Monday, January 22, 2007

Multilingual Condo mix..

In May we found our neighbours. The manager of the condo told me there were several expat families living there. But where were they? The pool and park were deserted and I hadn’t seen a single child since we arrived. One morning as we waited outside the condo for a taxi to go to the airport an Indian lady came to greet me, saying she was living right opposite me. Liz had a son, Rubin, aged four, and a baby girl, Sheeba, just a few months older than Gabriel.

The holiday was great, but unfortunately four-year-old Nina fell into fishing net on a floating fishing village and gashed her inner thigh, needing 12 stitches. On our return I was desperate for help and rang Liz’s doorbell. She was instantly on the case, calling her doctor for a nearby hospital and helping me get there by taxi. We became friends, walking to the mall together with our babies in their pushchairs, or chatting by the play area or pool as out kids played together. Our husbands were away often on business, usually for three days or sometimes a week, and we were glad to have someone to talk to and rely on, if need be. Liz would make me Indian breakfast – flat pancakes with potatoes and onions with sweet milky coffee. I would reciprocate with croissants and jam from Deli France. When I praised her home cooking she offered to invite me to her Cooking Club so I could learn how to cook Indian food.

Soon I was introduced to Liz’s closest friend, Min. Min was a second-generation Chinese-American married to a Danish man. They had two children Andrea, aged seven and Greg, five. Greg and Rubin went to the same pre-school. The next day I bumped into Vikki, from England, with two children, Gabriel, who was three and MacCauley, 18 months. Vikki was friends with Suhita, who was Indonisian, and married to a Swedish chap. They had two children too, Kieran, six and Chloe who was three. Gabriel and Chloe were at the same pre-school too. Then there was Soraya, from Algeria and her family, Falak, five, and her sister Youssra who was seven. Youssra was at the French school too. The last person of the expat gang was Mahin, who lived right next to the pool. She has seen us but was too shy to say hello, and finally we met one Sunday when she sent her daughter, Nilgouin, out on her behalf. Mahin was from Iran, and had lived in KL for years, and her three teenage children had spent nearly all their lives there.

One Friday in the park Vikki said to Suhita that we should have a condo party….Suhita was the social organizer of the expat families. Within a few hours a potluck party was planned and on the Saturday night everyone met by the pool, and each family brought a dish. The night was balmy and tropical and the kids played wonderfully together. An English/Thai family joined us, as did an Australian married to a local Malaysian. We ate spicy food from India and Thailand along with Malaysian chicken and beef satay sticks and peanut sauce, Chinese sweet cakes, Swedish delicacies, Iranian rice and kebabs and we brought some French salads. As we chatted and shared our new and past experiences of Kuala Lumpur, we thought how lucky we were to have found such a group of diverse and multilingual friends. Within the group of ten families there were eleven languages and twelve nationalities.

We asked curiously why it had taken so long for us to meet? They looked at us with amazement, “Didn’t you hear about SARS?” they said. We shook our heads, it had been mentioned in England briefly in the newspapers, but we had no advice, even when I had signed on at The British Embassy. “We’ve been forced to stay inside for several weeks to avoid the virus,’ they explained “and the authorities banned going to public play areas, malls and condo pools.” The party was the first time they’d been out in weeks. That explained why the condo had been so quiet and we thanked god we had not caught SARS in our naiveté….

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