Breaking the fast together

I spent 2016 volunteering at an Indonesian NGO called Mitra Wacana Women’s Resource Centre. This is the story of when I celebrated Ramadan with my colleagues. 

It’s less than a week until Idul Fitri and excitement is building. Every morning and night for the past few days, a children’s drum band marches merrily past my house and through all the streets in my neighbourhood. Everyone is finishing up work to mudik, go home for Idul Fitri. My colleagues planned for everyone in the office to berbuka puasa, break the fast, together before they all mudik. We set the date as our second-last working day before the Idul Fitri holidays.

In the week leading up to our bukber (the abbreviation for buka bersama, breaking the fast together), large quantities of food stuffs mysteriously appeared in the office. Tall piles of biscuits, chips (crisps) and other non-perishables were lying around our common area. The day of our bukber, I finally discover what it was all for. It is a tradition in Indonesia, my colleagues explain to me, for workplaces to give their employees food parcels for Idul Fitri (or in the case of the language school I attended, where many of the staff were Christian, for Christmas). I enjoy helping my colleagues stuff the gift bags with all the goodies. Some of the products, such as the bags of sugar, even had our organisation’s logo on them!

In each of the gift bags we include a professionally-printed card that says:

“Mita Wacana WRC Mengucapkan

Selamat Hari Raya Idul Fitri 1437 H

Mohon Maaf Lahir dan Bathin”

It means:

“Mitra Wacana WRC wishes you

Happy Idul Fitri 1437 Hijriyah

Forgive me body and soul”

1437 is the current year in the Islamic calendar. Hijriyah is the Indonesian name for the Islamic calendar. Ramadan, the fasting month, is the ninth month in the 12-month Islamic calendar. Idul Fitri marks the beginning of the month of Shawwal. Part of the Idul Fitri tradition is to mohon maaf, ask for forgiveness, from the people in your life, for anything you might have done in the past year to upset them. When asking for forgiveness, Indonesians say Mohon Maaf Lahir dan Bathin. Many Indonesians return to their home towns, mudik, during Idul Fitri to mohon maaf from their parents and family.

My colleagues, our board members and their children start arriving at the office at about 3pm on the afternoon of our bukber. We have to wait until about 5:30pm when the siren rings signalling sundown. This means it’s mahgreb and everyone can break their fast. Mrs Farida our office assistant has been preparing food all day. Tables are laid out with a variety of savoury and sweet foods on colourful plates. Cups and glasses are filled with hot tea, es buah (a cold drink made from fruit pieces, basil seeds, syrup and water) and kolak (a sweet drink traditionally drunk in Java during Ramadan). Everything is organised in advanced so we can start eating immediately after mahgreb. On one table the even soup ingredients have already been placed into bowls, ready for the hot broth to be added when it’s finally time to eat.

The siren rings and we spend the next hour or two eating and chatting. When it’s time to go home, everyone takes a gift bag, there’s even one for me. My colleagues tell me about their plans to visit different family members on the day of Idul Fitri. They’re anticipating how busy they’ll be over the next few days preparing gifts for their family, friends and neighbours. They’re planning to spend the actual day of Idul Fitri going from their parent’s house, to their partner’s parent’s house, perhaps having a few guests at their own home. It sounds very similar to how many people spend Christmas in Australia. Even the bukber reminds me of an office Christmas party in Australia, without alcohol.

By participating in these traditions that I had not experienced in Australia, I got to know my colleagues a little better. I also recognised a spirit of celebrating together which is not unique to any one religion or nationality, but enjoyed by all human beings.

First published by Mitra Wacana Women’s Resource Centre:

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