The Bengali Runaway: Travelling to Malaysia
I gently woke up mum in the early hours of the November morning to say goodbye. We hugged and I walked to the station, dragging my suitcase behind me with a lump in my throat. I had spent the last couple of weeks feeling… what? Alert? I had never been so far from home before. I didn’t know what I would find there. After spending most of the year feeling restless and unfulfilled, I was finally facing my fears and jumping into the unknown. I was travelling solo through Malaysia and Indonesia. For how long, I did not know.
The journey was a long one consisting of a thirteen hour flight where I was fortunate enough to be sitting in between two friendly and chatty guys at the front with plenty of leg room. Tariq, who was half Pakistani and half English, was going to Australia and Dominic who was English but culturally Mexican, was going to New Zealand. Tariq and I got on really well; it was like as if we had known each other for years. We spoke throughout the entire flight and made plans to meet in Thailand in January. Once we landed, we exchanged numbers and I took the shuttle bus to the exit while Tariq waited for his next flight.
I felt the heat as soon as I got off. I was wearing a light sweater and tight cotton trousers, great for autumn in England, not so good for the Malaysian weather. I started sweating immediately. I had mentally prepared myself for the unknown, getting lost and potential language barrier. However finding my way to the bus stop was fairly easy and it was there that I made my first Malaysian friend -a uni student studying science who did not own a passport as she had never been out of the country. Her friendliness was heart-warming so I asked if she wanted to keep in touch via fb and she said yes.
After the bus journey, there was a thirty minute walk on uneven pavement with random man sized holes lugging my heavy suitcase in the hot, humid climate. I later found out people did not walk in Malaysia, they drove everywhere in air conditioned cars -even if it was a five minute walk to the supermarket. My suitcase did not take very kindly to the heat and the rough ground. One of the wheels lost its shape and I felt the plastic scrape the floor. I didn’t stop to care.
I was dripping with sweat by the time I finally reached the condominium. It was a private area surrounded by a terracotta wall and a security point at the entrance. My jaws dropped when I took in the view. Gorgeous, cream painted houses stacked on top of one another with red tiled roofs and little stair ways here and there. Green manicured lawns with wooden benches placed along the edge. People actually lived here? This wasn't just a beautiful holiday resort? It looked like heaven.
It seemed my journey wasn't quite over as there were so many apartments within the area, I couldn't find the right one. I couldn't get in touch with my host either as I hadn’t bought a Malaysian sim and the data rate was extortion. I saw a man with blond hair looking at me through an open window on the stairway of the first floor. ‘Hi,’ I said to him. He came down and I asked if he knew where my flat was. His response was 'you're from England' to which I replied 'yes, London.' He told me he was from Sheffield. He then asked me where I was from originally and I said Bangladesh. He got excited and said 'my wife is from Bangladesh! Come and meet her!'
His name was Abdullah and I thought he was joking for a second because he was a white man from Sheffield but then I quickly realised he was being honest and he just had a light hearted demeanour about him. As if to prove he had married a Bengali woman, he said 'I'm a shadha beta' (white man). This made laugh out loud. I wondered if he was always Muslim or if he had converted to Islam for his wife.
They lived on the third floor of one of the many joined apartments. Abdullah opened the door to be greeted by three beautiful brown skinned children with sleek black hair. The littlest one was topless and had jam all over her face. It would have made a perfect picture. Abdullah said he had to go to work and left. Shelina was in her room getting dressed. He trusted a complete stranger to be alone with his children? The oldest girl was seven and she told me she was born in London but moved to Malaysia five years ago. Her siblings were born here. I was fascinated by their lives. This inter racial couple from England came and built a life here. How did they do it? What do they work as? How were they able to afford to live in such a nice apartment in a nice area? Actually rewind, how did they meet, fall in love and get married in the first place? Shelina was Bengali so were her family open minded or did she have to work really hard to persuade them? Did they move to Malaysia to get away from criticisms from family members? Maybe his parents were against the marriage? Or maybe both families were happy for them and gave them their blessings. Who knows? Shelina came down shortly after. We only managed to speak briefly before the security guard came and escorted me out. Apparently my host, Benjamin had asked about me. I was late. I told Shelina I would come and visit again but I never did because I couldn’t remember what flat she lived in.