Raya used to mean just another day to get dressed in baju kurung and wait for guests to arrive. My memories of Raya are limited and few - with most of it being hanging around the living room or kitchen waiting for people to arrive. Balik kampung meant going back to Malacca and visiting relatives. It was just another weekend. I have finally experienced and learned the true meaning of Raya. Following Eddie back to Teluk Intan was truly an eye opener and made me understand what Raya was really all about. Yes, there were still guests who came, but I finally understood what it meant to ask for forgiveness.
I had already expressed my concern to Eddie about following him back home. I had a fear that I would be unwelcomed, shut out and ignored as I had previously seen done to Eddie. He kept reassuring me that everything would be fine and Ayah couldn't wait for our arrival. When we reached, we were welcomed by Ayah, Umie and Eddie's siblings, I knew then that he wasn't lying.
Eddie is always telling me that, "Cara orang kampung lain. Kita ikut adat. Kita tak reti nak cakap buruk pasal orang yang kita tak kenal." I was a little sceptical. Coming from KL, all I knew were fake smiles, sickeningly sweet words before being stabbed in the back with a blunt and rusty knife.
Our first night there, while we were preparing the BBQ, the families started to arrive. First Paksu and Maksu, then Pak Mamat and his family, before Paklong and Maklong made their grand entrance. From a day of knowing exactly who was who and where they came from...suddenly I was lost. I recognised Maksu's family because I had been to her house a few months back. And I remember Paklong because Eddie told me about his heart operation and Maklong because she used to be an Editor too. With Eddie busy with the fish and kerang at the BBQ, I could only guess which child belonged to which parent. My only clue was that one family colour coordinated their baju raya, signifying that they came as one.
While busy helping out, talking to one person to another and being interrogated of my background, Ayah asked Eddie and Paksu (who were handling the BBQ) how long more before the food would be ready. They replied 15 minutes. Ayah then announced that we would have a short tahlil until the food was ready. At the back of my head, I already had the perception that not everyone would take him seriously. But as Ayah settled at one end of the mat that had already been set out for us to dine on, everyone took their places and sat obediently waiting for their 'Wak Man' to start. To my suprise, no one had to be told to sit still. Not even the six-year-old who only minutes before was happily hitting the live kerang that were about to be roasted.
I had never experienced something so spontaneous as to have a tahlil where nobody had to be forced to participate. Everyone knew their role and everyone played along willingly. Hanging my head in shame, I was praying hard that the tears would not fall.
Once dinner was over, I was told to change into my baju raya. They kept saying, "Sekejap lagi kita nak Raya, Kak Anna, cepatlah tukar." As I was changing, I assumed that what they meant was that we would be taking photos. When Eddie told me to take out the duit raya he had prepared and told me to sit next to him in the group that was already slowly forming, I finally understood wat "kita nak Raya" meant.
Paklong and Maklong sat at the head of the group and I saw Ayah salam Paklong, ask for forgiveness before moving onto Maklong. Umie followed suit. When I saw them sit next to Paklong and Maklong, I knew that they were following hierachy. I was unsure of my position. Do I participate? When I knew Eddie was next, I looked to Eddie's sisters for help. As though they'd read my mind, they nodded to confirm that yes, I was next. After I salam Paklong, I waited next to Eddie as I watched him hug Maklong, tears flowing freely from both their eyes. The lump inmy throat was beginning to form, but I shrugged it off. It was silly of me to get emotional. After I salam Maklong, she hugged me and said, "Welcome to the family." Something so unexpected came to me at the time I needed it the most. I hugged her back gratefully and maybe too tightly, as I felt that she was almost falling back from where she sat on the floor. When I had reached Maksu, I took my seat next to Eddie. His eyes were wet and his nose was red. But he was smiling. Now it was our turn to sit and wait as everyone worked their way down from the head of the family - Paklong.
I never knew or understood the meaning of asking for forgiveness until that very night. I never knew that it was such an emotional process that would only bring a family closer. I had never seen so many adults cry, laugh, hug and share at the same time while the children were either too young to understand or to eager to receive duit raya from the adults. I learnt that night that pride and ego had to be put aside for a while, just enough for everyone to be together, to ask for forgiveness and to just grow closer.
I always hear people saying, "Raya means nothing to me. It's just another holiday." I used to be one of them. I used to think that Raya just meant having to entertain people for the day. It also felt like it was almost an excuse to eat 'raya' food. Asking for forgiveness used to mean a quick salam before pretending nothing happened to avoid the uncomfortableness of the situation. Even a salam was left to choice of whether the child wanted to do it or not.
Tradition was something that I thought was something that was old-fashioned and not something that I would have to be a part of. I used to be one of those people who looked down on it. Now that I experienced just a tiny part of this family's annual tradition, I finally understand why people rush back to balik kampung. And why they're upset when they can't return. Having had just one night with this family, I know that if I were to miss it next year, it would be something that I would truly regret. It's because of Eddie and his family that I've finally learnt the true meaning of raya.