FIRST-PERSON: Ramadan (and Hari Raya Puasa) coincides with the circuit breaker period in Singapore this year. The writer, a 20-something millennial in Singapore, reflects on how these extraordinary circumstances have resulted in one of the most meaningful fasting months she has gone through.
To say that this year's month of Ramadan is different would be an understatement.
For the first time, there are no Ramadan bazaars, no congregational tarawih prayers (additional ritual prayers in the month of Ramadan) at mosques and no communal breaking of fast with family or friends.
Now, given the circumstances with Covid-19, it is perfectly understandable that one might say that they have no mood for Ramadan, let alone Hari Raya.
I get it – in the beginning, I thought so too.
But interestingly, observing Ramadan during the circuit breaker has turned out to be one of the most meaningful fasting months I've ever experienced in my 20-odd years of life.
Breaking fast with family is a privilege
I'm not going to lie, being cooped up at home for days during this circuit breaker period hasn't been great.
Every day is the same: Wake up, go to the same corner in my house to work, have my meals in between, sleep and repeat.
It's almost like I'm the main character of "Groundhog Day" (or for the younger folks, "Happy Death Day").
The circuit breaker has been a strange time for everybody as we get used to new routines. But one thing I wouldn't mind doing over and over again? Breaking fast with my family every evening.
You see, ever since I started working full-time, eating with my immediate family is a privilege that I didn't get to enjoy often.
For the past couple of years, I've either been breaking my fast with a Fisherman's Friend mint in the train on the way home or with just my mother (purely because our workplaces are nearby).
Even on weekends, the dining table at home was almost never fully occupied as some of us either had work commitments or had plans to break fast with friends.
This year, however, we had no choice but to break our fast at home every day since eateries are only open for delivery or takeaway.
Not that it's a bad thing, though.
In fact, occasionally helping out in the kitchen and eating together at the dining table has brought us closer together.
Since we couldn't get the epok-epok sayur (vegetable pastry puff) that we would usually buy from the Ramadan bazaar this year, my father decided that we should make it ourselves.
My parents made the pastry from scratch, filled it generously with beansprouts and carrots, and even concocted the perfect sambal to go along with it.
I helped in other ways... By serving as a taste-tester to ensure it tastes divine. (It's an important task, you know.)
The point is, instead of feeling like I was stuck at home with the same faces, I actually felt like I was spending valuable time with my family. Which is a great feeling to have.
Bonus points: I get to eat amazing food daily because both my parents are great cooks.
The true meaning of Ramadan
And speaking of food, of course, I had my reservations about spending Ramadan during the circuit breaker period especially after witnessing several mad supermarket rushes.
On the third day of Ramadan, I already had to experience a snaking queue to enter a supermarket:
To make matters worse, we couldn't find half of the things we wanted to get like tomato paste and pasta.
And perhaps due to the surge of demand, the price of certain items like onions and eggs, for example, was more expensive than it used to be.
But now that I think about it, Ramadan couldn't have come at a more opportune time.
The fasting month is a time for Muslims to learn and empathise with the poor and less fortunate, who may have very little food to consume in their lives.
While my family and I are still blessed enough to have food on the table this Ramadan, we also got to experience what it was like to not have certain things, hence giving us the opportunity to learn to make do with what we have.
In previous years, we would supplement our meals with snacks and desserts from the neighbourhood Ramadan bazaar.
This year, however, we've been eating just enough to feel satiated: A plate of rice with one meat and one vegetable dish.
Not to mention it's also a humbling reminder that what's considered "enough" for us may just be a privilege for the less fortunate.
Making new traditions
One of the reasons I look forward to the fasting month is spending time with my extended family.
It is a long-standing yearly tradition for us to have a potluck and perform the tarawih prayers together.
This year, however, we reluctantly had to give this tradition a miss.
Fortunately for us, we found other ways to stay connected. For one, we held a tahlil (prayer ceremony) through videoconferencing app, Zoom.
This circuit breaker period was also an opportunity for us to reignite older traditions.
For example, we received a handmade Hari Raya card from my nephews via mail (the last time we received physical greeting cards was when I was around their age).
In case you can't read Malay (or simply can't comprehend my nephew's handwriting), the card has a very apt message:
"Selamat Hari Raya! Far from sight yet close to heart."
Better times are coming
I'm glad to have gone through whatever I went through this month.
It has allowed me to recognise how privileged I am – despite the tough times, I am still lucky enough to be living with my family and hold a full-time job.
It also gave me an opportunity to see that while staying at home may have resulted in more chances for friction and tension, it also has the power to bring people closer together.
For those who are not living with their parents or grandparents, you may find yourselves longing for their company during this festive period, after close to two months of not seeing them.
But there will be better days ahead.
Some circuit breaker measures are easing up from June 2, with family members being allowed to visit parents and grandparents (with certain restrictions, of course).
It will certainly be a different Hari Raya this year, but it will be one that we will all treasure and remember for a long time.
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Top image by Fasiha Nazren.