Living Abroad : Spending Ramadhan in Cambodia.

Second Ramadhan in Phnom Penh. 

I remembered the first time we arrived in Phnom Penh, a few months before Ramadhan took place. We had to adjust ourselves to a number of things including completing our ‘fast’ for the first time abroad. I was working in the former Agency then and our office days ended at 6pm daily. This gave me just enough time to head home for the break of fast. In this post I’d like to share some of the challenges we faced and what we’re looking forward to for this second Ramadhan in the Kingdom of Wonder.

Explaining what Ramadhan is to my colleagues. 

It’s not difficult to explain to my colleagues last year as they too had Muslim friends who came from Kampong Cham and other parts of Cambodia. They only had asked me why we had to do it once a year. So I explained that fasting is not just about abstaining ourselves from food and drinks, but also to clean our soul as well as do good things during this Holy month. It was also a chance for us to understand the sufferings of others who have very little in this world.

In my current office there are a few of us who are Malaysians, with one of them looking forward to this first Ramadhan in Cambodia. When a few of my colleagues asked me why I didn’t have lunch on the first day of Ramadhan, I explained to them that I was fasting. They were surprised and sympathized towards my situation but I assured them that this was something we’ve been doing for years. They on the other, shook their heads and told me that they would not be able to last a day without any food let alone any drinks.

Of course there are challenges of Ramadhan in a foreign country. 

Once you’ve lived in a country for one year, you realize that some things were taken for granted when you were back home in Malaysia. I’ve been feeling this a lot lately and especially during the Ramadhan month. Here’s why.

1. No special favors or exception during working hours.

In a country that does not celebrate Ramadhan or Aidilfitri in a big way like Malaysia, I had to adapt myself to the local situation and not ask for any special favors. This means that while the working hours are from 8:30am-6:30pm, I too, still needed to complete these hours like everyone else during Ramadhan. This is different from back home where the Muslims are able to go home 30 minutes to 1 hour earlier than the usual office hours so that we have time to prepare and cook for the break of fast. During lunch break, I take 15 minutes of break away from the computer and then continue again until end of the day.

2. Not many options of restaurants for break of fast.  

The Malaysian restaurants like Cafe Malaya is closed for the entire month of Ramadhan while Gulai Restaurant offers Ramadhan buffet on the weekends. This means that eating out is only an option on the weekend therefore we cook at home instead and we don’t have to queue or make reservations in restaurants for breaking of fast.

3. No Ramadhan Bazaars.

One thing I miss about the fasting month is the chance to visit Ramadhan Bazaars and look out for the authentic kuih muih which would usually be hard to find on any other day. Sadly, there are no Ramadhan bazaars such as this in Cambodia even though there is a Muslim community in the city. Perhaps it’s not the local culture to have the bazaars but it would have been interesting to see what food they have to offer since it would be the halal Khmer version.

4. Missing breaking of fast together with the family. 

This was the hardest only because no matter where we were, we would make sure that we would break our fast together as a family on the first day of Ramadhan. My parents have been kind enough to remind us when the first day of Ramadhan would take place, to recite the niat before the first day and sharing with us what the menu was for the day. The last part was a bit hard only because I miss all the good food back home in Malaysia.

Feeling grateful and blessed nevertheless. 

1. Embracing good weather. 

The weather has been friendlier lately and the rainy season will soon arrive. The past few months have been really hot with the temperature hitting a high of 38 degrees at one time. I stayed in and brought food to the office during those days. However, the mood changed and we are now getting short showers in the late afternoon before the actual rainy season arrives.

2. Getting my baju kurung ready for Aidilfitri. 

Last year I had a chance to have my baju kurung made from Russian market and this year my friend Gina recommended me another tailor from the Central Market who could do the clothes with good quality. We went over to the shop which is located inside Central Market and found Azizah’s tailor. Her niece who was manning the shop that day speaks good Malay and told us that they usually take orders from the Malaysian Embassy. I brought along my baju kurung as a sample for her reference and got two more cloths from the shop. To make one it costs $10 for the entire baju kurung which is cheaper than what it costs to make one back home.

3. Having understanding friends.

I am also grateful to have friends here who understand what we’re going through for one month and I remembered them not eating or drinking in front of me this time, last year. It wasn’t necessary for them to do so but it was a nice gesture nevertheless. They would make sure that I’d be able to go home in time for the break of fast even though we might have some work to finish up at the last minute.

Having understanding friends in a foreign country during Ramadhan is the best.

Having understanding friends in a foreign country during Ramadhan is the best.

Flexibility and adapting to wherever you are is key to a blessed Ramadhan. 

This is what I’ve learned while living in Cambodia. There’s no such thing as people who MUST understand what we go through and for them to adapt themselves around us during this time. I never did put up high expectations for this and would rather spend the days quietly, focusing on being close to Him while going about work as well as life. To this, I wish everyone a blessed Ramadhan month and selamat berpuasa!

About Yafieda Jamil

A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.

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