For two weeks I stayed with a local Malay Muslim family to celebrate the end of Ramadan and Hari Raya. Ramadan ,buka puasa in Malay, is the month long fast Muslims around the world participate in to seek forgiveness. During the fast you are not allowed to drink any liquids including water, chew gum, or eat any food. The fast is broken twice a day, once before sunrise at 5am and again after sunset at 7pm. I fasted with this family for three days including even my birthday. Fasting wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, but it did make me very sleepy and dehydrated. I think the hardest part was waking up at 5am and trying to gulp down as much water as possible and eat when all I wanted to do was go back to sleep!
The fourth day I spent with the family was the holy day of Hari Raya or aidil fitri as it is known around the world. On this day I wore a baju kurung, the traditional dress of Malay women, and followed them to their kampung (village.) Hari Raya is a month long festival that celebrates the end of the fast. Of course this involves a lot of eating and traveling to family members homes. During Hari Raya Malay people hold open houses where literally anyone is allowed to come and eat. The traditional foods include a rice dumpling wrapped and cooked in banana leaf called ketupat, lots of beef,chicken and curries and tons and tons of different types of little cookies. On the first day of Raya there is also a special long prayer in the morning. We spent several days traveling all across Malaysia visiting several villages and family members homes. During the open houses it is normal to sit on the ground and eat with your hands, but only your right hand as the left hand is considered unclean. I was happy to see that everywhere I went with the family people were welcoming and happy to open their homes to me despite the fact that I was obviously not Malay or Muslim. One of the villages we stayed in on the east coast was plopped right in the middle of a mountain valley jungle. It was beautiful and an awesome first experience in the jungle. I went hiking and drove across the hanging bridge over the river. During my stay in various kampungs it was difficult at times to get used to the squatting toilets,bucket showers, lack of cell service and even toilet paper! But it was a really fun experience that I'd love to do again.
After this the Malay family invited me on vacation with them to Tioman island. It is one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been and made the Floridian in me very happy to return to the sun and sand. On the island there were monkeys, coconuts, palm trees, crystal clear water, and LOTS of tourists! We went snorkeling and scuba diving but I spent most of the time relaxing on the beach not knowing how long it would be until I got the chance to again.
I am very grateful to the Malay family for showing me their culture and being so generous to me. I will admit that at times the experience was difficult for me. It isn't easy to live in another culture so different from your own. In the end looking back at the experience I can say it was one of the hardest things I've had to but also the most exciting. I got to experience many things that most normal people will never get the chance to. When I first met the Malay family I was a complete stranger, and they were willing to open up their home and life for me to experience their sacred holiday. I left at the end of the two weeks having learned a lot about Malay culture and Islam. This is a prime example to me on the lasting effects and relationships that student exchange can form.
Here is a video of pictures from the month of August :)