Ramadan Retro-Diary

By Will

Ramadan is finished and we celebrated its ending on Sunday with Idul Fitri. As I mentioned here, Idul Fitri celebrates the end of the month of Ramadan and could be seen as similar to our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day holidays.

In homage to ESPN sportswriter Bill Simmons, I’ll recount our Idul Fitri experience by way of a retro-diary:

Saturday Night

5:40pm—The call to prayer rings from the nearby mosque, signaling that we can break the fast. Given that this is the last one of Ramadan, we encounter the usual you-can-hear-a-pin-drop silence when the streets fall quiet and everyone is chowing down at home.

Shortly after the call to prayer, the chants from the mosque speakers of Allahu Akbar (God is great) begin. And they don’t stop.

5:50pm—The fireworks start. Indonesians generally eat pretty fast (in one of the text books at school, there is an “English Culture Tip”, encouraging students to prepare to talk during dinner if they find themselves eating with Americans or Englishmen), so as soon as they finish, the music is cranked up in the streets and the skies are filled with fireworks. There have been fireworks throughout the month of Ramadan, but everyone was clearly saving their best for tonight.

The cost for one firework that I would call “Lykins Park worthy” seems to run about 100,000 rupiah at the local stand. This is about $10-11. Not terribly expensive, but definitely not cheap. These were joined by banyak bottle rockets, roman candles, smoke bombs and fire crackers, too. No one seems to concerned about losing any appendages here, as they are violating every firework safety rule there is. Shooting roman candles from your hands over a crowd of kids in the street? Totally cool!

7:00pm—Amy and I head into town on our bikes to join Amy’s counterpart (co-teacher) and her family for the annual Idul Fitri parade. I was really curious to see what this would entail, and it does not disappoint. We watch the parade begin at the mosque that Amy’s counterpart attends. There are several groups of kids marching in costumes: some holding light-up swords, another group carrying torches, and others playing percussion instruments. There is also a large pick-up truck with an ENORMOUS drum in the back that had many children beating on it (these drums are at all mosques, but actually come from Indonesian culture—its one of many places where Indonesian/Javanese tradition have merged with Islam).

I told you it was a big drum

Following the truck are the floats. There are three: an Indonesian tank with a military guy disinterestedly texting while standing in the hatch; a replica of a mosque; and the last one is a replica of Ka’aba, the focal point of prayers in Mecca. Similar to the Winchester Christmas parade where Santa Clause rides in the fire truck to end the parade, this last float has a kid dressed as (I’m pretty sure) the Prophet Muhammad, chanting Allahu Akbar into a microphone.

Prophet Muhammad closing the parade out

8:00pmWe watch the parade again, this time from downtown Ngoro. The only difference in round 2? More traffic. Having learned my lesson about Indonesian events and traffic (Funbike!), it isn’t surprising to see the parade—children, floats and all—marching down the middle of the road, surrounded by cars and motorcycles going either 2mph or 40mph. There are only two speeds in Indonesia.

There is a parade in there, somewhere

9:00pm—We go to Amy’s counterpart’s parents’ house (translated in bahasa Indonesia, that would actually read: house of parents of counterpart of Amy).

Peace Corps had warned us of the excessive amounts of food that will be offered during Idul Fitri and how we should be very careful, especially if we’ve been fasting. Well, this house was our first test. I put away half a canister of fried banana chips before Amy takes them away from me to the horror of our hosts who insist the snacks are for guests like us. Amy explains that if she doesn’t stop me I will eat all of them.

10:30pm—We return home and prepare to go to bed, due to tomorrow’s early wake up call at 5am.

11:30pm—Can’t sleep due to fireworks, people in the street and the blaring chants of Allahu Akbar from the local mosque.


12:30am—Still can’t sleep. Allahu Akbar seems to have gotten louder. We turn our fan up to LEVEL 3, also known as “Tornado Force Winds,” to drown out the noise.

5:00am—Wake up, turn the fan back to level 2, and can hear that the Allahu Akbar chant is still going full-strength.

6:00am—We join our family at our village’s mosque for the morning prayers to celebrate Idul Fitri. The mosque’s large room for men is packed and overflows onto the surrounding porch. The smaller room for women is also packed, and the additional women are directed to the tarps covering the ground outside the mosque. I’m instructed to just sit there since I’m told that I “don’t know what I’m doing.”

