Not Much, You?

Guest article by Hannah Hunter
State University of New York at Geneseo

During an Iftar (the breaking fast meal) celebration at my school on the last week of Ramadan, one teacher asked my roommate Catherine, “Puasa?” as in, “Are you fasting?” But what we heard was “What’s up?” Our response: “Not much, you?”

Well, it was kind of a correct response, although the question had been heard hilariously wrong. Throughout Ramadan, we tried our best to fast when we could, but with the combination of long days and the heat, it became quite impossible if we wanted to be functioning humans. No food and no water for fourteen hours takes a big toll.

ETA Hannah Hunter and visitor Melissa pose with children from the community.

During the last day of Ramadan, however, my friend Melissa and I decided to fully fast to show respect for the importance of this holiday to my community and school. We woke up at 5:00 to eat a Suhur breakfast before the Fajr prayer. Since it was a holiday, we then thankfully were able to go back to sleep for the rest of the morning. Around 3:30 in the afternoon, it was time to begin festivities. We went to Catherine’s mentor’s mother’s kampong (village) house to meet her family and help prepare for the breaking of the fast.

We made satay (marinated barbecue meat), learned about making lemang (a coconut rice dish cooked inside bamboo) and rendang (a traditional spiced meat dish), and met many of Kak Fidah’s family members. At 7:28 pm, it was time to break the final fast of Ramadan. A tradition that I’ve noticed is that first you eat a date, then drink your drink, then feast. It was a proud moment for me to have successfully completed the last fourteen hours of Ramadan fasting with my community. We ate many new foods for a couple of hours, and soon we truly could not move from how full we were. We then celebrated the first night of Hari Raya (the Bahasa Malaysia term for Eid, the celebration after Ramadan finishes) with fireworks and sparklers outside with the children of the family. The night was beautiful, and we ended it by sleeping at Kak Fidah’s house in her daughter’s room.

The ETAs and their guest enjoy a meal of satay and rendang.

We awoke for an early breakfast back at Kak Fidah’s mother’s house. This morning was extra special. On the first day of Hari Raya, it is important that everyone has a brand new outfit to wear, which people refer to as baju raya (celebration clothes). Men wear baju Melayu (a traditional three-piece outfit), while women can wear either a baju kurung (the classic two-piece that I wear each day to school), a baju kebaya (a tighter-fitting two piece), or a juba (a one-piece dress). Another trend is for families to dress in a color theme so as to match those close to you. Catherine, Melissa and I wore brand new baju kurung that are absolutely beautiful. Myself and Catherine are essentially family to each other here, and sometimes we are even confused as the same person. So we decided to match each other and to match the theme of the first house we were attending. Blue!

ETAs and their guest in matching blue baju kurung.

After the family returned from the mosque, we began the morning with a photo shoot in the kampong, followed, of course, by food. Next, we witnessed an important tradition: Every child greets every elder family member, giving each of them love and kisses. In exchange, the older family member gives them duit raya, which is a fancy envelope filled with money. The amount of money ranges from person to person. Each child walked away smiling with many beautiful envelopes. It was a special moment to watch the grandmother of the family cry with joy from all of the genuine love she was receiving from each family member.

After this, we all went together to pay our respects to family members who had passed away. We sat on blankets in the cemetery around the graves, listening to songs of prayer.

An extended family poses in their baju raya in front of a traditional kampung house.

From that moment on, we experienced the whirlwind that is Hari Raya. In two days, we visited fifteen different houses, eating fifteen different meals. That’s seven and a half meals per day. Too many? Absolutely. Worth it? Nothing will ever compare.

Each house that we went to had magical moments that made us feel so very special, from including us in the duit raya tradition, to meeting a family of twenty-five cousins who had never seen an American in person before, to having students prepare special meals for us (while we told them over and over how thankful we were), to meeting our students’ parents, to family photo shoots, to seeing traditional kampung homes, to laughing so hysterically due to our food comas that we knew it was time to go home.

Community members enjoy a Hari Raya meal.

Hari Raya was one of the greatest experiences I have had in Malaysia. I have never felt so welcomed into the homes of families that I barely even know before. My mentor and students, Catherine’s mentor and students, our students’ extended family, our neighbors, the list goes on. We were welcomed, we were included, and these days of celebration will forever be special memories to me.

ETAs and their friends take a break from eating for a joyful selfie.

One thought on “Not Much, You?

  1. you guys look stunningly beautiful in blue baju kurung… What a great experience you have during the Hari Raya,…^^ keep on writing… I like to read stories from you..


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