Finding Community Abroad

I remember how my best friend and I always would say in high school that there was a song for everything. Of course two 16 year old girls were probably talking about the most insignificant things, but I can honestly say that at 22 I still find that music lyrics can convey the most random of feelings in your life. I have now spent 3 weeks in Penang, including a 4 day trip to Thailand, and I am finding myself re-immersed in a music culture. So my dearest readers, I have chosen one such song and applied it to my life in Penang. Hopefully the connection is clear, wish me luck!

“Tonight I want all of you tonight. Give me everything tonight. For all we know we might not get tomorrow. Let’s do it tonight.” Pitbull ft. Ne-Yo Give Me Everything.

I have heard this song here more times than I ever had back home, but for a song that the old me would have instantly ignored, it makes expressing myself surprisingly easy.

Imagine a group of friends, a three car caravan, a waterfall, and the moonlight. After a day trip to  the waterfall, we pulled over on the side of the road so some of our Muslim friends could pray. As some people prayed, my friend Mia and I laid on our backs and gazed at the stars. It had been a while since I felt comfortable to do such a minor thing. As we tried to identify stars, realizing that they have “Malaysian stars”, Give Me Everything came on the radio. Someone turned it up, and we all grabbed a partner and started dancing, in the moonlight, on the side of the road, as cars zoomed by us staring. I like to think that I have learned to be more aware and controlled of my body lately. So it was the most freeing thing to dance around with my friend Ahmed, serenading him off key to this song. It was a beautiful night of community, love, and dancing, some of my favorite things in this world. However, Ne-Yo is right in saying give me everything tonight..we might not get tomorrow. Something I quickly learned about my life and friends in Malaysia is that Penang is really a liminal space where individuals come and formulate strong communities on a temporary basis. What I am saying is that most people come here to go to school, with the plan of leaving Malaysian in either 2 mos or 6 years. So you never know if your friend and dance partner will be there tomorrow to spin you around, or hold you when you feel lonely. While at first this temporal nature of relationships was jarring, it taught me an extremely important lesson about love, community, passion, intimacy, trust, and friendship. All these ideas I had guarded, only opening myself up to a small few. I told myself that I am travelling by myself for a year. I will never be around one space for long, so why get attached. Why develop close relationships with people. Why trust anyone?  Malaysia, specifically my friends in Malaysia showed me that my ideas about what made a community, who gets trust and love, and when to reveal emotions was self-destructive and flat out wrong. Communities are fluid. Just because I am not at home, does not mean that I am no longer in my family. Likewise, just because I only have 3 1/2 weeks in Malaysia, does not mean that I cannot take the time to truly connect with people.

 

Our time together may be short, but the love we feel for each other transcends everything. I appreciated all the moments, I spent with people. The cuddling and affection. Talking about religion in at 4 am. Dancing and singing in and around the car. Eating from the same plate. Protecting each other. Even the most difficult personalities were loved and respected; which made me question my own relationships past and future with people. I believe that you cannot be friends with everybody, but just because a person is not your friend, does not mean that they do not deserve your love and compassion. Perhaps, this will be my hardest lesson to learn in life-loving your enemies. However, depending on the type of lifestyles one lives, can anyone really have enemies?  Maybe the person you do not like is just a “difficult” personality. Maybe you will not jump at the opportunity to hang out with them. Yet, if they are in need you can still be there. You can still give the shirt off your back to someone. I think as someone who comes from a larger family, albeit still in an individualistic country, that it has been both hard and easy to learn. Am I really willing to give my trust and love to a person I only met a week ago? What if they hurt me? Why should I share everything? I had to give over my doubts, and I realized that if you give everything, there is a greater chance that you get everything. If you love hard, you get that same love in return.

I know in my last post, I kind of celebrated not being as trusting, and I think it is always good to be on your toes, but I hope I never forget how to trust so quickly, and to love so hard again. I have been so blessed to be here and to be cared for by everyone. I laugh and talk loud, and smile every day. Even in the most difficult moments here, I know that anyone of my friends would be all to willing to hold me, wipe away my tears, help me work through my frustrations. So to me, learning how to love and trust again is more than worth it. While I am truly sad to leave yet another country, I am also excited to continue to grow and to learn. I hope to take both what I gained and from India and Malaysia to South Africa and beyond. I hope to continue to grow to be a better person than I was yesterday. So readers of mine, I hope you all remember to dedicate sometime to whatever community(ies) you identify yourself with. Enjoy the leftover turkey, I find that Thanksgiving turkey chilled, two slices of bread, cheese, and miracle whip are a magical combination.

Peace and Love all!