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April 22, 2009

A Malay Wedding Part Two

Tom McLaughlin

Seremban, Malaysia – It’s the day before the celebration. Nazir’s son picked me up at the airport and I feigned I knew him, faking it most of the way. The marble finally dropped into the correct location in the brain and I realized who he was and could participate in the conversation instead of stupidly nodding my head.


The kitchen was in a state of orderly chaos. Ladies were peeling and chopping onions, cutting chicken and stirring curries. Everyone greeted me and immediately returned to the task at hand. I don’t care where you are, America or Malaysia, if you assemble a group of middle aged and up ladies laughing, talking and cooking, the meals will be stupendous.


Anuar motioned to join him in a room with a computer. We sat back and viewed pictures of the old kampung days. Faded colored photos had been digitized along with black and whites. We watched a very old Malay film about Kuala Pilah, my former place of residence. We strolled down memory lane. My Malay language had vastly improved and we were able to communicate, as he did not speak English.


We talked about Emak’aji and Wan’aji, emak meaning mother, wan meaning grandmother, and ’aji indicating they had made their pilgrimage to Mecca. I lived with these two wonderful old ladies who put up with this young brash 20 year old so many years ago. Photos of others – now in their 50’s, some whom I had barely known, some who had passed on – appeared on the screen, lingering as our minds brought forth wonderful emotions.


Anuar, like most of us, lamented the passing of the good old days. He wanted his children to grow up in the kampung of yester year. Somehow and in someway I had made an impression on him as I was part of his early youth. We both sat quietly with our eyes filling with tears, almost over flowing, as we watched the parade of images and time march past.


Hashima, a student who had stayed in the kampong years ago, arrived with her family. We proceeded to a modern house where I bathed, rested and read. I had not yet adapted to tropical heat, although I thought I had, and, as usual, over did it.


A note on time. Time is relative according to Einstein and so it is here in Malaysia. In the Islamic world, there are two nighttime prayers Magrib and Ishak. Magrib, just a minute let me look at the newspaper, occurs at 6:51 P.M. followed by  Ishak at 7:59. To further complicate matters, the day changes at Magrib. After the Magrib prayers, Monday night becomes Tuesday night. Got it? It took me awhile and I live here. Please note that Malaysia follows the western style of time except for the Malays, who use the above only among themselves.


I did not know it earlier, but there would be prayers and a huge meal served after Ishak. I insisted on helping with the preparations, and the ladies, I think, wondered what to do with this bothersome American.


They gave me the job of paddling the chicken rendang along with Hashima's son. I went at it with vigor, thinking I was actually doing something. After about five minutes the ladies had an alarmed look on their face. These were store-bought chickens and not the skinny, scrawny, tough kampung chickens that required hours of cooking. Therefore, I had to slow down before I beat the meat into gruel.


Hashima’s middle son, a student, studies the Islamic religion. He has completed his first of a three-year diploma program. After graduation, he could become an Imam in a mosque, or teach. Another option, graduate work, would take him to a university in Egypt.


We spent most of the time discussing Islam, terrorism and world affairs while stirring the chicken. I questioned him quite closely, acquiring a deeper understanding of this faith. It is not the wild- eyed, fanatical religion portrayed in the west. Rather, it is one of peace and love.


Following Ishak, the men walked from the local mosque, just across the small road, into what we would call the living room. Prayers were said for the marriage and the foods, prepared earlier, served. I made it a point to jokingly tell everyone that I helped prepare the rendang.


Life is good.


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