Just Another Day In Indonesia…

Idul Fitri


Idul Fitri (sometimes spelled Eid-al Fitri), also known as Lebaran in Indonesia, marks the end of Ramadan and is the biggest annual holiday in Indonesia. It begins the morning after the last day of fasting, when Muslims go to the mosque at daybreak for sholat (special prayer) and continues for a number of days as people go to their neighbors, families, friends, coworkers, distant relatives, etc, and ask for forgiveness for any sins they committed in the past year. And also to eat and drink and socialize, of course. In cities this may be concentrated into just one day before normal activity resumes and in other areas it last two or three days. Well, here in Tulungagung it’s currently Day 4 and going strong. I have plans for visiting folks straight through Day 7, and that will bring me right up to the end of vacation. My first Idul Fitri has been a somewhat chaotic blur, full of rapid fire introductions, short conversations, lots of cookie-eating, and probably thousands of handshakes. I have actually really enjoyed it! My house is constantly full of people and (for the most part) I love having guests, especially when they come to visit me, so it’s been great. Although I have been getting a little weary of answering the same questions over again, but I’ll save the downsides for later. To give you a picture of what my holiday has been like, here’s some snapshots of the experiences I’ve been having.


Day 1: I am still in bed when I hear my family getting ready to go to the mosque to pray. It’s 5:45 AM and it was enak (delicious/wonderful/amazing) to sleep straight through the time I had been waking up to eat Sahur for the last month. Bapak knocks on my door to tell me they are all leaving. I roll out of bed once they are gone and make myself a cup of coffee. I haven’t had coffee in a month! Wow! I try to absorb the blissful silence of the morning before what I know will be a hectic day. An hour later I am hit with newcomer anxiety. This is my first Idul Fitri so there’s a lot I don’t know. For instance, what do I wear? My family bought me a new shirt. Do I wear that today? Do I wear batik? Is this a long skirt day? Is casual clothing acceptable? The smartest move, of course, would be to ask my family but instead I text Emily to ask what her family is wearing to avoid dealing with the language barrier (cop-out, I know, but we all have our moments). Next moment of cultural maladaptation: my family all returns from the mosque to eat breakfast together. I already ate. Oops. Missed that memo. Luckily, no one is offended, they are more concerned that I don’t have an empty stomach. Cultural panic attack #3: After breakfast everyone gets ready to head to the neighbors. Ibu tells me to go with my host sister while she and bapak will go first. I say ok and wait, but then my host sister tells me she will be leaving first, implying that I can come later. I don’t want to contradict her since I never have a clue what’s going on, so I say ok and wait. I guess patience is truly a virtue because after waiting long enough I find out we are going in shifts and I’m in the third shift. Then followed several hours of visiting neighbors which was mostly really enjoyable, especially because I got to see the inside of all the houses I’ve passed by so many times. Downside: my family used me as a scapegoat so I had to makan and minum (eat and drink) everywhere we went while they sat back and watched. But luckily I quickly developed tactics to avoid excessively overstuffing myself.


Almost every conversation, both at home and while I’m visting someone else’s home, goes like this:


Host: Sit, eat, drink!

(moment of silence)

Host turns to my host family: Who is this?

Host family: This is an American person. She is a volunteer.

Host: Ooooh American person. [people really like to repeat things in conversation here.]

Host family: She is already fluent in Bahasa Indonesia! [this is not true. I occasionally deny this but after a while I just start accepting the praise.]

Host to me: Are you happy/comfortable here?

Me: Yeah, I am happy/comfortable here! [I repeat things just as much as any Indonesian]

Host asks me a string of questions: What’s your name? What do you do? Are you a high school or university student? [no, I am a high school teacher!] What do you eat? [they don’t really believe that I could possibly eat Indonesian food every day] How long will you be here?

(occasional interjections by me to my family to inquire about unknown vocab words, occasional interjection by host to my family to remark on how smart I am in bahasa Indonesia, occasional interjection by my family to host to answer the questions I don’t understand and explain everything else)

(glances exchanged between family members)

Host family: Time to go.

Host to family: Matursuwun (thank you in Javanese)

Host to me: Terima kasih (thank you in Bahasa Indonesia…although I understood the Javanese too!)

(handshake and exit)


Rinse and repeat.


Day 2: This day doesn’t really count in the blog entry because I biked with my counterpart to go see one of the PCVS who used to live in Tulungaung (now a third-year in West Java) and who came back for a few days during Idul Fitri. Thus, I avoided hours of going from house to house but I still had to shake hands with every visitor who came to Bart’s house.


Day 3: My family tells me we will be going to visit family members in Tulungagung city. “What time will we leave?” I ask. “7 AM, or maybe a little later,” they respond. I get up at 6 and get ready. We leave at 8:30. “Indonesian time!” they tell me. We pile 9 people into our small car and I brace myself for a good 20 minute drive to the city. Nope. We drive 5 minutes before we arrive at our first house of the day. I’ll spare you the details but we end up stopping in (I swear) every village between here and Tulungagung city so it takes us 3 hours before we arrive there. I’m beat. Seven hours later we come home but there’s no rest for the weary (we missed nap time) and it’s time to entertain the flocks of guests who are coming to our house. Most are family from faraway places and several are spending the night at our house. I also bike to a counterpart’s house with my host sister, return home because a student is waiting to visit me, and have an extra special surprise visit from my cultural facilitator from Malang during PST, Ophie!


Day 4: No plans to go anywhere today, phew! I wash my hair, lay in bed, read and finish another book…there’s still plenty of hosting to do but I start hiding in my room a little more frequently because I’m getting tired of the repetitive questions and most of these people are ones I won’t interact with often /ever (unlike the neighbors).


