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Welcome to another edition of “What’s Neue from 9 to 5”. We here at Neue believe that every person out there has a story to tell.

This week, we find out What’s Neue with Mari Hakeem (@walk.with.mari), who was born and raised in the United States, but now resides permanently in Brunei Darussalam.

Mari, 34, is a co-business owner with her husband, Hakeem Rahim (@just.the.cook).

The husband and wife chefs have been doing business for about 5 years now. They currently have 3 branches.

Click on the photo to read Neue’s past article – “Savour Mexican Cuisine Right Here In Brunei”

Mari became an “early riser” (5am club) earlier this year to improve herself as a person, business owner and leader to employees.

“I believe that if you want to be ahead of the game in whatever you do, you have to be willing to do the work no one else is willing to do,” she told Neue.

“Aside from running my businesses, caring for my son and husband, I share with my followers the beauty and benefits of rising early and going beyond limits to escape the norm and reach extraordinary heights in life. I share the real, raw experiences necessary change can bring from the challenges to breakthroughs.”

Her ultimate goal is to lift others by helping them break the barriers that have enclosed them from being the super humans that they all have the potential to be.

She’s an adventurer at heart but still finds great joy in a good book and nature.

“I go by many titles from a lot of people, some stand out more than the rest … I’m a dreamer, a creator, an opportunist, a thrill seeker, a go getter and an entrepreneur,” she said.

Let’s see how she responds to this week’s #Neue9to5 questions.

The Tough 9’ers:

1. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

Growing up I was what Americans call a “Plain Jane”.  I got good grades in school, played sports and graduated. I worked several jobs looking for a sense of belonging while I searched for my calling in life. I studied volleyball, massage therapy, medicine (which I didn’t complete), but none never stuck. No real friends either. I was a drifter.

It was only when I came to Brunei did life really begin to happen for me.

I met the love of my life online – a perfect stranger who reached out to save a lost soul and help me grow into who I am today.

I’ve also met people who saw something special in me, and I learned to have a greater respect for life, love and more importantly, myself.

I definitely learned the greatest gift here in Brunei – how to unlock my greatest potential!

2. What made you want to venture into the food business?

Business was definitely my last choice in life.

For starters, I knew nothing of it or how it worked or the rewards and challenges it could bring me.

Everything changed for the better when I moved to Brunei. I came here when I had hit rock bottom back home in the states. I met my husband online and he gave me a new opportunity at life. He taught me everything I know now about business. I knew how to cook (surprise! surprise!), and he knew business. And so, we combined the two and that was how Ricardo’s was born.

3. How is life different for you in Brunei compared to your home country?

That’s easy! Life here is simple. Peaceful and just.

Brunei became my home the moment I set foot on its ground. The people, culture, and religion changed me completely.

I had a new found respect for my elders, for life and myself. (Something I had never felt before!)

It was a whole new world for me.

Life back at home was so complicated. I was always struggling to survive with no guidance. Even family couldn’t help me. How could they? They couldn’t help themselves.

Everyone, everyday was on survival mode.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice vacation spot. It’s Los Angeles for crying out loud. But I’m not a city girl. I love the peace and quiet. That’s just me!

4. What are your thoughts on constructive criticism?

Now this is indeed something that I’m a little shy to talk about.

You see, growing up I had a poor attitude about life as most unguided youths do.

Then again, I didn’t get much “constructive criticism” growing up.

I was judged harshly or punished without explanation.

But I’ve learned a lot here. You have to listen beyond words. You have to be totally and completely honest with yourself first. Only then can you take any kind of criticism.

It’s inevitable … you’ll be criticised no matter where you go! But you can choose how to handle it. No matter what form it comes at you.

5. If you could share a recipe for a simple but delicious breakfast, what would it be?

Fruits. That’s as simple as it gets. I mean very few people will see fruit as a meal on its own. But it totally is!

One of my favorite breakfasts is overnight oats. (Although I must admit that I haven’t had them in a while!)

They’re wholesome, healthy, delicious, and can be made with so many variations.

