Trip Start Feb 18, 2010
93Trip End Ongoing
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Our time on the island of Penang lasted about 7 weeks. And we are so glad we stayed so long because had we not, we never would have had the life changing experience of spending 24/7 for one week with the most kind, open-minded, open-hearted Malay family.
In our time with them we did fun things like ride a ferris wheel, go rollerskating, eat our way through many night markets, swim in a waterfall, and have picnics and BBQs.
We worked our butts off helping Fadzil fill a large batik order.
Jon and Faris became best buds hanging out by the fish pond, saying hello to the local cows, and playing with the ever-exciting hose. The Z boys! Jon Zuckerman and Faris Zaquan!
Fadzil described them as a chicken and a duck. They don't speak the same language, but in the end they are both poultry. (Check out some funny videos of Faris below!)
One of the most significant experiences for me during this stay was also one of the most eye-opening. It is my pleasure to share it now.
We went to a kenduri (ceremony) for Zita's uncle who passed away many years ago. A formal occasion (and a feast), women must wear their formal dress. Not having this, I was dressed in Zita's clothes. This was a bit of a difficult hurdle for me. I was presented with my outfit the night before and late at night, behind closed doors, I had a small breakdown. I tried on the long sleeved top (complete with shoulder pads) and floor length matching skirt. I wrapped a scarf around my head. Of course everyday I am used to seeing Muslim women wearing this outfit. We even see non-Muslims wearing it sometimes. But not me. I have never put myself in such a costume. I felt completely ridiculous and awkward and that I would be seen as a fool the following day. As I sat in my outfit and cried into Jon's arms, I exlaimed that wearing this was crossing the line. I would never ask Zita to wear one of my outfits. She would feel foolish and uncomfortable, not to mention extremely inappropriate for a Muslim woman. I have tried to be respectful by covering my knees and shoulders in public, but this is just not me. I can't compromise who I am just to fit in. I won't do it, I just can't. I look like a fool. I don't feel like myself. As I professed my feelings and morals and values, something inside me was itching, trying to get out. I spent a good 20 minutes ignoring this feeling, not wanting to say it out loud.
Jon calmed me down by saying that it was only for one afternoon, and that we should be open to new experiences, and what kind of open-minded travelers would we be if we said "no" to really special opportunities? But on the other hand, he totally supported how I was feeling and if I didn't feel comfortable doing it, then we wouldn't go. We would be honest and tell them that we just can't participate in this. Then we would leave.
This saddened me deeply. I didn't want to say "no", I wanted to be free and open. I didn't want to turn down a possible once in a lifetime experience. I didn't want to offend them and I definitely did't want to leave.
When I started to calm down, I got up my nerve and told my love that acutally eveything I had just said was an excuse to sound righteous. That actually my emotions were coming from a shallow place and I just felt really stupid wearing this dress. That I just looked really ugly. And I felt that everyone at the kenduri would think I looked ridiculous. And fake.
For someone who claims she doesn't care about how she looks, I really care about how I look.
Jon told me that it was alright and that I wasn't being shallow. That this really was just an awkward situation.
I said I would sleep on it.
When I woke up I felt refreshed and decided to swallow my pride. I would wear the dress and be confident and strong. So what right? Bring it on! And I did.
Zita and Fadzil thought I looked really nice. At the kenduri I was treated very kindly. Actually I was treated differently. There were many smiles coming my way. Older women were approaching me and shaking my hand. Younger girls would kiss my hand (a sign of respect in the Muslim community). I was no longer making people feel uncomfortable because of my tight clothes and bare arms. I looked like one of them now. Women were going up to Zita telling her how nice I looked.
The downside though was that I was SO hot and just physically uncomfortable. The dress was too big and the headscarf kept falling off while I sat cross legged on the floor eating my food with my fingers. And I was sweating profusely.
I had to change as soon as we left and although I still wear tight fitting tanktops and shorts, I am so happy I wore the dress. It was no big deal at all. I didn't have to change any beliefs to put on some new clothes for one afternoon. I was not asked to change my views or pray to Allah. I was just told to "Mekah Lahgi!" (eat more!)
It was a valuable lesson for me in pride, beauty, and vanity.
Furthermore, because of their excellent English, we were able to ask them many questions about the Malay culture and the Muslim religion. There are obviously certain things that as an American, I come with huge misconceptions and preconcieved notions concerning Islam and the Muslim people. I won't get into detail about the things we discussed and learned, but I will tell you that this is why we travel. These experiences are the most rewarding and the most life-changing. To learn from real people and judge from actual experiences. For better or for worse, there is less ignorance in these American hearts.
VIDEOS of the cutest Malay boy in the world: