Friday, August 17, 2012

Ramadan in Malaysia

It didn't register that I was visiting Malaysia in the midst of Ramadan. Living in Cambodia, a Buddhist country, I've become slightly blinded to religion diversity-Cambodian Buddhism is quiet, its principles and practitioners showing their faith by visiting the pagoda to light incense or bring offerings, or when giving money to monks making their daily rounds about town. Like Indonesia, Malaysia is an Islamic nation with numerous ethnic groups, at least when compared to remarkable to Cambodia or Thailand--I ate Indian food three times in three days not because I chose it, but because it was often the only choice. 

I visited the National Mosque twice. The first day there, I took myself on a seven hour walk to see some sights, sweat, and enjoy the freedom on foot that you don't get in Cambodia. I laughed as I donned the purple, hooded robe given to all non-Muslim visitors, watching foreigners move around in them reminded me of Harry Potter.

Ramadan stamped the city--rows of restaurants shuttered up, buffet signs advertising "Ramadan specials." And, on a tour the next day our kind guide explained the basic tenets of Ramadan etiquette to the group of European kids, "most people lost about three to five kilos during Ramadan. Of course we always gain it back a month later, and more!" We almost felt guilty taking the water bottles he handed out knowing he hadn't had a drop of water in hours. Later, our guilt subsided as he drove us past the Malay neighborhood where preparations were being made for the evening's feast and eating activities.