I personally like oats, vanilla soy milk, honey, strawberries, banana, and homemade granola.

Combine, chill overnight and presto, breakfast is served!

Food does not have to be boring.

But you have to be willing to put in some time to put together good food for yourself.

Personally, I love cauliflower rice. They’re a great substitute (mind trick?) if you want to lay off the rice a bit.

You come first before anything or anyone else. Your health will take you places. At the end of the day, you decide where you wanna go, you know what I mean?

6. Can you describe what Mexican cuisine is all about?

Mexican food is about bold flavour in simple ways. Chillies, rice, more chillies, beans and tortillas

If you take a look at it, a lot of the dishes use the same ingredients but just in different ways.

I’d like to think there are no rules, though my ancestors would argue when it comes to tradition! Haha!

Cooking now for a living, I had to learn to be open minded to change which is not easy.

Mexican food’s hero, in my opinion, is the tortilla! They come in all sorts of sizes and almost every Mexican will ask for one at their dinner table.

7. What’s your hope for future cooks in Brunei? Any words of advice?

That’s a great question! I don’t just want to help cooks. I want to touch as many lives as I can while I’m breathing.

I hope to encourage people to get out of their comfort zone.

For example, if cooking is their true passion at heart then they shouldn’t be afraid to explore further.

Too many people tend to stay “within the boundaries” of comfort zones and family traditions and expectations.

It’s a shame to see such talent in ALL industries in this country go to waste!

Learn to tune out the voices of naysayers (or “haters”) and start listening to your heart. And definitely be prepared to lose people in your life.

Chasing your goals means you have to have the courage to overcome fear. Many people today don’t have that, so they’ll naturally be against you.

In time you’ll create your elite circle of the people who support and believe in you 100%.

Those are the people you want in your life. There’s a difference between working hard for a life that serves you, and working hard for a life others feel you should want.

8. What’s something that’s unique in Brunei that you just can’t get enough of? (or are madly in love with?)

The natural rainforest. It’s just stunning!

If I could live in there I would! But those bugs I tell you, are something of another planet.

The sounds are beautiful. I love hornbills. And the rainstorms are incredible!

I feel lucky to be able to live in such a beautiful country. I know for sure  there are some hidden gems in this jungle.

9. We understand that you are part of the “5am club”. Can you tell us why you embraced such a lifestyle?

The 5am Club was another transformation for me.

That did not begin until the beginning of this year.

I was on my way back to Brunei from my holiday in the states. After we landed in Kuala Lumpur for a couple hours, I stumbled upon a book titled “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari” by Robin Sharma.

Robin Sharma is the author of the book, “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari” (Photo: Shutterstock)

The book was a stunning piece of work, I tell you!

Robin Sharm is a life coach who teaches the beauty of early rising to take charge of your day. And all his teachings in his books are in story form with fictional characters – which makes the lessons easy to understand and apply them to your own life.

I embraced early rising after reading the book because I felt that there was still so much more in life to be had. There’s just so much more to see and so much more to experience!

I just didn’t know how to get there.

And with business life being so crazy, I was hunting for a way to manage it all better.

So when I finished the book and found the author on Instagram, he just happened to release his new book,“The 5am Club.”

I snagged it and read it within a week.

I applied the challenges and it was just simply mind-blowing!

It unlocked new versions of myself that I didn’t know I had the potential to be.

It also opened my mind to new ideas and helped me let go of my own ideas that had tied me down.

It’s a brilliant lifestyle! It’s not so much about getting up early, but HOW you get up – What do you? How do you do it? How do you show up to each day? And this is what I’m showing my followers. There is a good reason why I do what I do.

Be sure to read the book! I’m sure you can find it at a book store here in Brunei.

The Easy 5’ers:

1. If you could have any chef around the world cook you a 3-course meal? Who would it be? And what would those dishes be?

This might surprise a lot of people because many of them might be thinking, “Of all the chefs, why her?”

If I’m being honest, I’d choose Chef Marcela Valladolid.

