Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Idul Fitri: Forgiveness and Ice Cream

My friend Diem and I used to watch a movie from the early 80s that she had recorded from TV called “Old Enough”.  The main character was a girl at an awkward age who meets an unlikely best friend from the wrong side of the tracks. The friend also happens to be Catholic, and after the pair shoplifts some nail polish, the best friend assuages the main character’s worries by letting her know: “You just go to confession, and everything will be ok.” 

Diem and I got a real kick out of this philosophy – purposely doing something wrong, thinking you could just go to confession afterward to clean the slate. Not exactly sound theology. Similarly, in a delightful 30 Rock episode, Tracy Jordan has a similar view of confession until Jack Donaghy sets him straight. In addition, he informs Tracy that being Catholic also brings constant, colossal, spirit-crushing guilt. So true. 

So – the theme of forgiveness. One thing I am still adjusting to culturally in my village is the constant formality and requests for pardon. Every speech, most conversations, and even some text messages are concluded with a formal apology in the event anything was said that could cause any offense. As a Westerner trained to tell it like it is and always striving to use time more efficiently, it always seems excessive. As I think about it now, though, as a person raised Catholic, the standard martyr-like confessions and requests expertly-laced with a dose of guilt do feel slightly familiar.  

It only seems fitting that the close of Ramadhan festivities of Idul Fitri, in Indonesia (referred to as Eid, or Eid-ul Fitr in most other countries) is celebrated by a day of visiting everyone you know and formally asking for their forgiveness. This is a tradition particular to Indonesia. Each family waits at their house dressed in their brand new clothes (and sometimes in a newly-painted house) ready to field the incoming neighbors and family with a full supply of snacks, absolution, and some pocket change for the kids. People dispense money, cookies, forgiveness, and gratitude in a sort of bizarro Halloween/Thanksgiving. In short, it’s awesome.

I really enjoyed the idea of walking around the town and just saying “hey” to all your neighbors – or in this case “Mohon maaf lahir dan batin” or “Forgive my physical and emotional wrongdoings,” but I think the “hey” is implied. It’s such a good idea - starting fresh but not in a behind-the-screen-to-Father-Hickey kind of way. This method focuses on maintaining relationships and re-building bridges directly with the people closest to you. Oh, and then you eat cookies, or in my case - ice cream. Sure beats five Hail Mary’s.

My sister Ana, my cousin Yoonie, and me making the rounds to the neighbors houses.

The fam parading to the next house

My cousin Ari asking for forgiveness (and then he got a snack)

Some of my fav neighborhood ruffians going around asking for money

Running into other families from our street making the rounds

Hanging at my aunt Bu Har's place with some of the fam after completing our circuit.

Ice cream man

Yay! Ice cream! Forgiveness never tasted so good!

Here's a round of folks coming to my aunt's house.

And another family leaving the house across the street

If there are not enough snacks, just grab a mango from the tree outside.
Watching my host niece count up her booty, I was taken back to emptying pillow cases full of candy onto my parents’ playroom floor with the Nguyens, Goob, Meg, and anyone else who happened to Trick or Treat in the neighborhood that year. We would then commence high-stakes trading with Nestle Crunch bars, Snickers, and Milky Ways as our commodities until we all were satisfied with our take.

My niece Ila counting up her rupiah

The choice of houses is also intriguing. We didn’t visit every house on our street, and I am still not clear as to why. Is it similar to our plotting to hit the Reynold’s house on Brothers Road because they gave out king-sized candy bars and skipping the houses that gave out pennies and Mary Janes? Do you go where there is more bang for your forgiveness buck? I don’t know.  

Idul Fitri Prep and the Last Days of Ramadhan*
The preparations for Idul Fitri, however, begin weeks before. This is the time some Indonesians paint their house anticipating many visitors. And there is no “eggshell white” or “cobalt blue” in these parts. Oh, no sir. They really go for it. Here is our house freshly painted for Idul Fitri. 

Our house painted orange, green and pink for Idul Fitri.

I finally caught these guys on film the last night of Ramadhan.* This is part of the crowd who would wake up our village at 1:30am each night for Sahur.
Neighborhood kids banging pots and drums through the streets every night of Ramadhan

I think the neighborhood stray cats were hit hardest by Ramadhan. With no food around for full days, there were half-dead cats lying everywhere. Here's one on our porch after he stole a fish from underneath the not-so-secure table cover intended to keep varmints out.
Cucing jahat
In Indonesia, it is also customary for all family members to return to the desas to be with family, so the cities empty out and travel becomes a hellish nightmare, which Indos seem to endure happily. This is called mudik. Below, I am sitting with a cousin who drove with her family for 12 hours from Jakarta to come to my village for Idul Fitri.
Me and my cousin watching the parade of action on the main road.

