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Sunday September 15, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Saturday September 14, 2013 MYT 11:16:41 PM
by heart AND soulby walter yurt
Like family: The writer (far left) celebrating Hari Raya with his friend and family in Alor Setar.
An expatriate finds himself among ‘family’ when he visits a friend for Hari Raya.
WITH another happy, riveting Hari Raya coming to a close, this Westerner’s thoughts go back in time to when he celebrated Hari Raya last year in the fascinatingly fertile and green paradise of Alor Setar, Kedah with a friend.
Whenever I think back to those few days up north, a smile flashes across my face as memories of fun, friendship, fellowship and food go through my mind.
I had the good fortune of following a friend, Huzair, from Kuala Lumpur back to his kampung in Alor Setar for the annual celebration. I love the festive Raya season in Malaysia as it’s a time to forgive, forget, have fun and eat, eat, eat!
Before leaving KL, however, it was with trepidation that I went shopping for my very own baju Melayu, which even in KL, was not easy to find for my 2m-tall frame.
After I decided on the colour purple to differentiate myself from my friend’s family colour choice of pink, I finally found the suit that suited me just fine, along with a songkok to fit my American-shaped head.
I was actually concerned that people might think that by wearing my own baju Melayu that I was making light of their culture. Of course, I was thinking of the opposite as it was an honour to wear the costume.
My friend had assured me it would cause no trouble and he was absolutely right as adults and children alike enjoyed my choice of colour.
As I entered my friend’s family home, I immediately felt the warmth, and I’m not talking about Kedah’s boiling hot weather. Though his mum spoke very little English, her instant generosity warmed my heart.
The few days spent in Alor Setar leading up to Hari Raya were almost as much fun as the holiday itself. Besides helping my friend’s family prepare for the upcoming festivities, I was taken aback that Huzair’s mum, Hawa, even though she was fasting for Ramadan, cooked for me seemingly around the clock, to ensure I didn’t go hungry.
The day before the last day of Ramadan, I joined my friend’s family when they broke their fast, as we all jammed into two cars and made it to a nice restaurant where we enjoyed a succulent seafood feast, while enjoying each other’s company.
The last day of Ramadan was no different than the day before, as Hawa spent all day cooking everything imaginable in preparation for Raya: red curry, bee hoon, tomato fried rice, seafood, mee goreng and my all-time Raya favourite, beef rendang.
My day started at the busiest and wettest wet market I had ever been to in my life, and as Hawa continued her cooking duties, the rest of us ended our day at the city centre’s Ramadan bazaar, which was a feast for the eyes, ears and especially the nose, as it was simply a heavenly mishmash of sights, sounds and smells.
Waking up on the first morning of Hari Raya, I was able to climb out of bed in time to see the local folk flocking to my favourite mosque in Malaysia, the very majestic and Moorish Masjid Zahir.
Just watching families gathering and walking into the mosque grounds reminded me of my own family’s Christmas Eve traditions back home and reassured me that we all have much more in common than most of us realise.
After snapping lots of photos at the mosque, I got back to my hotel just in time to meet Huzair and his friend Hanif, who was on leave from the Royal Malaysian Navy, who both showed up to make sure I didn’t have any trouble getting into my baju Melayu, and more importantly, that I got my sarong songket on correctly. By the time we left, I was looking just fine.
Of course, this being the first day of Raya, it was all about open houses. My first stop was Huzair’s family home, where I was greeted just like any other friend or family member, and where photographs were snapped, which made the place seem more like a Hollywood red carpet than the nice, warm home that it was.
After my first “meal” of the day, it was time to make our rounds to all the other open houses, from Huzair’s home, to Lee’s, Hanif’s and finally to Poon’s home, all of which saw more photographs being taken and more food eaten.
Everyone, and I do mean everyone, was so nice to me and welcomed this stranger from afar into their homes with open arms, and never-ending pots and plates of Malay delicacies.
One of the biggest kicks for me was giving out “ang pau Raya” to the neighbourhood kids, who seemed to appear out of thin air, and whose smiles seemed to magnify with each additional lad and lassie who came my way.
The day ended with a short trip down the highway to Kuala Kedah and to the family patriarch’s home, Huzair’s grandfather, where more people were introduced to me, along with snapping of more photos and devouring of even more food.
Being in Malaysia for several years now, I have heard fantastic stories about the homestay opportunities that abound here. I feel as though I am the luckiest, most blessed man in all of Malaysia. That is because no matter where I go in this great land, I always seem to have wonderful people who surround me with their lives and their way of life.
From Sabah and Sarawak to the many places I have visited in the Peninsula, friends and their families have opened their homes, giving me my very own personal versions of the Malaysian homestay.
The idea that these people, almost all whom I had never met, and in this day and age, with everything going on in the world, would allow me not just to observe, but to celebrate and take part in their most treasured of celebrations, was so special and something I will not forget.
Huzair’s family told me before leaving that for my next Hari Raya celebration with them, I must wear the same coloured baju Melayu as they will wear!
The feelings I left Alor Setar with, and the feelings I still have till this day, can be summed up in the following words: Hawa, Huzair, Hafeza, Hafez, Mie, Nyum Nyum, Lee, Poon, Man, Mad, Hanif and Wan, among others.
Not just words, but names. But much more than mere names, these are the people that for every minute of my trip, made me feel like I was part of their families. Not just part of their families, but like a long-lost son or brother coming home for the first time in many years.
They treated me that special! I felt like the prodigal son who came home to his wonderful Malaysian family.
All of them, and I do mean all of them, opened their homes and hearts to me. And every single one of them touched my heart. I will never forget them and I can’t wait to get back to my adopted “hometown”, or should I say my adopted kampung, Alor Setar!
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Tags / Keywords:
Lifestyle, Heart & Soul, Hari Raya, Alor Setar, American, culture
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