Week 24: School and Ponggal Festival

January 9-15

This was the second week of school, and we settled into our classes— the same subjects as last year with mostly the same teachers. 

Amma was admitted into the hospital on Tuesday due to a recurring condition. She was in the larger hospital in a different town for three nights, but eventually recovered and is fine now. 

While Amma was in the hospital, I continued going to school, driven by my host brother or a teacher. 

On Wednesday, we had field hockey practice!!! I will be able to play on the school team, which I’m so excited about! There were only four of us at practice, and the coach mostly taught the basics, but even so it was fun to play! Apparently I will play in games and tournaments but will also be a sort of assistant coach. 

Each morning and evening this week, I visited the doctor from India who comes to have a clinic in my host aunt’s shop every two months. He continued treating my foot from its injury a year ago. 

I spent most days after school in my host aunt’s tailor shop painting and reading before having treatment by the doctor. I went jogging in the local park one day, which was so nice. 

After school on Friday, Ibe and I took the bus to Tapah to walk around in search of birthday package items for my US brother (have to mail things early; it takes up to  2-4 months!). 

The pet store has the most adorable kittens in cages out front. This one became my new best friend
We went to Secret Recipe, a very popular (but very expensive relative to other Malaysian food; a slice of delicious cheesecake is the equivalent of $2.50 USD) chain restaurant known for cheesecake as my late birthday celebration. The cheesecake was delicious, and I discovered that Secret Recipe is the only restaurant in Tapah with SALAD, so I went back later that day for dinner to get delicious salad. (When Malaysians say “salad”, they refer to plain lettuce, which is called “salad” in Malay, or to cabbage or other vegetables or fruits in a mayonnaise sauce— what we call coleslaw. As a salad enthusiast, I used to be very disturbed by this lack of good leafy green salad, but I’ve adjusted, and my salad cravings have subsided.) 

I went with my host aunts and brother to the 16th day funeral prayers for a relative who had passed away. 

Outside where family and friends gather to eat, talk, and spend the night awake in between prayers. Generally only close family stays all night; friends and extended family just come for an hour or so

Saturday was the Hindu festival of Ponggal, a harvest festival specific to Tamil Nadu. Most Malaysian Indians are descendents of people from Tamil Nadu who came here a few generations ago for difficult work on palm oil estates. India has 23 states, and Tamil is just one of the many languges from the huge country. 

My host family could not celebrate because of the uncle’s death, so Ibe and I went with the family of the Indian teacher who had been the Malay language tutor for us AFSers at school in Tapah Road. 

One of the main traditions for Ponggal is the making of ponggal, a sweet rice made by boiling milk in a clay pot over a fire in front of the house and then adding in ponggal rice mixture including cashews and raisins. When the milk boils over, it is a sign of prosperity and everyone shouts “Ponggal-o-Ponggal” a few times. Each family is supposed to make this early in the morning, but our family could not because of the one year probation on festivals after a funeral. 

Ibe and I went to a temple with our teacher, and we participated in the making of ponggal for the temple. We went back later for prayers and dinner. 

Ponggal rice being made

We tried to help make kolam by filling in the spaces that had been drawn with colored rice

Dinner at the temple was vegetarian nasi lemak (because all temple food must be vegetarian) as well as traditional kuih (curry puff, vadai– Indian fried chickpea patty, and a sort of donut)

The end! 


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