As I start this, it is a wall of water outside the window I sit next to in a friend’s apartment in Kuala Lumpur this Palm Sunday morning. The type of rain some in Seattle or Manchester, England may call ‘just aww-ful weather’. Here it is just what it is – rain.
Monsoon rain. The only thing awful is we have a group of five girls stuck in an apartment, staring out onto the rain, wishing we could be out eating a noodle breakfast at a hawker stall somewhere close to us.
The past few weeks have been a roller-coaster ride of happiness, excitement, sadness, fear and frustration. The sounds, sights and scent of Asia permeated the air even before we boarded the plane.
From a bossy, all-over-the place lady clad a wild coral pink blazer at the check-in counter, yelling for her obviously hen-pecked husband to locate their three year old grandson to the barely five foot tall airline employee shouting shrilly for the herd of passengers to “folm one rine prease”, the experience got personal when Coral Lady was seated right in front of me in the plane. Her constant nagging of her poor husband almost made me want reach out and bitch-slap the living daylights outta her! To add salt to the wound, I found myself flanked by Mr. Fidgety and Mr. Foul Mouth Extremis. This proved to be the unpromising start of my trans-Pacific flight. Not to mention the bland tastelessness that is airline food….oi!
My luggage did not arrive with me in Kuala Lumpur due to the lateness of our Seattle to Taipei flight. We had about 7 minutes to make it to get through security to the boarding gate. Thankfully they had the plane waiting for us.
It was a beautiful sight to once again lay your eyes upon the land you were born in. To return to her was a familiar comfort. Being able to speak in Malay intensified it. Arriving at my friends’ apartment and seeing them once again, sealed it.
Flying north to my hometown of Alor Setar brought on another surprise. The airport was brand new and the drive in the taxi to my parents’ home was eye-opening. So many changes that came with so many new buildings. Seeing my mother waiting by the gate to our house brought on the tears and when I walked into the room where my father lay, my once strong, proud Papa, now bones in a skin suit of a mere 42 kilograms in weight, broke my heart to a million pieces. Hugging me he said, now I don’t have to dream that you will be here anymore.
The following days were a blur of dialysis sessions that begin at 7.30 in the morning and helping Mummy get things ready for the trip to India. We got to the airport on Penang island, which is a 2 hour drive from Alor Setar, in plenty of time. It was quite nice to be able to see the countryside I traversed as a youth and to gasp at changes that seem to have engulfed most of it.
I had arranged for wheelchair assistance for my parents and that proved to be a huge help. Both Mummy and Papa were in high spirits although I had to field questions from Papa like “Do we have tickets? We need visas? Where are we now?” at intervals of 10 to 15 minutes. Realising that his high creatine levels prior to being diagnosed and on dialysis has somewhat affected his memory was very sad. But it was blown to bits by his onslaught of jokes that had us laughing till we almost cried on our way to Cochin.
Arriving in Cochin, I felt like what is billed as God’s own country seemed to have been forsaken by Him a tad bit. The landing strip and runway was so dark and foreboding. That changed once we got to the arrival hall where the brightly lit halls were eclipsed by the radiant smiles and hugs bestowed on us by our relatives.
That ray of light shone through our days in Kolencherry. Papa was taken to the Mission Hospital and Medical College where he continued his dialysis under the watchful care of a very good nephrologist. What never ceased to amaze me is the culture of respect and filial piety that extends beyond the circle of your immediate family. When someone like my uncle is held in high regard and esteem, people seem to bend over backward to get things done and help him who is helping us out. There were folks we had never met and probably won’t in the future coming to the house with bags of fruit from their own orchards because they heard of Papa’s special diet requirements. Freshly picked guavas, papayas and pineapples. Why should they bother? Simple explanation is that they care because my Uncle Mathu cares for them. In a small nook of India, pure person to person caring and concern exists and thrives.
And then, the waves of Kerala dishes. At every meal there were no less than 4 dishes. The fresh, fragrant slices of mangoes; the juicy pineapple cubes; the shrimp-coconut curry; the mango-shrimp curry. The beef-coconut curry; the vegetable-coconut curry. Homemade nutmeg wine. Honey harvested from bee hives in their backyard. Kerala – land of coconuts and crazy good food!
We left with heavy hearts but after my fifth day in Kerala, I had an epiphany. This may be the land of my forefathers but Malaysia is my homeland. I had started to crave the food, the sights I grew up with. I craved being able to joke around with my pals in the mash of a language we fondly call ‘Manglish’.
Then, on our way home from Penang airport along the highway leading us away from the island onto the mainland, an oil tanker slammed into our taxi. It first hit the door by me and then the driver’s; it then dragged us for awhile and somehow the car began to spin in an eerie manner, with death looking straight into our faces in the form of a 5 foot high concrete culvert that divided the highway. Mummy and I both cried out, “Jesus!!”. As I lunged forward to reach for Papa in the front seat, hoping against hope to somehow grab a hold of him before he is slammed into that wall of concrete, I saw an almost translucent hand, extending from an ivory clad form right by the front of the car, laid flat onto the top of the body of the car. An angel. Somehow, in an instant, the car stopped. I looked over my shoulder and saw that it was a huge tanker that hit us and beyond it, was a unnatural line of cars, trucks and motorbikes as though someone had drawn a line on the highway and brought them all to a stop without hitting us. It is something that I am still grasping with but most of all, am so thankful and grateful that God watched over my little family without any harm – not a bruise or scratch on Papa or Mummy. Our simple prayer quoting Psalm 91 where it says ‘He will set His angels watch over you, lest you dash your foot against a stone’ is now our reality.
There are also other facets, close to impossible to capture all of them in an email, that made impressions on my thinking and perspective. There is the Al-Jazeera network in English that is available in Malaysia which made me consider the possibility perhaps it IS the most fair and balanced news network available. They were as scathing in reporting the abuses of occupation and war as they were in their exposes of the abuses of women in certain countries they are supposedly financed by. There are the people you meet waiting in the check-in line for your flight and end up being friends with and eating together. There are people on that side of the world who are just as misinformed as are the people on this side of the world.
I returned to KL exhausted, overwhelmed and tired of holding back emotions. This last weekend was one filled with the healing presence of friends; the soul- restoring laughter over the silliest, simplest things that only occurs between people who’ve grown together through seasons of life albeit oceans apart.
God is indeed good. We may have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death at times in our lives, but His rod and staff remain to comfort us (Psalm 23). Only, at times, if we are aware and concious of the moment, the rod and staff He uses are in the form of angels sent from heaven and angels He has given us in the form of friends. Hallelujah!!!
I am thankful to be back home, (in one piece!), alongside my best friend and my life defined – Brett. I am also thankful that I am able to reflect on all that was and is God’s grace and mercy especially during this Holy Week. I am thankful to be alive and savour being here in this moment and time.
Blessings be yours today and always.