So that’s the basic run-down of my schedule but here’s a few anecdotes from the last few days:


First, the not-so-fun side to Idul Fitri.

– It’s tough to go from a whole month of fasting to suddenly gorging on food 24/7. As I mentioned to a fellow PCV, fasting is honestly easier than eating all these cookies! Despite my efforts to pace myself, drink lots of water, and eat small amounts, I have still had stomachaches every day. It’s much harder to enjoy 7 hours of visiting relatives when you’re hoping you won’t vomit along the way. Good news is I haven’t been sick, I think my system is just trying to readjust which makes me wonder, “How do Indonesians do this every year?” (Although that’s not to say they don’t suffer similar side-effects: ibu got sick and was vomiting on Day 1 and she explained it just like I did…after a month of fasting, it’s hard to eat so much.)

– I have the occasional interaction that really annoys me. In general the people who talk to me like I’m a 5 year old tend to get on my nerves. Then there was the neighbor who took to petting/stroking me while I was at her house. But the worst was a woman who came to my house on Day 3 and proceeded to yell at me in English. It was like the people who talk to me as if I am 5, except she was talking in my own language but using words that didn’t make sense. “EAT FLOWER BANANA?” “Ummmm…yes?” “FLOWER BANANA!” And I’m thinking to myself, “There is no flower banana, she is clearly trying to translate something that I undoubtedly would understand in bahasa Indonesia.” Sure enough she was talking about pecel, my favorite dish here. Normally I don’t draw attention to my language skills but I was so annoyed by her that I told her, “I can speak bahasa Indonesia!” That didn’t stop her from yelling at me in English and translating even the most basic of words that I’ve been using in daily conversation for the last four months. It’s alright though, even with these frustrating moments I know that people are trying really hard to connect with me and communicate. Her effort was impressive, even if her method was a little brusque. When you’re having conversations with a few hundred people, you’re bound to come across a few who might push your buttons. The difficult thing during Idul Fitri is there isn’t as much time/space to take a breather from these interactions. But it’s only a few days long, so it’s all good.


And, on a more positive note, the really-cool-and-interesting side of Idul Fitri:

– First of all, I feel like I’m really part of the family during Idul Fitri. My family is happy to introduce me to others and one time bapak even said I was the fifth child in the family. 🙂 They like to brag about my language skills, as I mentioned, and the fact that I fasted. I feel slightly uncomfortable when they brag about these things, but I also think it’s great to know that they are proud of me. And my best moment came when I mohon maaf-ed (apologized/asked for forgiveness) to my ibu and bapak on the morning of Day 1. Bapak smiled broadly and said, “You really feel at home here.” He later introduced me as the 5th child of the family to someone. 🙂

– On Day 3 when we were visiting relatives we went to one house with several elderly people. I don’t understand how they were related to us (this can apply to everyone I met, actually) but there was one grandfather who was older than 100 years, and still smokin’ like a chimney. After we left my family told me he is actually older than the Guinness World Record holder but because he doesn’t have an official birth certificate with a date on it, he can’t hold the title. Despite his age and chain-smoking, he seemed in relatively good health!

– I’ve been encouraging students to come visit my house since my first day here. Most students are still quite shy but it is tradition during Idul Fitri to visit your teachers. So far I’ve had a number of students visit, but ironically, they aren’t students I teach! Some are in English club and others are just students I’ve talked to but they came anyway. This morning I was visited by ten boys from Grade 12. I don’t teach Grade 12 and I only knew one of the students but he brought all his classmates to meet me. They are notoriously the most misbehaved class in school but they’ve decided they like me, so much so that they’ve made an effort to hang out with me outside of school more than almost any other class. (If you read my earlier post on Ramadan Reflections, this is the same group I buka paused with.) Then later this afternoon, 10 young alumni of my school came to visit. Again, I had only met one briefly when I broke fast at school last week but they all wanted to meet me so they came to my house. It was cool to hear about where they go to university and what they are studying now. I think I’m really lucky to have so many people visit me who are not my students. On the one hand, I have been pretty active meeting people, breaking fast together, and interacting with students/alums outside of school, but honestly, I think this has more to do with my school environment than it does with any efforts I’ve made. I’m grateful to be placed at a school where students are active and engaged!

– Overall, I’ve enjoyed the festive air to Idul Fitri. It reminds me of Christmas as everyone goes back home, spends time with family, and takes a break from their normal activities. This has brought on a short bout of homesickness, especially because I know Christmas will be SO different here, but it’s still super cool to be experiencing this.

– And then there’s the extra perks, like the fact that some visiting family members brought brownies and ibu just gave me a plate of them. Most brownies/cakes here are too light and fluffy and taste like plastic but these…these are the real deal. YUM.


On that note, Selamat Hari Raya/Idul Fitri! Mohon maaf lahir batim. (Happy holiday/Idul Fitri! I apologize and ask for forgiveness.)


Author: Sarah

I'm Sarah and I like many things starting with the letter "S," including (but not limited to) Seattle, springtime, summer, sunshine, swimming, sunrises, surprises, and sociology. For anything else you want to know, you will have to read my blog!

2 thoughts on “Idul Fitri

  1. It’s been almost a month! Please write more 🙂

    • Hi Lainie! This is very delayed reply to your comment from before. For Indonesian schools a typical school year is year-round with about 2 weeks off in between semesters. There are plenty of canceled school days, though. Will your kids be going to an international school? I don’t know what schedule those schools follow. I read your blog and loved it – if you have any questions about Indonesia, I would love to give you my two cents. 🙂

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