Selamat Hari Raya Idul Fitri 1425 H

That’s the Indonesian phrase for "Happy Eid al-Fitr for the year 1425."  There are green and yellow signs that say this all over Jakarta.  Traditionalist Muslims aren’t too keen on counting the years by the birth of Jesus, and so have gone with a methodology based on Muhammad’s life.  But not to worry, they do still say it’s 2004 and stuff.

So on Saturday night, we decided to celebrate the holiest day in Islam by meeting up with some Japanese friends, going over to a Catholic Indonesian friend’s house, ordering Chinese food and beer, and watching a French movie.  The house was just beautiful, we must say.  It was quite sad that we couldn’t go out for night on the town because apparently Indonesians with nice houses never leave a house completely unattended (the maid had gone home to her village for the holiday) because they are afraid of burglars.

Idul Fitri has been quite a production around here, which is even more amazing considering that the city is rather empty.  As we rode home on Saturday night the streets were just jammed with young adults.  Many of them were in the back of pickups and flat-bed trucks out cruising and trying not to fall off.  (We estimate that one pickup held at least fifteen people.)  Jakarta has a big countdown on the night of Idul Fitri, called Malam Takbiran, sort of like New Year’s Eve, and the kids were out partying.  Also, this was the last day of the fast, and the breaking of the fast that day is a really big deal.

We also obtained the answer to a nagging question.  You see, for the past 28 days, we have been waking up at 2:00 AM to the noise of banging coming from outside our apartment.  We have been able to see that it is a group of young adults walking up and down the streets of the little slum area next to the apartment, banging on drums and making clanging sounds.  We suspected that this had something to do with Ramadhan, but were not sure what.  It seems that this is a tradition in Muslim villages, where groups of young men walk around the streets as a sort of alarm-clock to wake people up to get ready to make breakfast and pray before the sun rises.  On Sunday morning, we managed to get a couple of pictures.  The main instrument is called a ketok (kuh-TAWK), which is a big bass drum made with water buffalo hide.  Its name, as you might have guessed, is onomotopoetic.  People play it with a big thick stick, and it makes a very resounding THUMP.  In urban Jakarta, groups of young men roll the ketok around in a shopping cart.  Those not pushing the cart or playing the ketok seem to be banging either on the cart or the side of the drum with what is probably a cracked bamboo stick, which makes a satisfying CLACK.  You can imagine the racket that these people can make if their job is to wake up the neighborhood.  Add to that the competing muadhdhin praying on their loudspeakers, and that’s the sound of Indonesia at 2:00 AM.  It does not sounds like "Desert Rose," but thanks for trying, Sting.  Thankfully, this seems to have been a Ramadhan feature, and (knock on wood) is over now.

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