“Sakit perut!” (my tummy hurts!) wailed Aris as we waited to see the Principal of Heathcote School in Scarsdale, New York. Aris obviously had butterflies in his stomach. He didn’t speak a word of English and was about to be “interviewed” by the school Principal.
We had recently arrived from Kuala Lumpur. Esso Malaysia, the company I worked for, had sent me on a nine-month attachment at our headquarters at Exxon. I had a tiny office in the 54-storey Exxon building, the second tallest building in the Rockefeller Centre in New York. The building was better known by its address, 1251 Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue).
The agent assigned by Exxon helped me locate a beautiful house at 44 Carthage Road, Scarsdale in Westchester County in New York. My three children, Niah, our Indonesian helper, and I soon settled in comfortably there. My husband who worked with Petronas, Malaysia’s national oil company, couldn’t leave his job and stayed back in Kuala Lumpur.
My colleagues at Exxon were aghast. How could you leave your husband behind? they asked. But when you come from a developing country and are given the opportunity to further your career and give your children better educational facilities, you go for it and make sacrifices.
And what an opportunity it turned out to be. The assignment helped prepare me for the position of Public Affairs Manager at Esso Malaysia. My children enjoyed going to school in Scarsdale. Six-year-old Aris amazingly survived his “interview” and after a month was able to speak and understand English. Aida, nine, loved her teachers at Heathcote School, particularly Miss Piloseno. She did very well judging by the stars (for outstanding work) she brought home every week. And Amir, 16, excelled in his studies at Scarsdale High.
In the middle of my assignment, I was reunited with my husband when he came for a visit. We had a thoroughly enjoyable time together but all too soon he had to leave. Amir went home with him to prepare for his important Form Five exams. Despite having missed several months of school Amir obtained excellent results.
Many years after we left New York, we revisited Scarsdale. The house at 44 Carthage Road, Heathcote School, Scarsdale High, our favourite shops and places we had loved to visit were all there, just as we remembered them.