On The Road Again
By Amal Ghazali
Everytime the Raya season approaches, I get equal amounts of excitement and anxiety. It is a season of celebrations, after all, starting with the fasting month where everything centers around spending more time with family, friends or community, followed by Raya which may or may not last around the same duration (the age-old saying that ‘Raya is a month long’). I love this time of the year. The city comes alive with bazaars and all sorts of sales popping up to lure people to excessively spend in the spirit of festivities, and I find myself spending a lot more quality time with my loved ones, especially around the dinner table.
However, I am also one of the thousands of others who work in the big city with a hometown not quite close to it. What that means is that every year, during the Raya season, I will take part in the long, arduous business of traveling long distance to spend the holidays with my family amidst thousands of others who are in the same predicament.
Ready, Steady, Go
Have you ever seen The Great Migration on National Geographic? It’s about thousands of animals of the same species all traveling together for miles to get to the same exact place. That’s what it feels like sometimes. You spend most of the year in the city, and then during certain festive seasons it seems like everyone is gearing up for a voyage to the same hometowns. You make sure that the car is serviced, so that there will be no mechanical hiccups and hurdles that would turn you into yet another roadside casualty that you often see on your long drive back to your kampung. You plan your route, almost as meticulous as how you would sketch out your retirement plans, down to the details of exactly what time you’ll leave in order to avoid the bottlenecking at Route X, the surge of cars coming in from Exit Y, and the best RnR with the least crowd and the best state of toilet bowls.
And then you wait.
When the time comes, it almost feels like you are going into some kind of great voyage. You’ve got your game face on, you’ve got your snacks and drinks ready, and you’ve got your Spotify playlist in the order from happy, festive Raya songs to calming, anti-depressing melodies to get through possible long road congestion. And then off you go into the great unknown.
For me, I would often be driving alone back home to my parents who live in Kedah, and I would opt to drive rather than take the public transport due to the immense number of special goods that I carry with me - the Raya cookies. In fact, my car would often resemble a Raya cookie delivery vehicle, with enough cookies to supply my parents’ household, my grandma’s home, and to sustain the number of guests we would receive from all over the small town we live in, as the sense of community is very strong where my parents live.
In the many years that I have driven back to my hometown, I can assure you that nothing beats the chaos that is joining the throngs of thousands on the highway, with people also going back home to see their own loved ones. You’ll see minivans filled with family and extra luggage tied on top of the vehicles, small cars crammed with youngsters making a carpool out of it, and rows upon rows of public buses carrying so many passengers from all walks of life. It really is quite a sight to behold. I have mixed feelings about this - a sense of excitement seeing so many others all geared up to get together with the people that matter to them, but also a bout of anxiety that at any given time, this could easily turn into a full blown traffic congestion.
It’s Worth The Travel
Most of my friends have their families quite close by, and often wonder how I cope with driving home for hours at least once a month, and even more so, during the holiday seasons when the North-South highway traffic is notorious for being delayed and congested. Sure I get stressed about it too sometimes, but over the years I have realised that it has made me appreciate my family even more, knowing that it’s not always easy to see them. After hours of driving to get to my kampung, I am always determined to make the most out of it - that means I spend less time on the phone, I am eager to reconnect with my relatives who live in other parts of the country and would only get together this time of the year, and I am more mentally present.
Not all of us have the advantage of having our family live just around the corner or even in the same city. Some of us have no choice but to be far away, due to opportunities we are seeking which may not be available in our hometowns, wanting better circumstances for our kids and a lot of other reasons. Some of us even find ourselves living in different countries than our loved ones. Some of us no longer have our parents around at all.
This festive season, as I once again pack, prepare and drive out onto the long road to spend some time with my family, I would be sure to count my blessings that despite needing to go through the annual ‘Great Raya Migration’ with thousands of cars and bumper-to-bumper traffic, at least I still get to spend this time of the year with my family. I still have a family to drive back to. And sometimes, that is absolutely worth all the chaos, delays and congestion any highway traffic can give you.
Selamat Hari Raya, and safe travels wherever you are.