“So, where are you mudik to during Lebaran?”
The question thrown at me on the last week of Ramadhan by colleagues, security guard, hairstylist and everyone in between. Had they expected an exotic destination as an answer they would have been quite disappointed, as I was in town for Eid.
Don’t I have a family? Oh, I’ve got a big, fat, extended family of forty-plus cousins from both parents. But Eid has always been with my nuclear family. Raising a new family in Jakarta by early 1970s with modest income, it was perhaps too expensive for my parents to have spent Eid at Dad’s hometown all the way in Aceh or too awkward among Mom’s mostly non-Muslim family in Solo. It didn’t matter, for the little me, raised in Betawi kampong part of the metropolitan, came to know and love Jakarta’s Eid own merriment.
It started with a bang, almost literally, when dusk settled on the last day of Ramadhan. Fireworks were out of common folks’ reach then, saved for Jakarta anniversary celebration in Monas, so kids turned to firecrackers. Yes, they were dangerous, and can be annoying to families trying to put babies to sleep, but for Betawi kampong kids there could be no Eid without firecrackers. The sounds would compete throughout the night with cacophony of takbir out of mosques that if you learned as a kid to get a good night’s sleep on this evening you’d always sleep through pretty much any other sound out there (like earthquakes, in my case). In the morning after Eid prayer every house door will be flung widely open– cookies, cakes, and Betawi’s famous rice cake, beef stew and sayur godog (mix veggie soup) were on every dining table. Neighbors would visit each other, even for only 5 minutes—doling out small bills to kids along the way. I wasn’t allowed pocket money back then, so Mom put all the Lebaran ‘earnings’ into the cat-shaped piggybank (cattybank?) I had. Sometimes around lunchtime my uncle and his family would arrive, and we’d leave together to visit other relatives in Jakarta. The next day I’d usually tag along as Dad paid respect to his boss’ house.
The traditions became an integral part of my fun childhood memories that I failed to fathom why many Jakartans would rush to leave Jakarta not out of respect for aging (grand)parents in the hometown, but out of a sad excuse of “Eid in Jakarta is no merry”. Well, things can only be merry if you give it enough chance to be.
I knew it because I lived through a different kind of Eid in the years during high school and college when Dad worked all over Indonesia, and due to his particular job in a state-owned enterprise wasn’t permitted a leave of absence during Lebaran, Christmas and New Year. So that’s how I got to spend Eid in the likes of Surabaya and Palembang, with its own rich Eid traditions, or in Christian-majority Manado and Ambon, where Christian neighbors cheerfully came to lend a hand to make sure the Muslims could feel an air of celebration. It was different, it was not Jakarta that I grew up in, but I opened my eyes to the new experiences while remaining with my parents, so it was all okay.
And even that lightheartedness came to a further test as I grew older and lived overseas. There was the Eid spent by the Chilean border during a Winterim program in Latin America, where I was probably the only Muslim in the entire region that I, after spending a teary 5-minute call collect to my parents, could only drown my homesickness by swimming in one of Puerto Varas’ icy lakes. Or that fateful day in December 2001 when I woke up on my pal couch in Phoenix at the first day out of employment—as America got into deeper recession after 9/11 and my company had to let go us fancy MBA rookies, while the only salvation, to work with the company’s Latin America office, had vaporized a week earlier when Argentina defaulted its IMF loans and the country went into chaos. I remembered dragging my feet to Eid prayer and sat for a quiet lunch afterwards with another friend, convinced that nobody could’ve had a worse luck of having Eid, birthday, and unemployment rolled into one fine Sunday in some foreign country without loved ones nearby.
Which I believed until a family friend’s sealed coffin arrived home last year straight from America’s finest oncology hospital, a 10-month feisty battle against cancer harrowingly lost, and I stood in black on the day slated for whitest Eid garbs mumbling any prayer I could remember before losing it to tears (for those who wrote kind words after reading UrbanChat on it last year, sincerely thank you). It dawned on me, as I watched my friend’s parents mourned inconsolably, that even if you’re in the comfort of your hometown you may not be with your loved ones anymore.
So Eid is not about place or people. Eid is where you find peace on your heart and mind. Eid is where you say your deepest gratitude to the universe. And as I turned on TV to see Gaza, and learned Argentina defaulting on loans all over again, I looked around to where I am this time around… and loudly I said mine.
Eid Mubarak, everyone.