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Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!
31st August 2015

The Zain Ahmed sisters celebrating Merdeka Day like only they know how! How proud and happy we felt to be Malaysians...and sisters.

Being a future beneficiary of a (small) piece of land in the majestic state of Kelantan, I began to feel I finally belong here. I have always loved Kelantan, but having been born and living in KL and Selangor all my life, there was nothing much to attach myself to it save for some relatives remaining. Suddenly I feel an immense sense of pride and belonging, and I wanted to do something special for the coming Merdeka Day.

And I wanted to do it in style. I wanted to capture the moment for us, my sisters and for our children and grandchildren and great, grandchildren to see and remember. Wednesday the 26th of August, the second day we were in Kelantan, my sisters and I had dressed up in traditional Malay fashion and...we made it happen. The sweetest and most memorable gathering of four Zain Ahmed sisters at the site of a Sultan's palace. No less.

This is Istana Jahar, once the home to DYMM Sultan Ahmad 
ibni Almarhum Sultan Muhammad II (Sultan Bibir Merah). 
This information was provided by a Facebook friend from 
the Kelantan Royal family, KijangMas Perkasa
The Sultan was his great, great, great grandfather. 
This beautiful Istana is in immaculate condition 
and has now been turned into the
Muzium Adat Istiadat DiRaja Kelantan.

It was so spontaneous...the idea came when I was packing my bag the night before our flight to Kota Bharu. I was actually a bit surprised by my sisters' response to my suggestion - they were all game. Such great sports they are. Despite the very short notice, it turned out just wonderful, if I may say so myself.

I guess these city girls were just so desperate to look like the typical sweet and demure Kelantan damsels hahaha!! Regardless, we were all so very happy and had so much fun doing this together, in the spirit of family togetherness and patriotism.

We're all rather generous in size so the point of interest in this pix is almost covered. It's actually a Perahu DiRaja which was used by the Sultan himself as a mode of transport. If we had been allowed to do so, we would have jumped in it to have our picture taken by Amir.

A curio shop in the Museum compound. Too bad they didn't sell little hand-held Malaysian and Kelantan state flags. We were overloaded on nationalism that day.

Beautiful architecture that is part of the Malay heritage we are so proud of. All the pictures here were taken by Prof. Azni's son, a professional photographer. He was actually the main reason Azni planned this trip. I had always admired his work and had been very confident that he would carve a name for himself. True enough, he is now relatively well known, and had just completed an assignment in Brunei for a Royal wedding. It isn't easy to engage him - his schedule is extremely tight. So I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to be photographed by him. Next time, when he has become famous, I can say that I have been photographed by Amirul Hilmi Ariffin heheh. These were taken using a high-end pocket camera, as unfortunately he had yet to unpack his equipment. But that's okay, he had already captured the moments I had wanted.     

At the entrance of the Istana. I could almost hear the nobat playing. Isn't it uncanny that His Majesty's name is coincidentally the same as our late grandfather's, who's land we're about to take over? Sultan Ahmad, Hj Ahmad and of course not forgetting there's also Ahmad Cendana.

This is the entrance to the building next to the Istana. I'm not quite sure what it this time we were all famished and didn't explore any further. We headed to the famous kopitiam White House just nearby and tucked into what else...delicious nasi dagang wrapped in banana leaf. We were still in our garb and no one batted an eyelid. That's the wonderful thing about Kota Bharu...the Kelantan women take pride in their beauty and looks. Many of them are meticulously made-up and well-dressed even in the market, adorned with gold accessories.
From the beginning right to the end of the very brief trip, I had a marvelous time being with my sisters and relatives here in our ancestral land. I treasure these moments, their unconditional love and Allah's unexpected bounties. The more I want to do, the more I want to give, the more I get. Now if that isn't magical, I don't what is.

A couple of days ago I had seen a poster on Facebook that read, "If you have family, you have everything. "

It couldn't be more true. Like most other people, I couldn't imagine my life without my family. They are one of my biggest blessings from God, my husband and children. I am utterly grateful for them.

I am also blessed with three wonderful sisters with whom I had become very close with ever since the demise of both our parents. My late Mama had always made sure that we sisters remained close to each other. She wouldn't hear of any squabbling between any four of us, and had made it clear that the younger ones had to always respect the older ones. 

Mama would always insist that the whole family meet at least once in a month. As we grew older it got more difficult as each of us had greater responsibilities and lesser time, so gatherings were usually planned only on special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries, and of course during eid celebrations.

Mama and her four daughters.

After Mama passed on in 2011, we continued to gather albeit less frequently. But when we did, it was always joyous and filled with fun and laughter. Our last gathering which was held six days ago, was that and much was one that I would remember for a long, long time. 

Prof. Azni, my eldest sister, is always the busiest working.  My second sister Datin Aimi, is always busy travelling. But last Tuesday the 25th of August, all four of us had made time to meet - in our hometown in Kota Bharu, Kelantan.

We had some matters to resolve - land inheritance from my late father which had us feeling exceptionally allegiant towards the state. My parents, both of whom were from Kelantan had left their birth place to start a life in Kuala Lumpur in 1963. That was the year I, the youngest sibling, was born, so there had been some detachment over the years. For me, now that I have a stake here, I am so glad that I could claim my right to call myself a Kelantanese.

A caricature of my late grandparents done by my uncle Ayoh Mae. Both passed away on the very same date, 6th of September, twelve years apart.

This is said to be the home of my grandfather.  Looking at this, I feel so proud of my father who came from such a humble beginning, then made his way to KL and out of "poverty". In inverted commas because his parents, my grandparents, were poor in cash, but had plenty of land. 

Our first day in Kota Bharu was spent viewing the pieces of land in question.  I had been particularly keen on the fruit orchard situated in Beta Hulu. It would make an ideal spot for a farm should I have enough resources to expand my meliponiculture activities in the future. It was a difficult decision - there were other lots to choose from which have a road frontage and would have a much higher commercial value. But I reckoned that is not what I want. I have had the opportunity to experience farming at my sister Aimi's farm and I just love it. That is what I really want to do - farming. The earth grounds me...that is where I will be laid in final rest.

The path towards the orchard which we didn't know was infested with leeches until we had almost reached the end. Two sisters didn't make it; they turned back when the leeches started to creep up their shoes. Aimi braved herself and followed me into the unkempt orchard which looked almost like a jungle. Later she jokingly mentioned it was to give me support. I took that seriously though, because that is what she has always been to me.
While Yan was screaming leeches I had gone into the orchard on my own and took a walk around alone to feel the energy within that space. I loved it there. Apparently, I wasn't alone after all...hahaha!! Just look at the size of the rubber tree next to me. Note: I am at least two times bigger than the average Malay woman. 
From left, Yan, me, Prof. Azni and Datin Aimi with Nik Azhan, our first cousin who knows most about all the plots of land belonging to our late grandfather Hj. Ahmad. He must have been quite influential here; a stretch of road in Kadok was gazetted as Selekoh Haji Ahmad after him.
My grandfather Hj Ahmad. This picture was taken by my late father. I carry his name in mine.

Some beautiful images taken by Amirul Hilmi Ariffin of my kampung.

A caricature of the four of us by a very witty uncle of ours whom we affectionately call Ayoh Mae. It's a depiction of the scene we created when the leeches started coming, according to his imagination. 

The visit to Kelantan this time was different from the others. It was a day I reconnected with a part of my family history which I had never really learnt of. I had felt prouder, stronger, yet so humbled by the reality of it all. This is family. This is me. And praise Allah, I have everything.

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