We had a total of 20 people for Christmas dinner. Twenty. Not a feat I would typically undertake under the best of circumstances. Having lunch with a new friend last month – she mentioned that they usually have a big group of expats – but were lacking the space. “use ours” I piped up. She looked at me like I had two heads. “Are you sure? You guys are just new here” she asked. “Why not?” I said. In her lovely Aussie way she responded “Goodonya!”
And so the whirlwind began…
I sat and watched as a guest list was created, and people stepped up for the potluck dinner. This group had had Christmas dinner together before – and they knew just what to do. I made it clear that we had very little in the way of “dishes, cutlery, serving spoons etc”, and people started emailing “I have X …” and dropping stuff off. We rented tables and chairs – and Christmas dishes, cutlery, crackers, decorations and ice boxes started to arrive. It was magic to behold!
The organisation and co-operation of this band of friends was fantastic – and we were lucky enough to be welcomed into it. One woman explained this all to me a few weeks back. “We are family”, she said. “All of us are far away from ‘home’ and we rely on each other – in good times and bad – to step up and help out. We have to, and you will too.”
I realise what a privilege it is to be welcomed into this “family”. The past three months in a new country could have been very isolated, lonely and frustrating. It’s tough to be the new kid – not really knowing the lay of the land. All through this, people have answered my goofy texts as I needed certain things explained, or places to shop for basics, or navigating paying a bill. Like big brothers and sisters, they helped – happily. When I remarked on this to someone they said “we were all new here once. It’s what we do, and it’s what you will do when someone needs info. Just pay it forward”.
As I think back over this decision to move to Penang – and our wonderful family and friends back home who helped make this happen – and our new family who welcomed us into their arms – I am struck by how fortunate we are. The transition has been seamless.
I recognise how idealistic this all sounds. Very warm and fuzzy and kumbayah. I am really not that sappy. But the edges are softening, and the best of people keep showing themselves to me. Is it the place? Maybe. Is it the stage in life? Perhaps. Or maybe, as we see 2016 come to a close, it is the realisation that the best of people was always there. I have just found the time and space to see it and experience it.
And that is the gift I wish for each and every one of you.