KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Mohammad Afif and his family were about to start a new chapter in their lives. Afif was getting set to begin his university studies in architecture, and his father was preparing to move back to Malaysia with his wife and three of their children after working overseas for several years.
But what was supposed to be a joyous return home turned into a tragedy when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 went down over Ukraine last week en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people onboard, including 19-year-old Afif and his entire family.
Afif had left Kuala Lumpur in late June to meet with his parents and three siblings, who had been living in Kazakhstan for the past three years. Afif spent the last year on his own back home in Malaysia, completing his foundation year at Taylor’s University.
“The way Afif was packing up his things, it felt like he was going away forever,” Afif’s friend and housemate Khairil Azwan said Monday, describing Afif’s packing for his trip to meet with his family.
Khairil was among 70 Taylor’s students and faculty members who gathered at the university’s mosque for a special prayer session organized by the school.
“He was packing like everything, and I think it was a sign because in our religion we believe that 100 days before one dies, there will be a sign to indicate death, but you can only realize what the sign was after the person is gone,” Khairil said.
Afif’s father, Tambi Jiee, 49, was working in the oil and gas industry in Kazakhstan for the past three years, living with his wife, Ariza Ghazalee, 47, and their two sons, 13 and 17, and 15-year-old daughter. The family, originally from Kuching, the capital of Sarawak state on Borneo island, was reportedly very excited about their move to Kuala Lumpur, where Tambi had been transferred by his company.
After being met by Afif last month, the family of six vacationed for a while before boarding Flight 17 in Amsterdam on Thursday to head to Kuala Lumpur.
When the Boeing 777 was shot down, allegedly by pro-Russia rebels, the news that Afif and his family had been killed stunned Taylor’s University students and faculty members.
“He is very bubbly and he’s like the joker of the group,” one of Afif’s close friends, 19-year-old Nadine Saedah, said, trying to control her tears. “He will bring you up when you feel down. Whenever I was down, he would encourage me.”
“I lost a friend, and even though I only knew him for a year in school, it felt like 10 or 20 years. I don’t know how to explain it,” she said.
Others described Afif as being religious and a popular student who made an impact on others, even though he had been at Taylor’s for only his foundation year, in preparation for his formal university studies.
“We were actually joking when he was leaving the house to go to the airport a few weeks ago and Afif said, ‘Don’t worry … if I don’t see you next semester, I’ll see you in the afterlife,” Khairil said.