This term at school is the longest of the year (starting on August 9th was particularly painful!). However, it's also the term with the most public holidays - I think we have 5 or 6 4-days weeks, which always feel like such a treat!
This weekend marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, and is known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Ramadan has been an interesting month here for us. Obviously we're not fasting (as if!!) but it has impacted on us in many ways - nicely in that Rob has been working 'Ramadan hours' which means finishing work at 2pm every day, but it's also made life tricky trying to get settled in as all government offices also close at 2, so it's been well nigh impossible to get many admin jobs done.
Many of the Muslim children at school have been fasting, some in my class - who are only 7 years old. 2 of the girls in my class have only fasted for a couple of days a week, and only on the days when they don't have PE or Swimming, but 2 of my boys have fasted for the entire month, meaning that they don't go outside for breaktimes, or take part in any physical activity at school. They are not allowed to eat - or even drink - in daylight hours, so have been getting up at 4am for breakfast, then not eating again until the evening call-to-prayer at 6:30pm. I've been pretty impressed by this... until one of them informed me that if he fasted all month he was getting an iPad! (How touching to see such religious devotion in one so young!!)
So Hari Raya Aidilfitri started last night... but we didn't know that until it happened! In many Muslim countries the dates of the start and end of Ramadan are chosen each year and fixed, but here in Brunei they still do it the traditional way and wait until the new moon is sighted. This meant that last night we were all waiting to hear whether we would have to go into work today (Friday) - we heard at 8pm that the moon had been officially sighted, so we knew that we would have Friday and Monday off work. Had the moon not been seen, the public holidays would have moved to Monday and Tuesday next week.
We had made Hari Raya cards in school and I was very touched when 2 of the girls told me that they had made them for me:
I was even more touched when another lovely girl in my class presented me with a Hari Raya gift yesterday - some gorgeous peanut biscuits and a special card:
No, you're not mistaken, there are a few biscuits missing...
I got caught in a traffic jam on the way home from work yesterday. It was 2pm and I hadn't had any lunch so I got stuck into these!
This weekend is very special here in Brunei because it is the only time of year when the Sultan opens his palace to the public. You can queue up to visit, and the men get to meet the male members of the royal family, while the women meet the females. You are presented with a small gift, and also get a meal! Rob is going tomorrow as part of the Armed Forces, and I may go along on Monday.
It's also a time when many Muslims hold 'Open House' parties. We have already been invited to 3 this weekend, which is very exciting. It's considered prestigious to have as many visitors as possible - for one party we have even been given a half-hour time-slot in which we must attend! I'm really looking forward to experiencing these celebrations.
Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri everyone!