One of my happiest childhood memories is packing up a picnic to go moon-sighting the day before Ramadan. My family wasn’t the type to randomly get together and go to picnics or vacations, so this particular day was always extremely special to me. It felt like the one time of the year when they actually find the family spirit to do things together.
The family bonding experience of moon sightings always got me extremely excited for Ramadan. I don’t know if it’s the holiday spirit or the fact that the entire family is suddenly together but whatever it was, it made me view Ramadan and Eid as holidays that are meant to be spent with your family and close friends.
Little did I know, going abroad to study meant I would not get to just fly back home whenever Ramadan came around. But I’ve always managed to make myself believe that I would start creating my own traditions with my friends in Malaysia — it was a nice thought. But soon enough, reality kicked in!
Change Is Never Easy
When I was back home, Ramadan meant shorter school days and more time with the people I loved. While my days were filled with doing chores, the spirit of Ramadan had a way of making it fun. The way families got together to share different recipes and spent time trying out new dishes took away the daunting feeling of actually doing housework.
Personally, I had my own little routine of walking into the kitchen every day and asking the same old questions of “So, what are we making today? Who’s doing what?” The curiosity around food never ended for me, maybe that was also part of why I loved Ramadan so much.
I never fully understood how much those little things meant to me until I was faced with the reality of spending Ramadan away from my family. Don’t get me wrong, the newness of it held curiosity and excitement that I was looking forward to exploring.
However, it all soon came crashing down as Ramadan inched closer. Suddenly, I realised that my housemates and I had no idea what to buy or how to handle anything on our own. It felt like we were just a bunch of kids shoved into the big world way too fast.
As you can imagine, Ramadan was not particularly fun for me that time ‘round. The loneliness was the first thing that took over. I was homesick more than ever — missing my mum’s cooking and the company of my extended family during iftar could not be replaced by anything I could think up.
At the start, my friends and I tried our best to keep the spirit of Ramadan alive. We cooked everything we could remember from memory and had suhur and iftar together, just like a family would. That’s how it always starts though, but then somewhere in the middle, we were burnt out. Too homesick to pretend it was a normal Ramadan. So, we all gave up. I found myself fasting without eating properly, barely eating for iftar and getting really depressed.
It took all the courage I had in me to pick myself back up and start getting things back to normal. It really was the hardest month of the year for me.
It’s Hari Raya Time!
After Ramadan drained me of all my energy, I was really not looking forward to Eid or as Malaysians call it Hari Raya. If Ramadan went horribly wrong for me, who was to say Eid would be any different?
A normal Eid for me consisted of waking up at 6:30am, usually by the sound of my mum singing Eid songs from the kitchen, while setting the table for breakfast. We’d all put on our new dresses and go for Eid prayer and then visit all of our family and friends’ houses afterwards for tea. Even when we’re full to the brim, we keep going to make sure we have tea at everyone’s houses.
The best part was when everyone from the island gathered to take part in the games we had. I always thought we spent Eid much like Holi, another traditional festival that’s full of colours and games. I remember every Eid, my family would get together and cook the biggest pot of biryani I’ve ever seen. It never fails to impress me, always so full of flavour and made with love.
How can anything top that, right? So, I was prepared for disappointment. I was not aware that people from different countries spent Eid differently. I was prepared for the biggest colour festival I’d see, but to my surprise, that’s not how it worked here in Malaysia.
Albeit, the morning routine was pretty similar, other than the missing sounds of my mum in the kitchen. My friend and her family were taking me out on the first day of Eid to show me how it’s done in Malaysia. I went full-out. I even bought a baju batik to go along on their little trip.
Unfortunately for me, I did not get to go to the Eid prayer as I did not live near a mosque. So I waited for my friend and her family to pick me up to start off the day. I don’t know how traditional our day was, but it started in KLCC for breakfast. After breakfast, it was all too familiar — we were travelling long distances just to visit their family members’ homes.
Unlike in my country, here, we spent the entire day visiting relatives. There were no colours or games, just a lot of food and a lot of love. At the end of the day, even with the missing bits from back home, it was a completely new experience and I was surprised to note that I really enjoyed spending the first day of Eid like this.
Embrace The New Experiences
After my first Ramadan and Eid in Malaysia, I realised a few things; I was so busy focusing on what was missing, I lost track of what was really important. I forgot to enjoy and embrace how people celebrate things here. To anyone who is spending their holidays abroad for the first time, here are some tips from a former newbie:
Distance Does Not Mean You’re Alone
While you’re away from home, always remember that technology has made it super easy for us to connect with anyone and at any time. When you’re making that meal or feeling lonely during Ramadan or Eid, just pick up the phone and call your family! I’m sure we’re all a lot more familiar with Zoom and Google Hangouts now, so let’s put that to use this time around!
Keep Your Culture Alive But Embrace New Ones
Don’t make the same mistake I did and look for the same things that take place in your own cultural festivities. Remember that you are in a new country and explore what the country has to offer. I did this the second time around and came to discover the Ramadan bazaars in Malaysia. You never know what you are missing out on unless you venture on what’s out there.
Remember: Your Friends Are Like Your Family Too
Last, but definitely not least, always keep your friends close during festivities and holidays. It can get extremely lonely and tough not having family around, but your friends can often play a big role in filling that void.
The relationships you create on your own are as important and significant in your life as your blood relations. So you can create these traditions now, which you might start practising in your life in the future as well!
You never know, creating a “Frankenstein” dish out of that recipe that you and your friends messed up that one time might be that thing you end up making every year due to the good memories attached to it.
So this Ramadan and Eid, let’s not sit around missing things that we don’t have. Let’s try to create new bonds with the people who are around. You never know what memories and traditions you might end up creating by trying new recipes and doing new things with your friends!