HARI Raya Aidilfitri is not quite the same if you don't celebrate it with your loved ones. As cross-border travel is still not permissible during Hari Raya, many Malaysians are relying on technology to bring them closer to their loved ones, near and far.
For Dr Mohd Norhisyam Mohd Yusof, who now serves as the chargé d'affaires ad interim at the Malaysian embassy in The Hague, the Netherlands, what he missed the most during Hari Raya is "being together with my family members and friends".
"We love to reminisce about the good old days. Of course, I also miss Malaysian authentic Raya dishes. I would also love to visit friends and relatives, as well as attend Raya open houses," he said.
When he missed his Malaysian food, he and his wife, Kartini Maruzi, often tried to cook them on their own.
"As I will try to get in touch with my parents over the phone (they are not tech-savvy anyway), my family has created a group chat on WhatsApp where we can communicate and share photos," said Norhisyam.
Norhisyam has four sons — Arif, Umar, Faiz and Zayd. Arif is currently studying at a private university in Kuala Lumpur and lives there.
Despite not being able to travel back this time due to the pandemic, he is thankful for the advancement in communication technology, and that people are able to celebrate Hari Raya "together".
"Indeed technology has advanced at an unbelievable rate and pace. Being assigned overseas is not really a hindrance. In this case, it is thanks to technology and their inventors," said Norhisyam.
"I have been using various apps to communicate with family and friends. Most easy and popular are perhaps WhatsApp and Telegram.
"For group video conference, we use either Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams, as all these are user-friendly and free," he said.
'ZOOMING' WITH HER SON
For Hazlina Aziz, this is the second Hari Raya she and her husband Ismaznizam Jesmaj Azyze couldn't be with their son, Erfan Hamad Azyze, who is now working at a social media advertising company in Melbourne, Australia, as an advertising accounts manager.
"Normally, we would try to spend Hari Raya together. Erfan came back to Malaysia for Hari Raya when he was a student as it coincided with his semester break.
"In 2019, as he could not get a long leave, my husband and I decided to celebrate Hari Raya in Melbourne. He was supposed to celebrate Hari Raya in Malaysia last year. Of course, it did not happen and he still couldn't travel home this year," said Hazlina.
Since Erfan is the only child, it does get very quiet at home for Hazlina and her husband.
"Thank God both our parents are nearby. We miss the annual Hari Raya family photo session, and I am sure he misses the food, especially his favourite Hari Raya dishes, which are lemang and rendang," she said.
Hazlina is thankful for the various kinds of communication options that are available today.
"We usually use FaceTime to communicate. When there's a planned virtual gathering with our extended family, we will use Zoom. I really cannot imagine being away from him without technology," she said.
"Imagine if Covid-19 occurred like 20 years ago, when you could just hear each other's voice, and could only send print photos by post to catch up with those living in other countries. Today, everything is at your fingertips, literally," she said.
SIXTEEN YEARS AWAY
Rashdan Fitri Mohd Rashid has been living abroad for 16 years now with his wife Safiawati Yasin and daughter, Nurin Sabrina.
Starting from Jakarta, Indonesia, they moved to Helsinki, Finland, and finally the United Kingdom. The programme manager at Nokia UK said he missed the Raya celebration in Malaysia so much, especially the "Raya Convoy" travelling from Kedah to Penang, Perak, Kuala Lumpur and all the way to Johor to visit his large extended family.
"Raya is the time to meet up with all my family members, enjoy great varieties of Raya dishes and for my daughter to collect duit raya. She is always blown away by Raya open house invitations because some of them are even more special than Malay weddings," he said.
As flying back to Malaysia is no longer an option for the time being, Rashdan Fitri is glad that communications technology has improved so much that connecting with his loved ones and family is easier and better.
"We use group video calls, such as Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp to connect with our families in the UK, Switzerland and Malaysia. Finding the right time zone for all is indeed a challenge. However, if there is a will, there is a way to make it happen," said Rashdan Fitri.
Salliza Salleh missed Raya with her daughter Izzah Zulaikha Asmawi again this year as the latter is living and working in Wellington, New Zealand.
She said her daughter has been living in New Zealand since 2018 when she went there to further her studies.
"Her first Hari Raya there fell on the week of her finals, so she didn't get to celebrate with us as a family. But we always communicated through video calls using FaceTime in the morning of the special day.
"Last year and this year, due to the pandemic, she didn't get to come home for Raya," said Salliza.
"However, I'm grateful that it is now easy to keep in touch with our faraway loved ones with the help of video calls.
"Despite being faraway, we always call and talk about our day using FaceTime and WhatsApp, and share our daily activities through IG story," she said.
"Having Instagram and Facebook enables us to share the fun things that we do daily. From sharing cooking recipes to funny cat videos, social media has been an important key in keeping us connected," she added.
This year, Salliza has created a short IG reel video for her daughter to show how her family misses her during the morning of Hari Raya.
SO CLOSE YET SO FAR
Despite living just across the Causeway, Mohd Sazali Mohd Rusdi still couldn't visit his mother, Jamilah Ahmad, in Batu 3, Shah Alam, this Hari Raya.
"This was the second time my wife, Heza Hamid, and I couldn't go back to celebrate Hari Raya in Batu 3 due to the border closure between Singapore and Malaysia," said Sazali, who lives in Fernvale, Sengkang, Singapore.
For Sazali, what he misses most during Hari Raya is to join the gathering of his extended family from all around the Klang Valley at his mother's house in Batu 3.
"Normally my mum will prepare traditional Jawa cuisine like lontong, lodeh, sambal goreng and nasi ambang for our family's big gathering on Hari Raya.
"This will normally take place on the second or third day of Raya. I also miss the house-to-house takbir Hari Raya on the night before the festive day, which could last until 3am," he recalled.
"It is sad that we can't do this for the time being. Hopefully, when everything is back to normal, we can celebrate as usual," said Sazali.
"I'm glad that social media and combination apps are so advanced today that I can easily connect with my family in Kuala Lumpur. Today, my mum has already mastered the use of video call, and I would video call with her weekly," he said.
Myrna Latif has been living in Jessheim, Norway, since she married her husband, Mirko Winterberg, in 2019.
One thing that is on her mind this Hari Raya is her family, father, mother, sister and brother-in-law, in Shah Alam.
"As we couldn't travel yet this time, technology is the 'bridge' between my family in Malaysia and I," said Myrna.
"I would normally video call my parents once or twice a week, and do FaceTime and WhatsApp video with my nephews and nieces," she said, adding that she couldn't imagine how it would be like without all these communications apps.
"Thank God we have all these now and all can be done over the Internet connection," said Myrna.