Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Final Ngabuburit

During the 4 weekends of Ramadan, I made an effort to follow the local tradition of engaging in NGABUBURIT in the late afternoon.  A Sundanese word which literally translates as “waiting for sunset”,  in practice it describes large numbers of people all going out for a drive or walk or participating in group activities towards dusk, whilst they “wait to eat” , to break their dawn-to-sunset fast (buka puasa).

If it is at all possible for traffic to be worse than usual on a weekend here, it will be during Ngabuburit.  The best way to get about is by motorbike (as I had been doing with a local friend), or alternatively, and with only a slightly reduced chance of accident or injury, by Angkot.  These ubiquitous mini vans - with open door and bench seats crammed with people - prowl the city, letting passengers (who pay a fixed fare of 2000 rupiah) on and off at any point along fixed routes, unpublished yet understood – at least by the locals.   I, on the other hand, devoid of any sense of direction or spatial awareness, am challenged by this mode of public transport which, without so much as a thought for mirror or signal, will manoeuvre suddenly towards the roadside, cutting up whoever or whatever happens to want to share it.

If you are not in an Angkot and have no intention of getting in an Angkot, they can be an annoyance, creeping up on you as you walk along, tooting their horns in solicitation, like touts calling out on a slow day.   But if you are inside one and know North from South, East from West, arse from elbow, it can be a very convenient, and cheap, way to get around.    What’s more, it is the most lively way to move about as people are continuously exchanged, shouting “kiri, kiri!” “left, left!”  to indicate that they want to get off.  A busker will jump on for a stretch and sit in the doorway, strumming on a funky old guitar and singing a pop song.  After collecting a couple of thousand rupiah from the passengers, he will then jump off in search of a new Angkot.

On the final day of fasting, I was on my own as Luki had already returned to his family’s village, an hour from the city, for Idul Fitri.  So, without destination but with a vague plan in mind, I took an Angkot towards Cihampelas -   the route that goes past my building, the only route I have so far sussed out, with the terminus destinations Ledeng and Abdul Muis written on the windscreen.

Views from an Angkot -  Angkots and motorbike taxis (Ojeg)  have replaced the Becat and the Delman as popular modes of public transport.

The time of Ngabuburit is dynamic, social and chaotic:

Groups of teenagers and young lovers on motorbikes line up at slip roads, looking behind them as they wait for friends to catch up

Entire families cram onto motorbikes -  babies and young children nestled carefully between bodies

A “communitas” of youngsters on a motley collection of push bikes skip the macet (traffic), piling over the central reservation to get ahead at the lights
Opportunists on the roadside sell new money for old (procured after long queues at the bank) at a premium – a traditional gift for small children on the upcoming day of Idul Fitri

Elegant ladies buy flowers to decorate their homes, spotlessly cleaned in preparation for Idul Fitri, as well as traditional ketupat (rice cakes in parcels made of young coconut leaves)

Bloated stalls expand out into the street, displaying everything from fruit to cakes to t-shirts to fireworks.  The activity intensifies towards 5.20pm as stallholders prepare snacks and tea, the bags and water already in glasses, like advertisements.  Passersby begin to stop, congregating around these stalls, looking and waiting.

Everywhere I go, I hear people calling out to me “Hello Mister!”  (or just occasionally,  “Hello Missis!”)
“Ke mana”?    Where are you going?
“Tidak tahu………Jalan jalan”  I reply,…I don’t know….Just walking around
“Ah Jalan jalan!    Selamat jalan!” ….. Happy walking around….
One man asks me “You are alone?  You don’t have any friends?”   I laugh.  I’m alone but it would be impossible to feel alone here.
Ngabuburit also provides the opportunity for the great Indonesian entrepreneurial spirit to be awakened.  Hawkers in and beside the road negotiate the vehicles and pop in and out of Angkots with complete calm as they sell water, cigarettes and snacks. 

Young people set up makeshift stalls on the side of the road, at which pop ices and water bottles, bought from the local supermarket, or t-shirts with their own designs applied onto them are sold at a small margin. 

     Impromptu (as well as organised) bands play;                     Charitable donations are collected; 

A monkey is guided to perform tricks for people waiting at the lights.....

This is a country of young people  (50% of the population is under 30)  and never is this more evident than at the time of Ngabuburit when many of the older people are at home, waiting for the Maghrib prayer at dusk.
There is therefore a certain momentum and a tangible optimism here.  No one is waiting for someone else to tell them that they can or can’t do something, to confirm that they are talented or skilled enough or that an idea is worthy enough.  Thus, people try their hand at new things, with neither hesitation nor exhibition and with complete confidence that no one, not friends nor neighbours nor strangers, will judge their success or failure.  

