PETALING JAYA: For Malaysian Muslims living abroad, the experience of Ramadan can be quite different from what others are used to. This is particularly true for Nor Azira Abdul Aziz, a Perakian who has been living in Oslo, Norway, for over 10 years with her husband and two children.
Residents of the land of the midnight sun experience much longer daylight hours in summer, extending well into the night. And accordingly, fasting hours there differ, given that they are dependent on when the sun rises and sets.
“I have been observing Ramadan in Norway since 2012, and each year, the fasting period gets longer and longer,” Nor Azira told FMT with a chuckle.
The 39-year-old said although this can be quite a challenge, it gives her a sense of accomplishment and pride each time she’s able to successfully abstain from food and drink for the duration.
“The longest my family and I have fasted was for 20 hours. We started at 2am and broke fast at around 10.45pm. It sounds crazy now that I say it out loud!”
Long fasting hours aren’t the only unusual thing Muslims face in Norway: traditional Malay cuisine may be beloved in Malaysia, but its bold flavours and aromas are not to everyone’s liking.
“Imagine being evicted from your home just for cooking with belacan!” Nor Azira remarked.
It might sound like a joke, but this is the reality in certain European countries, where the pungent aroma of the shrimp paste may be considered a nuisance to those in the vicinity.
In fact, the smell isn’t the only thing that could get you in trouble while cooking with such Malaysian staples. “One of my Malaysian friends here was given a formal warning by her landlord for pounding sambal tumis with her pestle and mortar on the floor of her apartment.
“The downstairs neighbour wasn’t too happy.”
Nor Azira is lucky, however, as her own landlord is kind and tolerant. As such, she faces less of the hassle when it comes to cooking in her apartment for Raya.
“Even though I’m miles away from home,” she said, “it’s very important for me to cook our traditional food” – from rendang and daging masak hitam to nasi kerabu and asam pedas.
According to her, in order to live happily abroad, you must make do with what you have and focus on the positives. “For example, we don’t get bunga kantan in Norway. Ask anyone back home and they’ll tell you asam pedas is incomplete without it.”
She and her family have learnt to compromise and enjoy the dish, so long as it reminds them of home.
“Our attitude now is to be free and easy. If we don’t have this ingredient and it doesn’t quite taste the same, no problem. Let’s have fun either way.”
Nor Azira and her family moved to Norway after her husband received a job offer there. Reminiscing about her time back in Malaysia, she said: “The entire spirit of Ramadan back home is created by the bazaars, buying your favourite kuih-muih, sitting down for buka puasa together with the family. This is something I really miss.”
She also noted that the way in which Aidilfitri is celebrated in Malaysia greatly differs from many regions of the world. In Malaysia, the real festivities begin on the first day of Raya and can go on for a month or so, with “balik kampung” and open houses on the agenda.
“In the Middle East as well as Norway, Ramadan is celebrated to a greater degree than the actual day of Raya,” she pointed out.
Despite how different Raya is in Norway, she and her family still follow the traditions they grew up with.
“We always make it a point to host our own open house every year,” she said, adding that fellow Malaysians have been a source of support.
“Even though it’s a small community here, it’s nice to celebrate special occasions with people who remind you of home.”
This year, Hari Raya is being celebrated at the Indonesian embassy in the Norwegian capital, since the nearest Malaysian embassy is a seven-hour drive away in Stockholm, Sweden.
While she plans to cap off the festivities by hosting yet another open house, make no mistake – Nor Azira may be in Oslo, but her heart is very much in Malaysia during the festive season.
“My family and I are of course extremely grateful for what we have today, but home is still home,” she said happily.