Zealand. “I was hurrying them (to finish),” she added. “Baba needs to go for Friday prayers.”
OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT
On Monday, Mr Tuyan was lying still on the hospital bed, surrounded by a tangled mass of wires and tubes. The four-year-old, holding a chocolate biscuit, still preferred to watch his dad from afar. The nurses smiled at how charming he is, but their job is to watch over Mr Tuyan day and night.
Mr Tuyan was unconscious, but Ms Hamimah talked to him anyway. “We’re not sure whether he can hear anything at the moment, but we pray and recite the Quran for him,” she said.
Back in the relatives’ room, there is also family from Turkey. It is a big, tight-knit group. They’ve brought canned drinks, kebabs and Turkish soup. There is never too little food in the relatives’ room.
Mr Tuyan’s brother, looking sharp in a blazer, sat on a chair. His face betrayed no emotion, but he prayed and hoped for the best. Mr Tuyan’s dad, tired and wizened, slumped into a sofa and took a nap.
At the hospital, Ms Hamimah is taking things by the hour.
“I try not to think too far, and after every update we try not to have too high hopes,” she said. “Because of the injury that he sustained, there’s a whole lot of possibilities.
“But if Allah wills for him to go, then that’s Allah’s will. So, I try not to think too far.”