How the Grinch Stole Eid

Cindy Lou Who: Santa, what’s Christmas really about?
The Grinch: VENGEANCE !!   Er… I mean, presents, I suppose…

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Mercredi, 07 août 2013:

I don’t mean to be the party-pooper here, but boy, all these Eid hype and festivities going on around me are really driving me nuts. Four years of celebrating Ramadan and Eid in the quietness of Perth have left me completely unprepared to face Eid in Malaysia with millions of my people, and despite having family here, I’ve made up my mind that Eid in Perth, or away from Malaysia, was certainly more enjoyable.

Eid in Perth was in truth not much of a celebration actually; in my first year, the first day of Eid also coincided with my 18th birthday so my friends and I from St Cat’s went to Nando’s in Northbridge for a double celebration. This was also my first Eid away from my family, but there was so much going on at that time that this was actually the least of my worries then. The following year, my housemates and I went to Hepburn Mosque in Padbury, WA (about an hour’s drive from Perth) for the Eid prayer (which we ended up missing because we arrived late and there was no space anyway) and attended a few open houses here and there hosted by some Malaysian families who like to invite students to their open houses. While I truly appreciated their generosity and their attempt to make Eid slightly more enjoyable for us students who are away from our families, it was still extremely awkward for me to be eating their food in their living room when I didn’t even know our hosts personally (and vice versa).

Eid in my third year was even more depressing because I celebrated it at the Social Sciences Computer Lab at UWA, where I studied for my upcoming French test. I missed the Eid prayer at King’s Park, nearly all my friends were home for Eid, and the only thing that made me feel like it was Eid that day was the baju kurung I was wearing. Good thing my final Eid in Perth last year was a memorable one for all the good reasons; I slept over at a friend’s place, which actually didn’t involve much sleeping at all, and ended up waking late but managed to join the prayers at King’s Park.

Eid prayers at King's Park.

Eid prayers at King’s Park.

One of the shortest Eid celebrations we have ever had that didn’t even last for 24 hours was when we lived in Conakry, Guinea from 2004 to 2005. In Conakry, the Malay community (if it was even big enough to be called such) back then was tiny; there was perhaps only 30 of us, which meant a couple of open houses here and there on the first day of Eid and then the celebrations were over. My parents also invited some of my father’s local staff members and even some of his friends from Huawei and Alcatel, so we had a pretty interesting multicultural Eid celebration as well. Not knowing what else to do that night after all the open houses were over, my father’s friend invited me and a couple of another colleague’s kids to play Monopoly at his apartment, and so we ended up trying to drive each other into bankruptcy until three in the morning. The next day, life was back to normal.

That same year, the company my father works for in Malaysia was apparently feeling a bit generous so they decided to mail us some Eid cookies (kuih raya) to Conakry. While their intentions were absolutely commendable, logistically speaking this mission nearly ended up in a massive failure however. This was because instead of addressing the package to Conakry, Guinea, they sent it over to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, which meant it had to take a detour back to Malaysia from Papua New Guinea before being resent to the right ‘Guinea’ in West Africa. (Side note: There are actually five countries in the world with the name ‘Guinea’ in it — the Republic of Guinea (where we lived), Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Papua New Guinea, and French Guyana — so perhaps their confusion is understandable.)

By the time the cookies reached us way after Eid had passed, they had crumbled to pieces and were almost completely unrecognizable. I wouldn’t be surprised if the cost of sending these cookies over to us was nearly equivalent to the cost of flying one of us back home to have a proper Eid celebration (especially after that massive detour), but at least this whole episode meant that even their employees who were sent to work in the most hidden corners of the globe were not completely forgotten.

Now, being in Malaysia yet not being able to see family or go back to our hometown, our Eid celebration this year promises to be perhaps the quietest and the most unorthodox we have ever had. This year there will be no family photo shoots on The Red Couch on the morning of the first day of Eid, no kissing the hands of our elders for forgiveness while dressed in our Eid’s best, no wearing new baju kurung or baju Melayu (mostly because we left ours at our other house in Johor), no firecrackers crackling in my grandparents’ front porch the night before, no late-night conversations with my cousins, no fighting to get into the shower or to use the iron or the mirror in the morning, no tears slipping to the ground when we visit my grandmother’s resting place, no duit raya, no ketupat and beef rendang for breakfast, no visiting our relatives’ house in Rengit together, no singing along to hari raya songs in the car with the cousins. All there will be is a quiet morning with only the three of us for company, and the rest of it is unwritten.

When I was in Perth one of my really good Bruneian friends always used to decline my invitation to join us for Eid prayers at King’s Park with the excuse that she wanted to catch up on sleep. I used to get quite frustrated at her lack of willingness to join in the Eid festivities with the rest of us — and using sleep as an excuse — but I think I’m now feeling what she felt then. That feeling where you just want to crawl into bed and turn on some sappy love song from the 80’s or watch Chaos Theory or Dark Water and not see or talk to anyone for the rest of the day, especially when it’s Eid.

It feels like we’re in some kind of self-imposed exile. We have not only been physically displaced from our place of origin but we have also been detached from our family traditions, our history, and the people that have lived in our past. Truncated from our roots, our very small family no longer has the comfort of our past to return to and we are faced with an uncertain future as we struggle to rebuild this crumbling city.

For some reason, surviving in foreign lands is an endeavor that involves less struggle compared to living here. There is something about celebrating Eid with strangers overseas that I have become accustomed to; perhaps it’s that feeling of being in the same boat that makes us feel extra sincere when we shake hands and kiss each other on the cheeks and exchange ‘Eid Mubarak’ wishes.

Although it feels like I’ve lost much of my childhood passion for Eid, I am eager to see how tomorrow will unfold itself. Perhaps there will be unexpected surprises… Either way, Eid Mubarak to all celebrating!

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