(Source: Jason DeCrow, Television Food Network)

She’s a Mexican chef, and I adore her way of cooking because it’s so comforting and gives a feel of home and wholeness.

I don’t care much for the fancy plating and tweezer plated dishes. It takes the joy out of eating for me.

Chef Marcela brings families to the table.

I’d ask her to cook me Birria Tacos, Chiles Rellenos, and Watermelon Raspado. Simple, delicious, and definitely not for the calorie counters! Haha!

2. We all know you’re a skilled chef. But we just have to ask, what food do you NOT enjoy eating? 

Skilled chef? Why, thank you! ?

Well, being a chef by default, I learned how to be more open minded to trying new things. And that included trying new food.

But I have to say I’m still not very keen on seafood. I’ll eat some, but it’s not my first choice.

I didn’t eat to too much seafood growing up, so I think it’ll just take some getting used to. I’m sure I’ll try more and more over time.

3. Tell us something surprising about yourself that not many people may not know about.

Okay! Here goes nothing … I’ll let you in on something silly and sort of cute.

I find that sleeping the “wrong way” on my bed is the most comfortable and this is how I get the best sleep.

That’s why I’ll sometimes sleep sideways, or with my head at the footboard, or diagonal. (Not always though! Coz my husband would suffer too much!)

And one more thing would be, that my real passion lies in fitness and health.

I workout as a lifestyle, but I’d to help more people get into shape and live longer, happier lives.

However, I think my sleep habit is more surprising! ?

4. If you were on the ‘Fear Factor’ TV show, what dare or stunt would be your worst nightmare?

Click on the photo to read Neue’s past article – “Latest Internet Craze: Take A #Selfie With A Cockroach”

Cockroaches! Hands down! That would be the WORST thing you could do to me!

I scream at the very sight of them.

My toes would grip the floor and my heart would race! I’d also tense up like a muscle spasm on leg day.

If I see one, I’ll yell for all my staff to come rescue me. I don’t care what they’re doing! LOL!

By now if they hear me scream, they already know -“Oh! Someone’s got to help Chef Mari!” (It’s usually one of the boys though! They’d just laugh at me!)

5. An evil wizard magically appears in front of you. He says you have to choose to give up one of your senses – either your sense of taste or sense of smell. Which would you give up?

That’s totally unfair because those two go hand in hand!

That’s like saying I had to choose between the Oreo cookie shell or the cream filling. You just can’t have one without the other! I honestly can’t choose on that one!

(Source: GIPHY)

Bonus question: What would you like to say to all our Neue readers? 

I have a million things I want to say.

Man, you don’t know how much I want to help people live SPECTACULAR lives!

I don’t have it all figured out yet … and that’s the beauty of life. After all, knowledge is endless.

So many people are living these outrageous meaningless lives and they don’t know it.

And it’s a harsh truth but only when life is on the line do we really ask ourselves, “Did I live life the way I really wanted? Did I succeed in all I strived for? Or how about, ‘If I only had the courage to…’

Dare to be bold! Dare to be different! Be fearless!

The world is at your fingertips. Stop admiring and scrolling on IG the lifestyle you dream of and go after it.

Nothing and no one is stopping you.

You wanna follow the rat race and hope one day luck will be on your side and your dream will fall on your lap? Go ahead.

But it won’t work.

Live YOUR life YOUR way and not anyone else’s.

We all breathe the same air, we all have 24 hours a day, and we all sure are on borrowed time. So how are you going to spend it?

And the best education is self education. Life experiences are your greatest teachers.

The difference between life and school is, in school you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. But in life, you are given a test that teaches you a lesson. Fall hard and get used to being in uncomfortable situations. After all, that’s where real growth happens. Turbulent times build great leaders!

“When it’s dark enough, you can see the stars.” – The Leader Who Had No Title.

See You In The Next #Neue9to5

Would you like to be featured next? Or would you like to nominate someone you admire to be interviewed?

You can get in touch with Neue by dropping an e-mail here or tagging them on Neue’s social media platforms, Facebook or Instagram. (Images: Shutterstock/GIPHY)