This summer we celebrated one year in our village and schools and now we begin the cycle anew. We are starting to go through some of the same events, holidays and cultural activities for the second time, which has us feeling like we’re ‘old hands’ at this.
Approaching Ramadan last year was a little unnerving. We had heard about the fasting, how everything shuts down, the odd sleeping hours, and all that goes along with the holy month; but until we experienced it, we really couldn’t know what it would be like. At every turn, we made cultural mistakes and mishaps and stumbled our way through the month.
The biggest difference between this year and last year? We knew what was happening this go-around. We knew the schedule, we knew what to expect of students and teachers at school, we knew when our local stores and restaurants would open in the evening, and we knew how to best ‘cheat’ our way through the month.
Last year we chose to fast with the rest of our community. It was well received and people really appreciated our commitment. This year, however, we decided not to repeat. I’m in the midst of training for a half-marathon, so avoiding water during daylight hours was out of the question. Additionally, last year we both just felt like crap most days. I understand the ability to power through that when there is a religious significance attached to it, but for us, it just sucked. So we opted out. However, even when opting out, its not like we could just go down the street to buy lunch or cook in our family’s kitchen. Things are completely shutdown. To overcome this, we loaded up on snacks and often prepared meals in our room using a heating coil and instant noodles. It also didn’t hurt that Peace Corps had scheduled a week-long training for us in the middle of the Ramadan month, allowing us to spend a week in Surabaya with meals in the hotel each morning and afternoon.
A few people at my school were disappointed that I wasn’t fasting again this year. They are the religion leaders, so I think they were hoping I was a potential convert. Aside from those guys, people seemed to understand and I don’t think that our community integration was hurt by our decision. In fact, we reached the pinnacle of community integration during the month when we went to the local store where we usually buy snacks and ice cream bars and they presented us with the bag of cookies, cooking oil and flour that they give out to all of their loyal customers during Ramadan. Additionally, we were invited to a number of buka puasa’s where we joined our friends or colleagues to break their fast together at sundown.
For Idul Fitri, the holiday at the end of the holy month, we enjoyed a much more casual approach to the day, spending most of our time at home and spreading out our visits to neighbors and friends throughout this past week (unlike last year).
Over the past few days, what has struck me as the greatest example of the difference between this year and last year is our Idul Fitri visits. For Indonesians, everyone travels back to their home villages (something like 90% of people in Jakarta leave the city to go home) and then spend the next week visiting friends and family. During these visits, you always exchange the phrase: mohon maaf lahir dan batin. There is no direct translation, but its pretty much asking for forgiveness for the wrongs of the past year, clearing each others’ slate and starting anew. Last year, as we would make the rounds, I would kind of mumble through the saying, not really understanding what it meant or why a stranger was saying it to me. This year, however, I found myself wanting to say it, especially to those people that I truly care about or have come to know well in our community.
And so, to you, our readers, “Mohon maaf lahir dan batin. Selamat Idul Fitri!”