Jakarta, 9 October 2008
Much has been written on Indonesian Idul Fitri rituals like mudik exodus, city slickers doing chores and herding to malls for food since cause maids are off, or Jakarta’s empty streets and clearer air. Idul Fitri is supposedly the victorious day of rebirth, if a Muslim successfully atones for his or her sins through a series of purifying acts and prayers during the holy Ramadhan. Ideally, starting fresh with renewed hope, strength and limitless possibilities.
But how do you keep the spirit alive during a far less ideal time?
While living overseas I had to spend the period in starkly different settings than what I’d grown up in. Braving Ramadhan during winter, dying to gulp down hot chocolate while I had to simultaneously survive the weather and ace finals. Spending Idul Fitri as a student taking a comparative study in Chile, definitely the only Muslim within the school’s group and possibly the only one in the entire area by then. There’s something a bit surreal about swimming in one of Puerto Varas’ picturesque lakes that morning, while imagining my family celebrating back home. But I wasn’t sad. I’d just started my graduate school, was finally visiting the region I’d been so interested with while practicing my newly acquired Spanish, and plotting the next summer internship. Things were looking up and I felt fearless.
Life changed dramatically just a couple of years later. I graduated right after the U.S entered a mild recession in early 2001. Many graduating Americans didn’t have a job offer, so I was grateful that I got one in my field of study. The company even sent me on a stint in a regional office outside the U.S., enabled me to momentarily taste the so-called high-flying expat life. All peachy until 9/11 dragged the U.S economy further down, causing massive layoffs. That year, I found Lebaran falling on my birthday while also marking my first official day out of employment.
Surreal couldn’t even begin to describe how I felt that day. The irony of being supposedly reborn victoriously, compounded by supposedly doing better as turning a year older, while in reality you lost the fight thanks to a left-field attack you didn’t even see coming. I probably went through almost all steps of grieving as I moved through the day.
I was on denial of the awaiting downhill as Alika and her children woke me up midnight with birthday cake and candles. I felt anger as I went with Krisna to the morning Idul Fitri mass prayer, knowing that thanks to one misguided group’s actions other Muslims had to gather and perform prayer that day under authority supervision and Islamphobia in the air. I got sad as Bridget dragged me to a joint birthday dinner in the evening, sincerely wishing her the best for her birthday yet not knowing what to celebrate for my own. I missed my parents at such trying time, yet thankful they weren’t there to see their child so beaten and morose.
Looking back later, I realized there must’ve been some sort of inner energy prevailing somewhere in my deep unconscious mind by then that saved me from spiraling down and made me get out of bed the next day, bruised and afraid, to fight for better things that were yet to arrive. So while still going through the grieving cycle I eventually started anew, repatriated and made best with chances I saw.
It’s the same energy that I’m hoping to draw from this year. Granted, my Lebaran last week was within our usual traditions; my parents’ house full of friends and family, including my cousins’ screaming children who went from cheerfully picked Mom’s prized orchids to carelessly murdered her goldfish. But as I chatted up guests and chased the kids around, my mind was consumed with the embroiling turmoil and wondered if the USD 700 billion golden parachute would save the day.
Thus certainly was unnerving to watched how worldwide markets negatively reacted this week; so wild the freefalling on Wednesday in Asia that JSX got suspended half through the trading, the UK bailout failed to lift Europe markets and 7 central banks interest cut only swung Wall Street violently without a positive ending. Panic bred more panic in a seemingly unison confirmation of global downfall, which isn’t a far stretch considering Iceland, an actual whole country, is bankrupting.
I’d seen my portfolio shrinking and don’t even want to know how much that intended life-saving lost this week as stockmarket rebounds eventually. My worries are on whether our once shaken, though-restructured banking system can withstand this time and keep safe of small cash I have left. On how much more spending power will drop and whether my budding businesses will find enough customers to survive. On when our factories don’t get the usual much-relied Christmastime export orders, how that will trickle down to the average Indonesians early next year, just in time before our election when even in normal time fear would breed more fear, and where majority of our voters are still low-educated, less-exposed citizens who may fail to understand that this time the crisis is largely an unavoidable effect from a global recession rather than, as mostly was the case of ’97-’98 crisis, a mismanagement of the ruling government. On whether I and my unmet husband could save enough for our unborn children’s college funds, because at the age group when one is supposedly most productive the global recession befalls on us.
Dogged determination. Blind faith. That all isn’t lost yet. Or even sheer pride of not letting myself get defeated. Whatever gets me through the day. Because fear, I have some this week.