While hubby and I were walking around the stalls at the Weerama festival at Watton Street, Werribee, we chanced upon the stall of a Turkish guy called Honeybites. He was wearing his native costume he said is called Fez. He called me sister, so I knew he is Muslim.
He said: “Malaysia?”
“No. Guess again.”
“No. Here’s the deal. If you can guess where I am from, I will buy from you. If not, the ice cream is on the house.”
He smiled and creased his brows. I asked him if I can take photo of him while he was in deep thoughts. He fixed his costume and smiled handsomely. “In Asia, right?”
I said: “Yes, you have two more guesses.”
“No. You have one more and if not I get a free ice cream.”
“I would love to have my ice cream please!”
Like a good sport, he offered me the most unique and good-tasting ice cream I ever had. Not because it was free, but it had a distinct taste that is quite unusual to my palate.
“So where are you from sister?”
“Oh, oh. I should have known.”
What this citizen of the former Ottoman empire did not know was that the Moro Sultans of long long time ago only recognize the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire as the only potentate and authority above them–even though the Ottoman Sultan probably did not even know about their existence! While the Moro Sultans defied all foreign invaders, they considered themselves part of the great Ottoman empire.
Before leaving, I bought a serving of Turkish sweet from him. I didn’t catch what it was called but it looked and tasted a lot like our Meranao sweet called “pabrot” which we no longer make nowadays. The name “pabrot” initially eluded us. We could not recall what it was called and probably because even when we were younger, pabrots were not really made as often. This younger generation of Meranao kids have not tasted the huge variety of traditional Meranao sweets that we had long time ago.
While we retraced our steps back to the car park, I offered the ice cream to my hubby and he too liked it a lot that before I knew it, only the cone remained of my prize! Then, we ate the Turkish sweet and we both wondered if the Meranao pabrot is not a Turkish influence after all! Somewhere in the convoluted history of the Moros always written based on the view-point of non-Moros, perhaps there was an exchange between us Moros and the Ottoman empire—a significant link that was overlooked by the writers of our history. Maybe, there was a stronger tie that has been relegated to the dustbin of history—a linkage that can be unearthed by this pabrot-looking-and-tasting sweet.
As soon as I posted the photo of the Turkish sweet on our page, my sister commented “Pabrot?” She did not ask what it was, it did not look too foreign for her. There is probably more to our ancestors paying allegiance to the Turkish Sultan than meets the eye, even though our forebears do consider themselves sovereign in their own lands. Such belief would result to the longest armed struggle in the history of Asia, if not the world that is only about to see light at this point in history. Hopefully, in shaa Allah.
There is something in my Turkish friend’s difficulty in pinning down where I am from that is also a cause for deep thinking. I had always been mistaken for Malaysian, Indonesian, Singaporean and even Chinese Muslim but never Filipino. Most of the times when I am abroad, even Filipinos are surprised themselves that I am a Filipino like them. I am sure if I did not have a veil, he would surely guess my nationality. With my hijab, he never thought that I am from the Philippines.
It is like being neither there nor here. As a Muslim, it was hard to join events of the pork-loving Filipino expats. While everybody is gorging on fiesta-calibre food, I had to carefully choose which ones I could eat. (I remember joining a government-sponsored year-end party one time back in the Philippines. Since they did not call it a Christmas celebration, I thought that there must be other choices . However, to my disappointment all the dishes had pork! So I headed to the only safe and healthy alternative—vegetable salad. I jokingly said, “Baka pati ito may pork?” “Yes ma’am, may halong ham.”) Joining the other Asian Muslims here is also another difficulty as I could only either stare blank or just smile at them whenever they address me in Bahasa.
Maybe I should not have accepted the free ice cream from my friend. It wasn’t fair to him. On the other hand, I thought that mistaking my identity will now make him remember the Muslims in the Philippines. After all, didn’t our ancestors look towards Turkey fondly at some point in our history? Perhaps, if the Ottoman empire had not fallen, maybe the Moro Sultanates would have carved an identity of their own that will not be mistaken for anything. Ah, but fate and destiny have chosen a different path for us. Now, we are in the process of renegotiating our Moro identity to include all other identities that we have—Meranao, Filipino, Moro, Asian and Muslim. Of course add other identities when we become citizens of other countries.
Well, come to think of it, being me with so many identities gives me free ice cream!