Lebaran Damage Report

October 19, 2006                    Indonesian Holidays                  Ted Meinhover

selamat lebaran

Ah yes, it’s Christmas time once again. Everyone has a vacation from school, families pack into cars or board airplanes for long journeys to grandma’s house, back to the hometown. People are in a frenzy to stock up on excessive amounts of food and necessities, anticipating the few days of the year when stores will close down. Mothers and grandmas conspire in preparation for grand feasts, refusing to alter generations-old recipes, even though Cousin Amy is going to bring a tofu-turkey for her vegan diet anyway. Children dream of gifts to be unwrapped.

But it’s not Christmas at all – it’s not even December. And this is certainly not snowy Minnesota – the tree branches hang heavy with mangoes and coconuts. This is Indonesia, and this is Lebaran.

The end of the work day on Friday, October 20, is the beginning of Mudik, the Indonesian tradition of “balik kampung,” or returning to one’s hometown to celebrate Idul Fitri, or Lebaran, the end of Ramadan. Indonesian Muslims (which make up 90 percent of the fourth largest population in the world) have been fasting for a whole month, the holiest month on the Islamic calendar. They are eager to return home and celebrate its conclusion with friends, family, and lots of traditional and not so traditional foods.

traffic jam

The traditional balik kampung, Mudik, inspires mass movement within the Indonesian population. Although there were classes today, the University of Indonesia here in Jakarta was virtually empty. The capital city draws people from all over the Indonesian archipelago, which is made up of over 16,000 separate islands. Jakarta becomes a ghost town for a week as its millions of inhabitants flood back to their respective towns and villages and islands. This mass movement presents challenges to the country’s infrastructure as well as the patience of every individual. The systems that connect the country, including trains, highways, boats and airplanes, are not entirely well developed, an important consideration in light of the prediction that 15 million people will be moving within the same moment this year.

I don’t hesitate to call it chaos, even insanity – but it is a good chaos, a well practiced chaos, a holiday chaos. The government makes proclamations and it dominates the headlines for a month every year, and then it’s over.

And people deal with it, suffering together. Stories of 18 hour train rides from Surabaya to Jakarta with nothing to do but stand upright in the crowd, wedged between a newborn and a chain smoker, are not uncommon. The traffic jams are an unavoidable reality. Transportation in Indonesia requires patience and endurance in the first place – during Lebaran, they are the only way to making it through the experience without coming to despise the world.

In a country where the majority has to work very hard for what they have, where not much is easy, reaching your destination at all is the important thing. The struggle to get there is what life is all about. I anticipate the solidarity I will build with the Indonesian masses as I follow my friend to his hometown, halfway across the large island of Java. Perhaps by suffering together, by sweating together, we can come to understand each other a little more.

Ted Meinhover

www.tedmeinhover.com           tedericco@gmail.com

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