Hari Raya!4:51 PM
This past week, I've been staying with a Malay family to celebrate the end of Ramadhan, a holiday called Hari Raya in Malaysia, more widely known as Eid-Al Fitri.
Hari Raya is this amazing holiday that is like Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter all in one.
I met my new host family on Wednesday night at a program at a mosque. We were introduced to our families and then we broke the fast with them. I fasted a total of 4 days for Ramdhan. Fasting means no food or water from around 5:30 AM to 7:30 PM. This means waking up really early for sahur, the pre-dawn meal. After stuffing yourself and drinking as much as you can, you go on with your daily life until evening, when the fast is broken with another huge meal. Sharing these meals with family is common and makes the fasting month also a family month.
It was really difficult, but I'm happy I did it. When I visited people's houses and they asked me "Puasu?" (fasting?) and I said yes, they patted me on the back and called me good girl. It helped me to better understand what my host family went through the whole month and made the celebration that much sweeter.
On Saturday, the last day of fasting, we went to my host dad's village. This is common in Malaysia, and it's called balik kampung. A lot of the family was there and everyone seemed so happy, chattering away, spending time with each other and prepping food for the next day's celebration. I helped by arranging cookies on platters, cleaning dishes, and playing with the little kids to keep them out of their parents' hair.
Sunday morning, the official start to Hari Raya, we all woke up, showered, and put on our new clothes. For the women, this was baju kurung and tudung (long shirt and skirt with headscarf) while the men wore baju melayu (colorful silk suits). Families generally all wear the same color, my family all wore brown. I matched them, and I even wore the headscarf. It was hot, but it made me feel part of the family. All dressed up, we took photos and then ate! Hari Raya food is some of the best food I've had in my time here. Most common is laksa, a fish noodle soup and lemang or khetupat, sticky rice cooked in bamboo leaves. Lemang is served with rendang, spicy meat.
After breakfast, we salamed (a type of formal greeting where you place the person's hand to your forehead) the elders and received duit raya! Duit raya is money that family or friends give to unmarried people. Malaysians borrowed the tradition from Chinese New Year, except the money is usually in green envelopes, not red. So far, I have received 221 RM (around $70).
Another Raya tradition, is the open house. Simply put, you go to someone's house, eat food, talk and be merry. Sometimes you don't even know the person, hence the name open house. I must've tried 20 new foods. Nasi goreng, nasi lemak, nasi, nasi, nasi! Nasi is rice, the Malaysian diet staple. No questions about it, food is the center of Raya and one of my most used words is makan, which means eat.
The first night of raya, everyone was back at the village house. Someone figured out that I liked singing, and full on karaoke ensued. One of the uncles LOVES the song We Are Young and wanted me to sing it. After much laughing and trying to figure out how to say I'm not sure of the lyrics in Malay, when I don't know the words for lyrics, words, or song, someone played it on their iPod and I sang. My umi (host mom) videod it. It was an amazing feeling. All of the family, from the babies to the grandmother were watching and even joined in. Fireworks boomed in the distance and by candlelight I sung and smiled. An encore was requested, so I sang Demi Lovato songs. Even now, almost a week later my host dad can sing "tonight, we are young," and it will guarantee an instant smile from all the family members.
One of the best parts about being in the kampung was being with the grandmother. She spoke no English and my Malay is still pretty non-existent, but we still managed to communicate using sign language and smiles. She is one of the sweetest people I've met here, and it was sad hugging her goodbye the next day.
We spent the next couple of days with Umi's family. There was more food, and more time spent together. Hari Raya continues for a month, and my experience with it thus far has been so great. I've made friendships and felt part of the family. Even though I've only been with them a week, I feel very close with my Raya family and I'm so grateful that I got to experience this festive season with them.
Raya clothes! Umi, me, and Kak Nana