The Bruneians (and maybe other countries in the Muslim world?) have a great tradition during the season of Hari Raya - that of 'Open House' parties.
These are exactly as you might guess, a time when friends and acquaintances are invited to visit and eat a meal at your house. The invitation usually spans several hours and you just drop in whenever you can during that time. Unusually - to those of us used to the dinner-party style of entertaining - you are only expected to stay about half an hour. Go in, get food from the buffet, eat, leave. This means that you can go to several in one day... if you can manage all those meals!
Last weekend we went to two Open Houses on Sunday afternoon, both connected to my school. The food was amazing at both, and we had a very sociable time as many of my colleagues were there at the same time.
Last night however we went to an Open House at the Officers' Mess here on the camp where we live. We had heard a rumour that there might be a very special guest making an appearance, and when we noticed that the speed-bumps through the camp were being removed yesterday afternoon we knew it was true... Yes, the Sultan of Brunei himself was coming (and he clearly doesn't like his car journey to be disrupted by speed bumps - who does?!!)
The Mess was brightly lit as we arrived...
And inside there were decorations galore, mainly in green and gold, the colours of Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
There was a great band playing traditional music:
We were highly impressed by the food that was being served in the tent behind the Mess. There were even fresh Roti being fried.
We sat and ate with a Bruneian family, and chatted with a couple of the young officers who were officially hosting this event. They had barely slept for days, organising everything, and decorating the Mess.
Suddenly the young officers were called to line up in formation...
The guests began forming an excited line too - the sense of anticipation was palpable.
We joined the line too! Why not?!
And preceded by a flurry of camera flashes, in walked the Sultan himself, followed by his son the Crown Prince.
He was casually dressed and made his way along the line, greeting everyone and shaking hands.
We stood there excitedly, mentally repeating our greeting ("Selamat Hari Raya Your Majesty") and hoping that Rob was managing to get a few shots of our royal meeting (Rob had generously chosen to stand back and be the photographer, as he got to shake the Sultan's hand last weekend at the Palace!)
You can see from my broad grin that I was very excited - it's not every day that you get to meet a member of the royal family, and I've now met the Sultan, the Crown Prince and the Sultan's wife, and all in one week!
After his photo-call with the officers, the Sultan sat down to eat with the General, but then made his way round the Mess again, mingling and chatting. He came and spoke to us again too and asked us how long we had been in Brunei, and how we were liking it. Of course we were suitably complimentary - and obviously ended up talking about the weather. We are British after all!
It's been a very happy Hari Raya!