There was nothing inherently familiar about Singapore–a tropical island stacked with tall skyscrapers, meticulous order and cleanliness, and very few people who share our shade of chocolate hue. We struggled to compare it to any other place we had been but once we reached our destination, we felt settled and no longer strange. Walking into Umm Umar’s home was like walking into one of our favorite stories. We knew the characters and setting quite well but now the tale came to life and there we were in the midst of it, occupying a space that felt uniquely carved for us in their life. Lil’ Z fit right into the the playroom with the little people of the household. Urbndervish and Abu Umar conversed and discovered common interests, mutual acquaintances, and shared favorite Islamic artists. As for Umm Umar and I, there weren’t enough hours in the day for all the topics we could’ve discussed.
To jump-start our short stay in Singapore, we enjoyed an amazing meal of Gadu Gadu, steamed vegetables and rice cubes topped with spicy peanut sauce, fried tempeh, and tofu. Then we headed out to Pasir Beach Park for a breezy walk along the shore. The children scooted along while the grown folks were engrossed in conversation. As sunset approached , we returned home for prayer. Nothing binds the hearts quite like communal prayer and even the children seemed connected, sharing their customized, colorful prayer mats with Lil’ Z. After a light supper, we settled in for a good night’s sleep.
In spite of traveling through the previous night, Lil’ Z still woke up at dawn, just after our morning prayer. To avoid waking the others, we went out for a bit of fresh air and to watch the sun rise. An older Chinese Singaporean stopped his morning stroll to say “Beautiful!”, gesturing that he liked Lil’ Z’s braided hair. This was the first of several compliments she received by curious onlookers. Once the sun had risen, the other children stirred and played with Lil’ Z outside before breakfast.
Our plans for the day took us to Masjid Sultan on Arab Street. In this happening neighborhood, popular for food and shopping, the golden dome stands high above the hustle and bustle.
Following a series of lectures and poems, all attendees were invited to lunch served right outside of the mosque after mid-day prayer. Large platters of chicken, biryani rice and salad were on the menu but we opted to visit the infamous VeganBurg instead.
Right after lunch, we joined several other families for a nature walk at MacRichie Nature Reserve. We strolled along the paths to meet our companions by the shore of the reservoir lake. Expectantly, we saw turtles and fish but once we turned the corner, we were met by a pack of monkeys, long-tailed Macaques to be exact.
We were surprised to see how bold they were in taking plastic bags of food from visitors but then this notice explained why.
Further along we saw monitor lizards and a variety of birds, and then wrapped up our outdoor adventure with a stop at the playground.
On our very last day in Singapore, our hosts had to work which gave us a perfect opportunity to hit the pavement as pedestrians. After they dropped us downtown, we had a delicious Lebanese breakfast of seasoned fava beans and za’atar bread, topped with a paste of thyme and olive oil, from UrbanBites. Then we walked over to the historical mosque on the hill, also known as Masjid Haji Muhammad Salleh.
From there, we took the subway to the Botanic Gardens where we met a few other families for a play date. Even in the absence of our hosts, their friends reflected the same warmth and hospitality we had experienced for the two days prior. They were so inviting, we felt like we were stand-ins for Umm Umar’s family.
We sat by Black Swan lake, delighting in the scenery, snacks, and conversation. When we finally pried ourselves up from our shady spot on the lawn to walk to the Children’s Garden, we found it closed for maintenance. Though the Raggamuslim clan lacked a cell phone, all of the smart phone users around us coordinated the rest of our day’s itinerary. Umm Umar’s brother picked us up from a nearby café and took us to meet his family at Masjid Ba’Alawie.
Following our prayers, we returned to Bugis, the historical neighborhood of Masjid Sultan, for a late lunch. At Sarang Café, the only vegan option on the menu was foul moudammas, the same Lebanese dish we had for breakfast, but we didn’t mind one bit. We were honored to patronize the business of one of Urbndervish’s former colleagues—a young entrepreneur who teaches Islamic Studies classes just above the hip hang-out spot.
After lunch, we returned to Umm Umar’s home to enjoy our last evening in their blessed home. As if the enriching discussions with her family weren’t enough, we were sent off with an incredibly delicious final supper. With an early morning flight ahead on a budget Asian airline, we spent the last hours of our day organizing our bags to make sure none were overweight and then finally drifted off into sweet slumber.