I have always felt that I needed to attain a high level of skill or knowledgebefore I could attempt to pursue something I wanted, as if I needed some kind of confirmation from outside, afraid of failure.  Luki said to me, “you like to look at things and understand them and you like to write things down…. Why you don’t do something to make it grow up?”.   After four years of trying to write, only to abandon each attempt at the door of self consciousness, it is here in Indonesia that I have stopped taking myself so seriously and have finally found a way to my voice. 
A blog gives you no chance to go back, to rewrite, to make perfect.  It is alive, organic, spontaneous and flawed. Just like these youngsters, I decided to “just do it”, working it out as I go along.  I now understand the lesson handed down and repeated to me when applying for jobs or reaching for opportunities: “Just tell people you know how to do it!  No one will know!”….. as well as the self-forgiveness necessary to benefit from that lesson.
As I draw nearer to the Alun Alun, the public square on which stands the great Mosque (Masjid), it seems that four weeks have come to a crescendo.  I am in the thick of it all.  This is an area of cheap rent and run down inner city buildings, housing migrant workers and market style shops.  Kids have come here to shop for cheap new clothes for Idul Fitri.
“A walk through the rather extensive place with its aloon-aloon (plain) in front of the house of the Regent, where the great Mesighit is situated [*****] is strongly to be recommended”
(Guide through Netherlands India, 1903)

The old Mosque, and its replacement, at the Alun Alun (public square)

Within the mosque complex itself, I am surprised to find more market and food stalls selling an incredible array of items (some of questionable appropriateness).  Fake toy guns (!!) and Chanel bags, medicinal leeches and tarantulas, jilbabs (hijabs) and songkok caps, cigarettes and barbecued snacks all compete for space with various activities and games for children.
I sneak some photos, trying to maintain an un-intrusive distance and am caught a couple of times by my subjects, whereupon I am promptly ushered back so that I can take another one (“Satu lagi !!” ), a proper one for which they can give me their best smile.     

                   “Chanel” bags                          Medicinal Leeches                         Preparing food

KOLAK, a traditional drink made of fruit compote with coconut milk and brown sugar – will definitely cancel out the benefits of fasting!
A stall owner is camouflaged amongst jilbab mannequins, like heads emerging from the ground
When the large digital clock inside the mosque displays 5.50pm, the drums start, cigarettes are whipped out and lit, bottles of water are cracked open and the call to prayer starts to float out from the mosque.
Those that are inside the mosque are sitting on ornate carpets, laid out along the length of the great hall in long rows.  They open up their takeaway boxes of water, kue (cake), rice and other items I cannot distinguish, food parcels handed out to the faithful as they are on any normal day.  Teenagers, here to enjoy the free food so that they can spend their pocket money on new clothes for Idul Fitri, sneak out hurriedly and conspicuously, just as we did from Church as kids, without so much as a quick prayer.         
The afternoon had been hectic and noisy but contained an overwhelming feeling of community.  I was struck by the gentleness of people and their awareness of others around them (such a contrast to China where it was each man, woman or granny for themselves, pushing and shoving into train carriages or lifts before you can even get off them).  Here, amongst the chaos, people have time for a smile, a few words, to allow you to pass in front of them.  There is give and take, like the couple of thousand rupiah that passes from passenger to driver to busker to parking assistant.    In this place, the phrase “what goes around comes around” rings true.   When I first arrived from the turbo charged metropolis of Shanghai, I wondered how anyone ever got anything done here where there seems to be such little sense of urgency. But do we really have to rush around doing all the things we think we need to do?   On my way back from the Alun Alun, I popped into the electronics market to buy myself a new camera (I am hoping for better quality photos going forward!).  I was there for 1 hour whilst they authorized my visa card (a laborious process), photocopied my driver’s license, unpacked the box, tested the camera, wrote out receipts by hand, folded the warranty neatly, re-wrapped the cable with a plastic coated wire, searched for a suitable plastic bag from the depths of a drawer and put it all away tidily again.  At the beginning, I could feel my patience waning – all I wanted to do was pay, grab the camera and be off.  I rush around in my life, doing things by halves, striving to complete a hundred and one things all at the same time because I feel that that is what is expected, that is what will make me successful and happy.   But perhaps by just doing one thing and doing it well, with passion and patience, would serve me better.   So I sat there and let go, let go of the perfectly complete afternoon that I had planned and the unchecked checklist in my bag. I resisted the urge to look at my watch and instead engaged in what I expected would be the predictably banal chit chat between strangers from different countries and cultures, meeting for the first time.  Instead, having gone in for a camera, I emerged with an Idul Fitri hamper as a gift from the young store keepers (very handy as it turns out because I had left myself no time to go food shopping before the holiday) as well as invaluable tips on how to make the most of the next day’s festivities:
  • Go to a mosque on the morning of Idul Fitri to witness the morning EID prayers held outside
  • Arrive ahead of time, around 5am, to stake your position
  • Go to sleep at 8pm the night before
  • Wear earplugs
This was going to be interesting…………


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