Hari Raya in Malaysia

Roberto and I in traditional Hari Raya clothing

Roberto and I in traditional Hari Raya clothing

Hari Raya in Malaysia.

Kepala Batas, Kedah, Malaysia 2013

Finally I was about to see my good old friend Apit again. It had been four years. “Maybe you can join us for Hari Raya”, he proponed. Back in Germany I used to be the local German to guide Apit through weird local habits, explain horribly long German words and guide him through bureaucracy. Now my friend would show me his country and its culture.

Apit and I on the border

Apit and I on the border

At the border Roberto and I had one last duty free beer and some fruit before Apit arrived. He must have been hungry and thirsty, because he was fasting, but I honestly was too excited to think about that.

Sunset came and Apit had his first drink of the day. Two more days and the Muslim fasting month Ramadan would be over. “Help yourself with everything in the kitchen”, Apit offered, “also tomorrow”. This was our second Ramadan and I still remember how hard our self-experiment Ramadan felt, even though we only lasted for a day back in Iran. I was not Muslim but yet, how could I eat and drink while everybody around me was fasting?

I overslept the breakfast before sunrise, because I had been so tired from the exhausting travel to the border. When I finally got up, it was noon. Great, I thought, only half a day of fasting left. That should not be too hard.

Preparing leave triangles that will be filled with sticky rice

Preparing leaf triangles that will be filled with sticky rice

Only one hour later I found out how mistaken I was. I am perfectly fine without a coffee in the morning. I am quite fine without breakfast too, but eventually I will be grumpy without cigarettes. Apit kept me busy and it helped that nobody around me ate, drank or smoked. I helped Apit’s mother with the Hari Raya preparations, opened and folded leaves for the Ketupat Daun Palas (glutinous rice in fan palm leaves), stirred a giant wok full of sticky Dodol (sweet confection based on coconut milk) and cut vegetables. Apit’s mother was doing more than a full time job there. She was in the kitchen day and night to prepare food for six children, two grandchildren and plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins. Her youngest son and her mother helped and there was always laughter to hear in the kitchen. I envied her for her self control. How could she handle all this delicious food and not even try a little spoonful here and there?

Roberto stirs the Dodol

Roberto stirs the Dodol

The Dodol-Process was the preparation that I enjoyed most, because all family members helped. The Dodol-dough needs to be cooked and constantly stirred for several hours. It gets stickier and firmer the longer it is cooked. We made turns and everybody stirred the dough for a while, while the others chatted and cleaned the sides of the wok.

I was lucky to get an early turn when the dough was not too sticky yet

I was lucky to get an early turn when the dough was not too sticky yet

The Ketupat preparation was done between Apit’s mother and grandmother. The two of them were such a fast team! They did not even have to look at the work they did and every triangle turned out in perfect shape and volume. They were true experts and I wish I could have shown some more talent preparing it. My triangles all looked crooked and collapsed when they were lifted. Still it was a lot of fun to help with the preparation because I have never cooked anything containing leaves before.

One hour before sunset I began to get thirsty and when all the family sat down on the table right after sunset I completely forgot about my cigarette grieving. I ate as if I had not eaten in years while Apit and his family were doing it easier. They chatted, ate a plate each and drank some juice while Roberto and I hardly spoke with our mouths full. But they let us do. We were beginners and did not know it any better. Apit’s father and some of his friends asked us several times a day if we were still fasting. Every time we could answer “yes” and they had a proud look in their eyes. Did they think we would give up that easily?

Apit prepares the gifts for the children

Apit prepares the gifts for the children

Day two was a little easier because I joined the family for a pre-sunrise breakfast. Apit’s mother, sister and brother ate their rice with tired eyes. Now it was me who was talky and the others who ate in silence. It was their thirtieth early breakfast this year, they would fill their stomachs and go back to sleep. I was all excited and tried to eat the rice with the fingers just as I saw the others doing it. It must have looked like a child’s first tries with spoon and fork to them, but nobody laughed at me and my clumsy behavior. In fact they were happy to see how I tried to adapt to the culture. We spent the day with the last preparations. The siblings cleaned the entire house and garden while their mother baked even more cookies and dishes. Who would eat all that food?