As we walked down the street, one families’ visitors were getting ready to hit the hay right out on the porch in front of the house. Most of my family slept at my aunt's house nearby.
Sleeping on the floor is where it's at in these parts, and when 5-20 family members come home, it becomes one giant slumber party.
We watched festivities on the main road where there were fireworks, firecrackers, and an entertaining parade of trucks carting around masses of kids blasting music from huge woofers. 
Here are some of the kids crowding into the back of a truck blasting tunes.
This group passing by was our favorite. They shot fire into the air. I am confident every safety precaution was taken.

Here are some of my village peeps. I rarely see them in their jilbabs, but they were donning for the big event.
Rindu Ramadhan
I miss it. I really enjoyed my experience. It got me to wondering if I could do it in the US. Maybe I'll try it one year. OK - adding it to the list. 

And celebrating Idul Fitri felt like home. Journeying to Irish Grandma's in Long Island wasn't necessarily mudik, but occasionally my dad would try to sneak in a Chuck Girard casette making the trip a little less bearable. In the early afternoon, I was sitting around with my Indonesian host family after we were tuckered out from all the repenting and cookie-eating. Jilbabs were coming off, everyone lacked the luster they had earlier when the day was new, and everyone was content to veg out. I was taken back to lounging around the backroom at Grandma's, watching TV with my brothers and sister as I sat in itchy tights on the brown couch that was one notch below what could be considered comfortable. We would fade in and out of naps as we could hear the dining room din of grownups stirring sugar into tea cups as they bantered back and forth. I remember being dumb-founded as to why anyone would enjoy just sitting around talking for so long.

As I was reminiscing, taking in the Javanese chatter around me, someone handed me a tin of cookies. Danish butter cookies. The ones my Irish Grandma would always have at her house even though we only liked two or three of the varieties in those crinkly white sleeves.

And here they were - Irish Grandma's Danish butter cookies...made in Indonesia.

And the circle is complete.

*Idul Fitri Confusion

The close of Ramadhan was accompanied by the same confusion that denotes most events and schedules in Indonesia. Fasting ended the night of September 29th. For my family. But they follow Muhammadiyah teaching. Most of the Indonesian population is NU, or Nahdlatul Ulama. 

From what I gather, NU is a grass roots organization that allows for Indonesians to still follow certain cultural traditions that may not be rooted in Islam. For instance, one of my favorite traditions is the tahlil when someone dies. Javanese come together to celebrate and pray 3 days, 7 days, 40 days,100 days, 1 year, 2 years and 1000 days after someone’s death (I am not 100% on the days as different people have said different things). I really love this tradition as I feel it is such a wonderful way to pay respects and continue to remember loved ones lost. Everyone gets together, prays, and takes home snack boxes. Because this tradition is rooted in Java’s animistic history, generally, Muhummadiyah does not follow it, trying to purify Islam of any non-Islam influences.

Another thing I didn’t know about Islam – because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, Ramadhan ends when the crescent moon is spotted in the sky. This poses some difficulty for modern Muslims as they sort of don’t know when the fasting will end and it can vary from place to place. In America, this is also a difficult thing to explain to your boss when you are trying to take a vacation day to celebrate Eid (whereas, here, the country shuts down for two full days). “Well, the moon wasn’t spotted yet, so can I push back my day off?” 

Imam Khalid Latif, Executive Director for NYU’s Islamic Center explains the end of Ramadhan in his online Ramadhan reflections:  

“Traditionally, most would require the actual seeing of the crescent moon with the naked eye. If the moon was not visible on the 29th night, then the month would extend one more day for a total of 30 days before the new month began. Contemporary opinions have developed that utilize calculations to determine the start and end of the months. Those who follow the latter have set Tuesday as the first of Shawwal, the month that follows Ramadan, as well as Eid-ul Fitr, an Islamic holiday that follows the month of fasting. If you are interested in learning more about it, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, a prominent American-born Muslim Scholar and co-founder of Zaytuna College, the first Muslim College in the USA, has written an excellent book on the subject entitled "Caesarean Moon Births."

So, in Indonesia, for Muhammadiyah - Idul Fitri began on Tuesday, the 30th. NU followed the determination of the Indonesian government which announced late on the 29th that there would be one more day of fasting, making Idul Fitri for them on Wednesday, the 31st. As a result, while my family was eating and carrying on like Ramadhan was over, all of our neighbors were still fasting. My family slept most of the 30th and really celebrated with everyone else on the 31st.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing post! Did you happen to ask your family about "skipping" some of the nearby homes? Or did you assume you might not get the "real" answer. I traveled to Indonesia for ten minutes while reading this post and taking in the pictures. Totally awesome.