Off to the beach!

Trip Start Sep 11, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Tuesday, October 16, 2007

There are three things to tell you about today: Idul Fitri, a party with VSO volunteers, and a trip to the beach!

Idul Fitri

I arrived in Java about two thirds of the way through Ramadan, and spending my days with Muslims gave me a chance to see how this month of fasting affects daily living.  Throughout Ramadan, Muslims refrain from their nafs (passions), which they believe will enable purification. Nightclubs in the big cities find that the number of clubbers drops dramatically, and clubs that stay open incur the anger of those who believe that they should shut down over Ramadan.

The most obvious change is to eating habits. Most Muslims do not eat during the daytime, and they get up at about 3am in order to eat their first meal. They also do not drink (water, for example!) which is quite a sacrifice for a place as hot as Indonesia.

But not everyone has to fast, and this includes children under the age of 11 or so, older people, those who are ill, women who are pregnant, and people who are flying long distances. This meant it was still possible for me to find food at lunchtime, and those I was with had no problem with me eating.

Not eating has an effect on the body's energy levels, and for those who are fasting, thinking about where you will be at 6pm (when it is dark and the fast can be broken) is important. New street stalls spring up in cities like Jakarta in order to cater for millions of people who suddenly need need to eat early in the evening. There are some consequences I would never have thought of - for example, the number of blood donors decreases during Ramadan, while gyms report low attendance.

Ramadan culminates in Idul Fitri, which is one of the major festivals of the Islamic year. It is culturally akin to Christmas, or Thanksgiving in the US, and there are signs everywhere that say Selamat Idul Fitri 1428H, which means Happy Idul Fitri (2007 is 1428 in the Islamic calendar). Mosques have prayers hailing from megaphones 24 hours a day. Thank goodness I'm deaf!

Indonesia celebrates Idul Fitri like no other Muslim country, setting 10 days aside for a festival that lasts three or four days elsewhere. This year the Indonesian government announced that its services will shut for all 10 days, as the vast majority of staff will take these days off anyway. Finding a post office open has proven to be impossible!

The most notable feature of Idul Fitri is mudik, the journeys that Indonesian Muslims make to return to their families. With millions of people using the transport system, which struggles to run efficiently anyway, the efforts to travel and the inevitable setbacks make for days of television reports, as cameras show busy airports, trains full to bursting, and long, motionless queues for boats, coaches and buses. Yogi (mentioned in the previous entry) spent eight hours traveling from Yogyakarta to East Java, sat on a motorbike between his parents, and leaving at 4am.

If the travellers make it home, they will invariably have oleh-oleh (gifts) with them, which means lots of shopping and spending beforehand, and this helps to transfer some of the wealth from the cities to the countryside. Meanwhile, Jakarta (which is usually a crazy city) is half empty.

It is customary to ask the family for maaf lahir dan batin, which means 'forgive my sins, both with regard to the world as well as those within me.' After spending time with their family, people travel to the homes of their friends and ask for forgiveness there too.

When people return to the city, they often take family back with them, as the differences in lifestyle between city and country are often manifest over Idul Fitri. This year, the city authorities in Jakarta have warned people not to bring family members back with them because of overcrowding, though others argue that this is depriving people of their rights.

It is believed that people who die in Ramadan or Idul Fitri go straight to paradise. As a result, there have been some warnings in newspapers that the Indonesian government should wait until after Idul Fitri before they carry out the death penalty on those responsible for the 2005 Bali bombing (which also happened during Idul Fitri).


There are six VSO volunteers living in Yogyakarta and Solo at the moment, and for Idul Fitri we decided to celebrate with a party. One of the volunteers, Athena, will be leaving at the end of November, so it was also a farewell party for her.

The party was hosted at Anita's house (Anita is a lovely VSO volunteer from the UK). We had a nice swim in a nearby pool, then prepared some food while the men tried to get the barbeque going. What is it about barbeques that excites every man apart from me?!

The barbeque wasn't terribly impressive in the end, but it did keep going for long enough to toast some corn cobs, and to cook some pork, which is a rare luxury on a Muslim island and probably not the best way to celebrate Idul Fitri!  We finished the evening by watching a film.

It's always good to see the other volunteers, and I've met up with Anita and Athena several times for a meal. We all have stories to tell about our week at work, and it's so good to offload and laugh with people who understand what it's like being a volunteer.

Off to the beach

Anita volunteers at a rehabilitation centre for disabled people, called Yakkum. The disabled people who use the centre live there, and most had gone home to their families for Idul Fitri, but six teenagers had not, either because it's too far, or because their families don't want them.

So the next day Anita, Colin (another volunteer) and I took them too the beach for the day! They have a minibus, which we just about all fitted into somehow, and Anita very commendably braved the crazy drivers of Yogyakarta, driving us to the beach along some very winding roads. It was lovely to joke with Anita on the way about finding a pub to stop at for a nice Sunday lunch!

I was very surprised to see that the minibus was bought with funds donated by three Rotary Clubs - Yogyakarta, Japan, and Bakewell, Derbyshire! That's quite close to where I grew up, and the last thing I was expecting to read on the side of the minibus.

We arrived at Parangtritis at about 3pm. The road leading to the beach is quite chaotic, with car and bike sheds all the way along, and the owners standing outside trying to get your vehicle into their shed!

We had a late packed lunch, then we set off across the beach to the water, pulling two of the wheelchairs through the sand (which was so hot it burnt my feet!). Some of the children hadn't been to the beach before, and they loved it, throwing the sand around, and one of them even tried to eat it!

The Indian Ocean hits the south coast of Java quite forcefully, and swimming is dangerous, but a little shallow-water paddling was quite ok. Though we were taken by surprise a couple of times, with one wave traveling a long way and my shoes (which I had removed for paddling) a considerable distance!

I took a few snaps with the camera I bought before I left the UK - I'm still getting used to it, but I really like it. There are some more snaps in the photo album.

After we had all had enough, we went back to the beach road for some coconut juice. It was a bit weird, as when Anita asked them if they needed the toilet, they all said no. When Colin asked them, most of them said yes. This is quite symptomatic of the subtle gender inequality here, which makes life harder and a little frustrating, especially for female volunteers.

Then it was time to return to Yogya. Anita told me that they all slept in the next morning, as they were so tired! But we all had a great time, and it was my favourite day here so far.
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