Getting an appropriate outfit for the big day

Getting an appropriate outfit for the big day

In the evening of the last day of Ramadan we went out to get Hari Raya clothes for Roberto and me from the Busana Azzhara shop. Roberto looked quite handsome in a sarong. It was the first time in his life that we wore something similar to a skirt. Most of the people around us were dressed in Jeans and shirt. Were we taking it a bit too far with the traditional Hari Raya clothes?

Even the youngest kids were dressed in Hari Raya clothing - in partner look with their parents

Even the youngest kids were dressed in Hari Raya clothing – in partner look with their parents

We weren’t. When we got up by the next morning all the family wore their new dresses. I could not stop smiling. It did not matter that I only fasted for two days, that I was not a member of the family and not a Muslim. They all looked so pretty and so happy to have all the family around. It was a secure and comfortable and cozy and homey emotion all around me.

Apit's family and their two friends from far away

Apit’s family and their two friends from far away

I felt that I belonged. There was Hari Raya Music on TV all day and even though it was so different, the mood reminded me of Christmas back home. I smelled the food, heard the children’s laughter and tasted the family’s traditional Hari Raya Dish: meat in peanut sauce. We all took plenty of pictures together and Roberto and I were fully accepted as if we were a part of the family.

The kids love Hari Raya, they get sweets and money from the adults for their good fasting

The kids love Hari Raya, they get sweets and money from the adults for their good fasting

I did not feel that I earned all the food as much as the family did after 30 straight days, but at least I sustained two days in a row. Yes, I had nagged a bit during the day and every night after dinner I felt embarrassed for that, but again nobody blamed me.

When the children came I was sent to spread the money. “Shake their hands first”, Apit explained to me. “Then give them the money.” I reached out my hand and was very surprised when a boy of four or five years took it and kissed it.

Giving out the money to the kids on Hari Raya

Giving out the money to the kids

In Malaysia the older generations were treated with the highest respect and I was amazed by that. That’s a culture in which I’d actually look forward to being old. During the day I tried to understand the system of handshakes according to age and status, but it seemed to be more complex than I thought.

Apit's father hands out money to the neighbor kids

Apit’s father hands out money to the neighbor kids

If a person was a lot older than me but a friend’s cousin or sister in law, should I shake her hand or kiss it or tap her hand with my forehead? Could a hug be appropriate for friends of different gender? While I was observing all the other’s shaking their hands I just stood there grinning like a fool. I met many of my friend’s friends and their families and also their friends and everybody was curious on me and Roberto and on our fasting experience. I knew that a faux-pas was not a big thing since I, as a foreigner, just did not know it any better, but still I wanted to show respect to all those people who had treated me so well.

Practicing the proper greeting

Practicing the proper greeting

In the afternoon we all went out to visit Apit’s friend’s families. We were offered more and more food and cookies and it was all so mouth-watering that I thought I was about to explode on the way back. After the last dinner I could not eat anything else until the next day’s evening.

Riding a bike in a skirt is not as easy as it looks

Riding a bike in a skirt is not as easy as it looks

I have had a unique experience and I am very thankful that I had the chance to spend so wonderful days with so wonderful people. I hope one day they can all come over to my place for Christmas.

Erstmal wird der Sarong Probe getragen

Apit and his friends Achik and Mickey with Roberto

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  1. Pingback: Happy Holidays - Family time in Malaysia and Christmas in August | Tasting the cultures of the world by bike

  2. Hector says:

    Now I understand a little bit more about how hard fasting is. We were so lucky to arrive right at Hari Raya!

    • admin admin says:

      Fasting can be hard indeed. I have never fasted for 30 straight days though. You were even double lucky, because usually there are not THAT many homemade cookies everywhere 🙂
      Annika

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