7:00am—Prayers end and the men join the women outside on the ground for breakfast! Which, of course in Indonesia, means fried chicken, spicy as hell potatoes, and rice. Lots and lots of rice.

7:45am—Our family and their extended family (30 people in total) all meet in one of our host mom’s brother’s houses next to the mosque. There, we hear several more prayers and begin consuming lots of cookies. The grand finale occurs when several of our “host family uncles” start passing out money to all of the family members. Amy and I each received the equivalent of about $4. It sounds like a lot more when you say 40,000 rupiah.

Gathering with our host family and extended host family

10:00am—We depart for our first Idul Fitri visit. During Idul Fitri and the next week, people all over Indonesia return to their home villages and visit their elder family members and friends. We think we know what we are getting into.

10:15am—Arrive at the first house, possibly a cousin of the family. There, we shake hands with the hosts, are served/forced to eat lots of cookies, cashews and deserts. We are also asked if we know what each item is and if it is found in America. Total time at the first house: 20 minutes.

10:35am—Walk to a neighbor’s/possible relative’s house. There, again, we are served/forced to eat tons of food and are asked if we know what each food is. Total time at the second house: 10 minutes.

10:45am—Walked to another neighbor’s house. Here we have a much shorter stay, just enough time to sit down and eat three handfuls of cashews. Not asked if we know what they are. We are shaking hands and snacking like pros. We are crushing it. Total time at the third house: 2 minutes.

Example of the snack buffet that we encountered at every single house

10:47am— Walked to another neighbor’s house. This is a very popular stop as they are serving the general snacks in addition to krupuk (cow skin rind things) with peanut sauce. I fake eat here and pretend that I ate before anyone else sit down. I think they see through this, but they let it slide. Total time at the fourth house: 20 minutes.

11:07am—We walk to the final neighbor’s house in this village. Our stomachs get a reprieve as there is no sitting or eating here, just shaking hands. Total time at the fifth house: 1 minute.

11:08am—Depart for the next village, which is 20 km away. Doze off in the car. Starting to regret all of the chicken and rice for breakfast.

11:30am—We arrive at our host aunt’s house. At this point, we have no idea if we will be staying for 1 minute or 30, but people seem to be getting comfortable on the floor. Several people begin napping. Amy and I mindlessly eat snacks and are now laying down as well. Idul Fitri fatigue has really set-in. I don’t know how much longer we can keep this up. Total time at the sixth house: 90 minutes.

1:00pm—Depart for next village

1:20pm—Arrive at a host uncle’s house. We are ridiculed into eating more food and drinking tea. Tea here is equal parts water and sugar. Starting to think that all this hand shaking followed by eating finger foods cannot be healthy. Total time at the seventh house: 15 minutes.

1:35pm—Depart for next village

1:40pm—Arrive at a host cousin’s house. Somehow Amy and I find it in ourselves to taste one of the potato chip looking things on the floor. THEY ARE DELICIOUS, so we eat the whole bowl. Amy compliments the chips, they give us a bag of their homemade chips on the way out. Total time at eighth house: 15 minutes.

1:55pm—Depart for next village

2:05pm—Arrive at a host uncle’s mother-in-law’s house and are immediately coerced into eating more snacks. These snacks are served with a florescent orange sugary drink. Total time at the ninth house: 10 minutes.

2:15pm—Depart for neighboring town to eat lunch. Uhhh, what? Yes, lunch. The saying in Indonesia is, “if you haven’t eaten rice, you haven’t eaten.” They stay pretty true to that maxim, and therefore, the 8 pounds of cookies, chips, and cashews we have eaten did not meet the definition of a meal.

2:25pm—Arrive at a warung for lunch. Finally get to wash our hands. Eat beef soup. I am asked if I want seconds, or krupuk, or extra cow parts that were served as a second dish. “No thanks.” “Nope.” “Sorry, still full.” “Really, no thank you.” “SERIOUSLY I CAN’T FIT ANYMORE FOOD IN MY STOMACH.”

3:15pm—Depart warung.

3:45pm—Arrive home.

3:46pm—Pass out in our bed for the greatest, most deserved nap ever.


4 thoughts on “Ramadan Retro-Diary

  1. Pingback: A Few Notes From the Last Year | Two Cups of Java

  2. Pingback: Ramadan, Round Two | Two Cups of Java

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