My kampong [village] lies in the suburbs of Surabaya, the second biggest city in Indonesia. Densely packed in a narrow alley, it consists of more than forty houses, stacked like logs, with no gaps at all to sneak in between. A handful of residents work for the government or public schools; some run small household shops. Most residents are Muslim, except for three families who are Christian.
A handful of plants provide us with green, but just down the road scattered stores have been soaring: a big franchise department store, a gas station, banks with long rows of automatic teller machines and facilities that make us feel like a small part of growing Indonesia.
When we first moved here, it seemed ideal. There were only twelve families; they got together at events; we felt close. Communal meetings were held each month; the host would prepare snacks and even sometimes meals. If one of us were in the nearby hospital, we would usually drive together in groups to pay a visit after collecting small contributions to give the sick person. Only one lady, a convert to Islam, wore a headscarf; others only wore it when necessary: at public meetings, celebrations, or Independence Day, August 17.
Saturday nights were the long night. People sat outside on paving stones or rough and humble chairs, and discussed many matters, especially before elections. Indonesia was then under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a graduate of America’s Webster University.
Religious days were marked as moments of happiness and joy. People opened wide their hearts; heaven was coming down and moving us. We visited each other after Eid al Fitr‘s early morning prayer. Everyone said, “Minal Aidin Wal Fa Idzin” (“Many happy returns”) and “Mohon Maaf Lahir Batin” (“Please forgive my wrongdoings”). The long-held tradition of Megengan, when families exchange food or snacks — not just Muslims but Christians, Catholics, Hindus and Buddhists — always preceded Ramadan.
On Christmas, the three Christian families would welcome visitors. Visits to our house by our Muslim friends inspired us to see how great our nation was, and of course our religions. Our Muslim friends would say, “Merry Christmas”.
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