July 17th marked the end of Islamic holy month of Ramadan, known in Indonesia as either Idul Fitri or Lebaran. For two days during this national holiday families get together to feast and enjoy one another’s company. Most offices are closed the two days before and two days after the feasting holiday, so many people choose to take a full two weeks off to visit family. My co-worker Retno invited me to her home to celebrate with her family. She picked me up on Thursday and drove me to her home just outside of Jakarta. There I met her mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, and four year old niece. As soon as the sun went down, we broke fast with a light snack of Indonesian style dumplings before her family conducted their evening prayer. Then, the feasting began. We enjoyed a variety of dishes, including chilies and potatoes, beef rendang, curry chicken, papaya, and palm fruit.
We woke up early the next day to attend morning prayer. Not everyone can fit in the local mosque during Idul Fitri, so the community amasses in a large open area, a tennis court in this case. While waiting for the prayer to begin, Retno and I shared with one another various aspects about Islam and Christianity. Indonesia is 95% Muslim, but is a country of many religions, with historic ties to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. Indonesia has achieved an admirable degree of peaceful coexistence between religions.
Following the morning prayer, there was enough feasting to make Thanksgiving dinner look like a light snack. We started with breakfast at Retno’s home before going from neighbor to neighbor to partake in even more food. A visit to each home involved shaking hands with all members of the home in the Indonesian fashion, using both hands. As a sign of respect, it is tradition to bow your forehead down to an elder’s hands. I did my best to eat all that they offered me, but I was bursting at the seams. We took a break back at Retno’s house to sleep off some of the food before her neighbors made their rounds to her home. There were plates of cakes, cookies, and her mom’s specialty: red bean ice. Red bean ice sounds a bit strange, and looks strange too, but is a delicious mix of adzuki beans, shaved ice, coconut milk, and cocoa.
At the end of the day, Retno drove me back to my flat. Jakarta is a completely different city during the holiday. Most of the city’s residents are from other parts of Indonesia, with less than 40% of the population native to Jakarta. With so many people returning home to be with family, the usually bustling streets are now quiet. I was told that during Lebaran, the city is so empty that you can sleep in the street. While not entirely true, it is strange that what would normally constitute an hour long commute back into the city took Retno and I only 20 minutes. I plan to take advantage of the empty streets these next few days and explore the city, free of its usual crowds.