26 October 2015

Leaving Home

Nearly every moment from the week we left Malaysia for the first time has burned its imprint on my memory.

We left for the first time in May 2008, after nearly four years in the country. The rest of my family was only leaving for a temporary visit to family and friends in the USA, but I was leaving for college, and at that point, wasn't sure if I'd ever come back to Malaysia long-term. This departure was already fraught with emotion, and our friends didn't make it any easier. This goodbye meant a great deal of loss, and a huge life change for me, as I was faced with losing both my home community and the presence of my family over a very short time span.

Our community's response to the news of our departure was rather dramatic. Some dear friends of ours had already been planning a wedding in August. When they heard we were leaving in May, they decided to change their wedding date to the Saturday before our plane left, so that my family could be a part of their wedding.

Lizzy and I were bridesmaids, and Dad spoke during the wedding ceremony. The little girls handed out programs at the door.

The wedding was a morning affair, with no large reception, and that evening, Lizzy and I went out with friends to an outdoor market next to the seaside. The bride and groom joined us, as they didn't want to waste any of the few remaining days they had left with our family (recall...this is the evening of their wedding day).

The next day, Sunday, our community had a farewell barbecue for our family. As is tradition at farewell parties, we had a tear-filled session in which we all sat in a circle and different people got up to talk about good memories they had with those of us who were leaving. It felt almost funeral-esque. 

On Monday, someone had decided that a whole family + all of our best friends paintball outing was exactly what was needed. I know that photos exist of this outing and I wish I could find them. The whole family went, though Mom and the youngest girls stayed behind the safety net and watched the rest of us hooligans shoot paintballs at each other. The newlyweds were part of this event, too.

On Tuesday, our final day, we went out to the weekly Tuesday night market for supper and met up with many friends there. Some of them came home with us afterwards, though we weren't much of a lively crew. We sat up pretty late into the night--no one wanting to go to sleep or to go home.

We left for the airport in the afternoon on Wednesday. We had been packing for weeks ahead of time--there were 9 of us, which meant we were taking 18 suitcases and 9 carry-ons and 9 personal items along with us. Auntie Letchimi ran out of her house carrying a turquoise and white sari less than an hour before we left. She asked me if I knew any tailors in the USA who could make a sari blouse for me. I didn't, but she gave the sari to me anyway. Several friends drove to our house to say one final goodbye--one family happened to see another one of our friends running on the road towards our place and stopped to pick him up. He'd ran out of his school the minute it let out for the day--he didn't have his own transportation but he was determined to run to our house and say goodbye before we left. If he hadn't been seen and picked up, he wouldn't have made it.

Several friends drove along with us to the airport. I remember staring fixedly out the car windows, trying to carve an indelible picture of everything that I saw on my mind. 

The 9 of us plus all of our luggage plus our send-off committee made a huge group at the airport. We really tried to convince people that they didn't have to come to the airport to see us off--we know now how futile that was. It's the culture here--nobody goes to the airport alone. Nobody.

They gave us a few more final goodbye gifts at the airport. One was a handmade scrapbook just for me. I said all the final goodbyes and gave all the final hugs and walked through immigration with the rest of my family and then collapsed to my knees, sobbing as if my heart was breaking. When I could walk again I continued with the rest of my family, toward our gate, and I looked back and saw our friends, still standing there, still waving at us through the glass.

It was so hard to leave.

On the other side of that long, long plane flight were excited grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles who were eager to see us after four long years. We were happy to get to see them, too, but it was, for me anyways, a very difficult season of learning to live with my heart split in two.

{My high school graduation party, our first weekend in the USA}

{This is Day 27 of my 31 Days Series: 31 Days of Growing up in Malaysia}
Bethany Carson said...

This is such a touching story, Rachel. It almost had me in tears. Wow, your friends must have really liked you and your family to move their wedding up so you could be there...and then spend the afternoon of their wedding day with you all. You must be very loveable people! And the send-off at the airport sounds like something else. Love your remark, "Nobody goes to the airport alone. Nobody." That must be a beautiful part of the Malaysian culture.

Tayler Morrell said...

I am loving the loving community in Malaysia!

Amanda said...

Great story! So lovely when people love each other and when you have family to spend time with! Looks like you had a great time before you left and you will have an amazing time at college learning and exploring a new region and culture! Thanks for sharing hope all is well!

Unknown said...

I can definitely see how it was so hard to leave Malaysia with all of your friends and family there. You will have a great time here and make new memories to share with them now!

Charlene Maugeri said...

Oh my goodness I'm in tears. This is such a heartwarming story. There really are some great people in this world. I'm so glad you have these memories and that you are back in that culture now.

Laura Darling said...

Goodbyes are so hard and I can't imagine the difficultly in knowing people are so excited to see you and others are so sad to see you go! I think it's so sweet thought that your friends changed their wedding so you could be there to celebrate their special day. How awesome.

Amberly said...

Wow, what a send off!! I love how close your community is!

Alexandra S said...

That is amazing to me how close your community was/is. I love hearing the story so far, and think I missed a few at the start. I'll have to go back and read those as well :) Thanks for sharing!

Joy Lynn said...

Your life is so fascinating. I am loving this series. What incredible devotion to friends all around in this story!

Michelle said...

No wonder you were so ready to move back to Malaysia! This is so sweet.

chelsea @ the new wifestyle said...

wow the close knit community can be felt through your words - wow! i know how much my heart aches when i've moved to different states so i cannot imagine other countries. i still just love how important it was for everyone to tell you goodbye!

Paige @ Reasons to Come Home said...

This post brought tears to my eyes! I know how hard it was to leave Rwanda after only a few weeks. I can't imagine us actually getting to live there one day and then having to say goodbye. Heart split in two, is the best way to describe it.

The Forever Joyful Homeschool said...

Sounds like a special send off. I remember the day we left the country we served as missionaries, too. It was special but sad.

Farrah said...

Aww, I loved reading this story! <3 I can see how it'd be super hard to leave a place behind when all your family + friends are there. Goodbyes are tough, but that was so sweet of your friends to move up their wedding date (+ that sendoff! <3).