Fancy Nasi Lemak by an orang Putih?
Published on: Sunday, March 17, 2019
By: Lorena Binisol

PENAMPANG: Sabah is a long way from home for Ukraine-born Yelena Zaynab Abdullah but within 10 years here, the single Orang Putih (European)mother learnt how to sustain herself – supplying nasi lemak to 10 outlets in the Penampang area.

This is partly because she was determined to raise her children single-handedly. 

When her two decades of marriage to a Sabahan ended in 2016, she had to find means of keeping the family going and is thankful to a friend, Tima who taught her how to prepare Nasi Lemak. 

“She was more than a friend.  Apart from imparting cooking skills, she gave me motivation to live my life positively.

 If not for her, I cannot imagine how I could survive this test of life,” said Yelena, who is Russian from Kiev, where her ailing parents live.

“It was with her help and moral support that I could get up and ‘fight’ for a better future.” 

She faced insurmountable challenges when she married a local and ended up divorced.  

It was her ex-husband who convinced her to settle here. Previously the family was living in Europe. 

The income from Nasi Lemak helps to pay the rental and family expenses.

Some of her friends and ex-husband’s relatives helped to raise funds for her ticket.

“I feel indebted to two of my ex-husband’s aunties who raised funds to buy my ticket home.

“I am planning to go home to see my parents once I have arranged for my children to be looked after by relatives of my ex-husband here.

My parents are old, my father is sickly, I need to go back home to be with them for a while,” she said.

Her children aged, 20, 16, 14 and 12 are living with her in their rented Penampang Apartment. 

Her eldest son is 20 but could not work due to a health problem. 

When she started in November 2016, she used to send her Nasi Lemak to cafes and restaurants by bicycle.

Yelena has become a familiar figure since in and around Penampang coffee shops and restaurants and the Nasi Lemak she supplies have her name on the wrappers.

Many wondered why an “Orang Putih” would sell Nasi Lemak in a foreign land. 

“I stay true to my belief and will continue with positive attitude to go on selling Nasi Lemak, I did not give up despite all the hurdles surrounding me.

When some of them saw me on bicycle, they took pity and wanted to help me improve my sales, so I was gifted a motorbike later and I am very thankful for their good deeds.

Hence, she destributes her nasi Lemak by motorbike these days .

“I ride my motorbike everyday supplying to outlets in Donggongon town, Penampang District office canteen, Penampang Police station canteen and a few others in different areas,” she said.

Her life was like a roller coaster but determination and will-power pushed her to the edge and ensure all her children get proper education.

“I want to show that a woman who was once looked down or slandered or belittled, whatever you call it, is able to rise and walk in the right path each time she falls.

Originally Olena Belova, 42, she wants to venture into other business when she has the means to do so.  

Apart from English, she can converse in German and Russian very well.  Sometimes the local tour agencies engage her on case-by-case basis as their translator.

She said when a woman is faced with difficulties; motherly instinct would raise them up to levels they don’t know they possess.

She never had intention to ask for sympathy from the public, all she wanted was for the community to be respectful to women specially those who are facing difficulties and being left alone to mend the family affairs. 

“Women are specially created and, therefore, we are special in many ways.  We can see things men can’t.

“We can do wonders as we have woman-power in us,” she said.


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