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Reflection: Love and Marriage in Malaysian Borneo

I had been in Korea for a few years, teaching English, and was thinking of where to move next. I had pretty much decided on Thailand, but my sister’s husband suggested that I visit Malaysia first. So there I was, wandering around Kuching on a Sunday evening, when I saw the most interesting figure. He was alone in the town square, wearing a long black wig and juggling a ball with his feet. We talked for hours. He was so friendly and gentle, so hilarious, so talented, and his sweet smile melted my heart. I adjusted my plans and took a bus a couple of days later to meet him and his family in the village.

On the bus, people were very curious about this American on their local commute. “Where you go?” “Lundu.” “Who you see?” “Eboy.” Hahaha and everyone on that bus knew him. “Eboy play Takraw.” “Eboy work at hospital.” “Eboy live in Sematan.” The people were so kind and welcoming, and at first I thought it was just the culture; but a lot of it is really because I’m with Eboy. He’s so boldly friendly, one of the bravest social creatures I’ve ever met. He’ll talk to anyone and sees good in everyone and everything. People are happier around him; Life is more joyful around him. Our adventures together have been decorated all around by smiling faces and welcoming arms.

‘Adventures’ is the best word for our time together. It’s delightful, and also the greatest challenge of my life so far. Malaysian Borneo is farther from the Texas suburbs than I even yet have words to describe. Each time I’ve come to stay with his family, I’ve learned more deeply the significance of our cultural differences. So much of what I value isn’t highly valued here, and so much of their culture is in relation to things I’ve hardly experienced. A wise friend told me before our marriage, “You are a foreign object in an ancient cultural web, which you will inevitably affect; and you will be changed in ways you can’t imagine.” Now Eboy and I are learning how to ensure those effects are healthy and good. We knew it would be a challenge, and we’re still figuring it out; but above all, we know that it’s worth it.

We were married this summer, three months ago. I still haven’t absorbed it. When I see him playing Sepak Takraw or talking with other people, I feel like a little kid with a big crush. Then he looks at me and smiles, and my heart melts again. His loving kindness is my greatest comfort here. I still don’t understand most of what people say around me, but I understand kindness and beauty. I feel the love of his community in their offerings of friendship and food. I see the mountainous rainforest all around us- the waterfalls, the insects, the fruit trees, the farming villages, and my partner there beside me; and I find myself in a life more beautiful than I ever dreamed. Whatever challenges it brings, however deeply I miss those dear and familiar to me, I am so excited and thankful to share this extraordinary life with our Eboy Takraw.

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