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July 29, 2015

A Feast to End the Fasting Month

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – Selamat Hari Raya! Happy end of the fasting month and the start of new life! The fasting month came in July this year. It follows the lunar calendar and always moves forward.

I feel sorry for those who were not imbibing. The weather was (still is) hot and dry with only an occasional thunderstorm to break the heat. The night's stay as warm as the days but did not have the burning tropical sun to add to the misery. We usually have some kind of clouds to break the heat, but not this year.

Hari Raya came in the evening as the days begin at sunset here instead of sunrise. Therefore Wednesday night is our Tuesday night which can really cause confusion when trying to schedule a dinner or evening event. Lights, similar to our Christmas ones, and fireworks heralded in the start of the eating time.

I dreaded the time. We had to dress up to go over to my wife Suriani's parents house which was not air conditioned. I wore forest green pants and shirt with a sarong belted to me and a songkok on top. My son Dzul was dressed the same, only he had on light green outfit, while Suriani looked absolutely stunning in a light green embroidered top that went down to her knees with the same color skirt. They were made of a nylon type of material and they were hot. I gritted my teeth and said only once a year!

I found Bapa, Suriani's dad, and sat next to him with the fan blowing on me. He is about 80 or so, nobody is quite sure. When he went to school, they found an old birth certificate in the chest so he changed his name and birth date instead of having to go through the red tape of getting another one.

I grabbed one of the kampung boys, who spoke fluent English, to translate what Bapa said. Yes, I speak Malay but he speaks a dialect known as Sarawak Malay which does not bear and resemblance to the national language. I can get the gist of what Suriani and her sisters are talking about, but I have no clue when she talks to her Mom or Dad.

Using a translator I managed to get him talking about the old times. He talked about the many fish in the river, the huge prawns he used to catch with a net, and paddling up river to his father's fruit trees. They had many of the tropical varieties, durian, rambutan, mangosteen, langsat and others. They would then take them down the river to the fruit stalls and sell them, usually with many left over as the population was not big enough to absorb all the produce.

The rest of the family showed up. Dzul has 32 cousins and of those 32 only three are girls, an astounding imbalance of nature. A riot of play and comradery ensued as everybody greeted each other and cousins went on a tribal warpath in and outside the house. Nobody seemed to mind and there were no accidents or stitches as we might experience in our society.

I managed to round up about 21 for a family picture, leaving aside the smallest, who had passed out somewhere inside the house. I told them no "Peace Sign," which is still used today in this part of the world to, in my opinion, ruin a perfect picture. There is always one and that one turned out to be my son. I had to tell him “no,” but among the 21 there is always one!

...Life is good. . . . .


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