Daud, Mohammed, and William Karz by Devin Galaudet for In The Know Traveler in Kota BharuSometimes it’s the people met along the way. The folks and brief exchanges become memorable even though, at the time, it was just a moment. A simple time.

I had bought a traditional Islamic prayer hat from one of the roadside kiosks across from the Kelantin Mosque. While I am not a Muslim, I could not resist. It sort of looked like a white ornate cloth salad bowl with a square bottom and decorated with intricate silvery green and gold swirling embroidery and lots of holes on the sides and top that would let the steam from my head escape. The hat is better known as a taqiyah. While I was proud of my purchase, I was a little self-conscious about wearing Muslim garb in front of the Grand Palace, across from the Kelantan Mosque, and in front of the kiosks filled with Muslim folks. Was it sacrilegious? I was not sure.

Out of nervousness, I asked a stranger, the guy selling lemonade, which attracted a hives worth of swimming insects, who just happened to be in earshot. “Is it okay if a non-Muslim wears this thing. Then I slowly, very slowly, placed the hat on my head, watching him and waiting for his approval. He gave the ahh-don’t-worry-about-it hand wave. I was relieved, but still hoped he would not ask me to buy some of his lemon/insect drink. His name is Daud

Daud had a big smile and had set up his shop just before the parking entrance of the museum and Grand Palace, and seemed to be more interested in just hanging out than actually selling lemonade. As my traveling companions showed up one by one, Daud wanted to know more, “Where are you from?” Pointing and counting us as he went. Usually this is first question out of the mouth of any person not used to seeing Anglos with dangling cameras and a certain loss of orientation stumbling around their country.

Mohammed by Devin Galaudet for In The Know TravelerBefore I knew it, we were talking. I don’t remember about what, just talking. Hanging out. I suppose it didn’t matter. The conversation flowed. It was a comfortable moment in 90-degree heat with 95% humidity. Then some guy, who just appeared from my left, startled me when he took the taqiyah off my head and pushed my hair back with his calloused hands before gently placing the hat back on my head and then examining me as if he were examining his work. Mohammed leaned in to explain it was important that the hair was under the taqiyah, especially during prayer. Mohammed had breath so frightening and pungent that I had certainty it would set off all the car alarms. After his explanation, he took a seat next to Daud. They did not seem to know each other. I guess Mohammed wanted to hang out too.

tobacco.jpgI turned back to find Daud explaining how to roll homemade tobacco with swamp river tree bark. It was a curious segue that I had missed. And I watched the cigarette quickly rolled and offered to all present. Only one of the folks I traveled with had the guts to try it (William Karz, one of ITKT’s contributors). Daud made sure to explain how strong the tobacco was. I considered taking a puff to be sociable until I realized that I had swore off the devil, nicotine, over ten years ago. We then all waited for William to turn green or something as he took a confident slow drag on the makeshift cigarette. Nothing happened, but we all laughed anyway. As we stood there, I was taken back to those bonding days, sneaking cigarettes in high school, back to a simpler time. We never discussed US foreign policy or our clear religious differences.

Of course, I can wear my hat now, sitting writing this little story down, and remembering my new friends. Where the guys were just hanging out, rolling cigarettes, and enjoying a good day. I could have been anywhere even in Islamic Malaysia.

Written by Devin Galaudet