There is no place like home, say three Malaysians who are spending Hari Raya Aidilfitri in a faraway land. Zuhaila Sedek finds out their plans for the day
IT is Hari Raya again, a time for family reunions. Some may find it exciting but for others, the thought of having to answer probing questions about their lives could be nerve-wracking.
But no matter how difficult, nosy or over-sensitive your family is, they are a part of you and you get to celebrate the joy of the auspicious day with them.
Today, we share stories of three Malaysians who are celebrating Hari Raya Aidilfitri on foreign shores due to the call of duty. They, sadly, won’t get to share in the festivities of the day with their loved ones.
Captain Dr Siti Haurul Ain Sheikh Aladin is celebrating Hari Raya away from her family for the first time. She is currently serving as a member of the Malaysian contingent of the Nato International Security Assistance Force (MALCON ISAF) in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
“Hari Raya is a time for good food and family gatherings. On the morning of Hari Raya, my family goes for prayers. After that, the young seek forgiveness from the elders before visiting relatives,” says the 28-year-old.
“My favourite time during the celebration is the family photo session. There is nothing like family. I miss them very much.”
Although Siti admits to being homesick, especially during Raya, she is aware of her responsibility towards the Afghan people.
“The locals need good dental support and a proper dental care programme. The situation here is made worse with the shortage of dental supplies,” says Siti.
Despite her sadness at being away from her family, her trip to Afghanistan has made Siti realise how lucky she is. Threats to life there include something called the Improvised Explosive Devices, one of the biggest killers.
“This country has been through years of war. It makes me grateful for what I have. This mission has opened my eyes and changed my view of life. It is a valuable experience that I will always treasure.
On Hari Raya, she says they will be having a big feast. “We are so lucky to have two cooks from Malaysia so food is not an issue. Duty always comes first, though.”
Siti’s mother, Siti Jalina Tamin, misses her daughter very much. It was not easy seeing her eldest daughter off to a war-torn country. “But this is what she has always wanted to do. It is her dream,” she says, adding that she used to worry about her daughter’s safety in the beginning. “But sometimes, to achieve greater things, sacrifices have to be made,” says the 50-year-old.
Jalina remembers Siti crying when she was about to leave the country. Her tears were for her mother who is battling brain cancer.
Jalina told her daughter not to have second thoughts about going. “I am fine. I can still lead a normal life,” says Jalina. “But I do hope to see my child come home before my time is up,” adds the mother of three.
Jalina describes her daughter as bubbly and adventurous.
“She doesn’t want to be just a dentist. She craves for adventure, which is why she entered the military.” Jalina will celebrate Hari Raya with her other children and relatives in Batu Pahat.
It is not the first time Captain Dr Wan Mohd Muizzudin Wan Mohamed is celebrating Hari Raya in a foreign land. But it is the first time that he will be separated from his two sons on the special day.
Wan, 28, studied in Russia with his wife, Dr Norlina Anuar, for six years. They are both used to being away from relatives on Hari Raya.
“But this year will be the first time my children won’t be seeing me on Hari Raya. They keep asking for me and I miss taking them for their walks. My eldest son loves counting his duit raya with me,” says Wan who is a regimental medical officer and part of the MALCON 4 ISAF team in Afghanistan. He conducts Combat Medic Courses for Afghanistan’s police and security forces.
This year, he is celebrating Hari Raya with his commanding officer and colleagues. “It is a normal Raya for me,” says the native of Kajang, adding that he plans to communicate with his family via Skype.
Wan says he is reminded of his children every time he sees the Afghan children in his area.
“They have to get their water supply from the river and travel home on a donkey. Some of them are so little. Whenever they see the Malaysian contingent, they will ask for bakshit (free gifts).”
“It could be anything, even an empty mineral water bottle, so long as it’s free. They don’t ask for money though. I feel for them,” says Wan.
Adds the doctor: “I hope nothing untoward will happen and everything goes smoothly until the day we go home.”
Norlina understands the nature of her husband’s job, since she is in the same field.
“I am okay with him being there. I know it is his passion and I respect that.”
But she feels sad that her children have to celebrate Raya without their father.
“I hope they won’t start asking me where their father is on the morning of Hari Raya,” says the 28-year-old.
Norlina has to do all the Hari Raya errands herself such as buying new clothes for her children, getting Raya cookies and paying the bills.
“My husband used to do all these but this Raya, I have to be independent.”
The couple normally take turns to go back to their respective hometowns during Raya. This year it is Norlina’s turn to balik kampung, which means the family will return to Kampar.
Raja Khairulliza Raja Kamarudin never thought that she would be celebrating Hari Raya in Milan.
“Who celebrates Hari Raya in Milan?” she asks, jokingly, adding that it feels strange to be celebrating in Italy.
Raja Khairulliza is an accountant for an oil and gas company there. This is her first time away from home during Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Last year she was in Nigeria for Hari Raya Aidiladha.
“Being away for Aidilfitri is worse than being away for Aidiladha,” she says.
“In Nigeria I had two other Malaysians with me. Here I am all alone. However, I will call my mother on the day.”
Usually, before Hari Raya, Raja Khairulliza, 31, does the shopping with her family, helps with the duit raya packets and gets down to baking batches of Honey Cornflakes cookies with her sister. She recalls something that she says she will never forget.
“I baked cookies last Hari Raya but they didn’t turn out the way they should have. When my mum’s friend commented that they tasted weird, my mum responded by saying that the cookies were unique and that they should taste that way.”
She misses her mother the most. She also misses hearing the Takbir Raya (Hari Raya prayers).
Raja Khairulliza brought some instant ketupat and her favourite Rendang Tok with her when she arrived in Milan last June. She plans to defreeze these and enjoy them with friends.
She can’t wait to return home to her family but admits there is a possibility she might have to celebrate Hari Raya some place else next year.
Raja Khairulliza’s younger sister Nordiana Nordin says that her sister’s absence will definitely bring the mood down during the celebration in Johor.
“She is a happy-go-lucky person and makes a lot of noise in the house,” says Nordiana, adding that she has to do the cleaning and household chores on her own this year. “She is lucky, she gets to skip doing them this year,” quips the 26-year-old.
She admits that her mother misses her sister very much. “She is very sad but luckily, she has her grandchildren to cheer her up.”