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A Malaysian Ramadan


By Hannah, YES Abroad 2012-2013, Malaysia

This past week, I've been staying with a Malay family to celebrate the end of Ramadan, 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 Ramadan. 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 "Puasa?" (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.

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!

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 staple diet. No questions about it, food is the center of Raya and one of my most used words is makan, which means eat.

One of the best parts about this experience was being with the grandmother. She is one of the sweetest people I've met here, and it was sad hugging her goodbye the next day. 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.