Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thinking About My Sisters in Malaysia


In 2004 I went to Malaysia to deliver a paper at the Asia Region United Nations Conference on the Family. The day before the conference began the Malaysian government took us on a tour of the capitol city, Kuala Lumpur. The architecture fascinated me—so many buildings with wings and towers and intricate wood carvings. And the food! I am a vegetarian and the variety of vegetables and the delicious ways they were cooked was mind boggling. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! One of the sites they took us to was the Batu Caves where we hiked 272 steep stairs to a beautiful Hindu shrine. Along the way monkeys scurried across our path and swung in the lush trees that lined the stairs all the time laughing at us as we trudged by. I fell in love with the country.

But the thing I remember most about the trip happened the next day at the conference which was held in a beautiful five star hotel. Women from Malaysia had been invited to set up kiosks in the area outside the conference rooms to sell their wares. Between sessions I walked out to admire jewelry at one of the kiosks. Now you have to realize that I stood out like a giraffe in a horse stable. I didn’t speak the language. I am tall and none of the local women came above my shoulders. Besides that I am fair skinned and blond and they were all darker. If that weren’t enough, they all wore beautiful scarves held in place with delicate brooches and I was bare headed.

The kiosk consisted of three display cases each about eight feet long and set in a U shape against a wall so that it formed a square with the workers in the center. I was at the end—facing the wall—looking at various pieces of costume jewelry and suddenly became aware that the other women gathered at the kiosk, about three or four at each side display, were watching me. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but as they whispered and pointed I could tell I was the topic of conversation. Curious, I watched from the corner of my eye as they slowly  inched toward me until they were as close as they could get. Then with one big giggle they began trying jewelry on me! They’d hold a brooch next to my jacket and ohh and aww and giggle and nod. Then someone else would hold ear rings against my ears and even though I didn’t understand the language, I understood when they approved and when they didn’t. They draped necklaces on my shoulders and without words asked if I liked them. They held a mirror up for me to see and waited for my reaction. At first it startled me, but I suddenly realized that they wanted to communicate with me—a strange, light skinned giant from another world, but a woman like them. They wanted to let me know they liked me and cared. This was their way of breaking through the language barrier.

It was an amazing few moments of love and delight. I ended up buying a ring, a necklace and a brooch simply because I wanted something that would reminded me of that moment forever. I hardly ever wear the jewelry, but it is in my jewelry box so that every day when I take out my wedding ring and every night when put my ring away, I see the jewelry and remember my sisters in Malaysia who without words told me they loved me.

5 comments:

Jen said...

What a beautiful story! We took our kids to the western coast of Mexico several years ago - to a place where tourists weren't often seen. My daughter has very blond, very curly hair. Every time we went to the market, women would touch her hair as she walked by. She was upset until we explained that they rarely saw "yellow" hair and were touching it because they thought it was beautiful. After that, she didn't mind so much :)

Kara said...

I bought your new book today! I am so excited to read it!

Jenny said...

I miss my sisters in Bolivia so much. They taught me how to love unconditionally. I need to be more like them.

Wendi said...

What a fun story. :)

GRANDMA MUFFIN said...

Sweet memories. Thanks for sharing. Man, you do marvelous things and go great distances to share your light.