I was in KL for the weekend staying with a friend when the news broke. The television was already on when I walked downstairs for breakfast, the words “MISSING MALAYSIA AIRLINES FLIGHT” tickering along the bottom of its screen. The BBC news anchor calmly informed us of what she knew, what the world knew, about the flight. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much. My friend kept the television on the entire morning, constantly checking her phone for messages and more information. As it turned out, she and many of her family and friends use that exact same flight to travel back and forth to Beijing, so she had to be by her phone to reassure those close to her and confirm that none of her loved ones were on that flight. Other than offer my comfort if necessary (and thankfully it wasn’t necessary), all I could do was watch the glowing television as the speculation began.
Three weeks later and there still isn’t much we really know about this disappearing plane. Sure, there have been theories, sprung from the unsifted flow of facts and conspiracies alike, but the one constant throughout this entire search is the heartbreak felt by the family and friends. A hole planted into their hearts from day one and kept from healing with every new “break” in the investigation. Disturbed too by the inconsistent management from the Malaysian government, these families and friends continue to have those holes widened with pain from the lack of closure.
There were no passengers on the plane hailing from my town of Benta, but that has hardly prevented our community from feeling the tragedy acutely. My teachers bring it up occasionally, only able to offer their confusion and speculation to the thousands of voices lamenting around Malaysia. My students discuss it often, sometimes amongst themselves, sometimes with me. They all begin by describing how sad it makes them feel, and they wonder aloud if the passengers will ever be found. Two weeks ago, unprompted, a few of my students even put up a piece of notebook paper with the newly prevalent phrase “Pray for MH370” on it, with a couple of signatures of support from their classmates. I haven’t taken it down. Yesterday, one of my Form 5 students, Hafizah, dejectedly stated her belief that the plane had sunk into the Indian Ocean.
The MH370 tragedy has forced us to realize that some very unlikely possibilities can turn into uncomfortable realities. How is it that a Boeing 777 can simply disappear and baffle more than 20 countries, most if not all possessing the most powerful technology possible? The prospect of our modern technology, technology that has become so advanced within a span of a few decades, can fail us in such a situation. What does that suggest about its failings in other ways?
This is probably the first time that people are hearing about Malaysia on a national scale, and to have it be in this context is incredibly unjust. But at the same time, this tragedy has exposed some of the more problematic phenomena that arise during such devastation. For all of the students who feel and state their sadness about the missing plane, there are those who simply echo sadness for the sake of echoing. I have seen too many profile pictures and cover photos on Facebook waving the “Pray for MH370” mantra to believe in their sincerity. This verisimilitude extends beyond Malaysians, of course, and I hark back to movements in the states (the killing of Osama bin Laden, for example) when my classmates jumped on the bandwagon online purely for the excitement and proof of participation.
But besides the fair-weather reaction from the public, this tragedy has also exposed the rest of the world to Malaysia’s coddled and paternalistic political culture. There is actually a great New York Times article about it, which I encourage everyone to check out, but there have been far too many instances of withholding information and frustrating both other governments and more importantly its own people. There are several reports throughout the investigation that the Malaysian government has known certain facts yet failed to notify anyone. For a country that has kept one party in complete dominance since its independence in 1963, the mismanagement of information continues to stress the already fracturing support system in the country. There are several speculations as to why this is happening, and I don’t want to necessarily contribute to the chatter, but I do think that there are certain aspects about the current Malaysian government that need questioning.
I do feel strongly for the victims and their families, and perhaps my association with Malaysia reinforces that emotion more intensely than it would had I remained in America. The only thing that I wish for now is resolution for the families. Out of anyone involved in this tragic case, they are the ones who deserve to know what is going on.
My name is Erin D’Amelio and I’m going to Malaysia for ten months as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Over the next 10 months I will be submitting regular journal entries of this incredible adventure, documenting my thoughts and experiences. The views and beliefs I will present in these articles are my own; they do not reflect those of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. Below are the articles, in order of publication. Just click on any link and continue the journey with me.
An Unforgettable Journey
How Does One Get a Fulbright, Exactly?
And Then We Wait
(Almost) Hitting the Ground Running
Language and Tennis