The seventeenth of August is a big deal in Indonesia. For weeks prior to this date, people are busy decorating their homes with red and white, repainting gates and street signs, and practicing dances to perform on this special day. August seventeenth is Hari Kemerdekaan Indonesia, or Indonesian Independence Day. It celebrates the anniversary of the first reading of the Proclamation of Indonesian Independence, although Indonesia did not gain official independence from the Netherlands until December 27, 1949.
In 2015 I was still in the U.S. for the holiday. I didn’t get to see the celebrations; only the festive aftermath of banners and flags fluttering everywhere. But this year, the seventy-oneth anniversary of Indonesian independence, I was able to enjoy the holiday with fellow Senior ETAs (SETAs) Sam and Mackenzie, our leader Grace and her new roommate Sam M., and thousands of Jakartans.
Sam, Mackenzie, and I left our hotel around 8 a.m. and the streets were remarkably empty. A taxi took us to Monumen Nasional [National Monument], affectionately known as Monas. We expected huge crowds but found it relatively empty. We walked around the monument, taking a few photos and doing our best to avoiding becoming photo-ops for other people. We quickly realized that we couldn’t stop in any one place for too long, otherwise people wielding cameras and smart phones would swarm. Sometimes they ask first, but usually they just stand next to us, perhaps while we are drinking water or looking for something in our bag, then click away as if they had just found a rare Pokemon and are eager to snap photos for bragging rights.
The photo-crazed swarms aside, the three of us were soon joined by Grace and Sam M. and we had a lovely morning taking in the sights and sounds at Monas. We got caught up in a group of men wearing baju adat [traditional clothes] from Sulawesi and we had a riot taking group photos with them. At some point a fleet of fighter jets passed overhead, already specks in the distance by the time we heard them and leaving only wisps of white behind. We turned an empty army truck into a photo-op, to the amusement of the soldiers sitting in the shade nearby. And of course, a highlight for us ladies was to watch the military men do a rallying song with accompanying dance moves in a circle. After watching them it was OUR turn to ask for some photos! The young men in the naval contingent that we watched informed us that they were from across Indonesia. It must have been an honor to be selected to perform at the National Monument on Independence Day.
Plenty of things were happening in Jakarta besides activities at Monas, but after the crowds faded away we were unsure of where to go. The National Museum, which is located across the street from Monas, was closed so we’ll have to make other plans to go there. Grace and Sam M. had a party to plan for, so we parted ways with Mackenzie, Sam, and I in search of lunch.
Siang! [Early afternoon]
After getting in a taxi and giving the driver several false starts, the three of us ended up at a mall-size food court for lunch. Mackenzie, who has lived in Jakarta before, knew the place was close enough to walk home. So we had our lunch and turned to Google Maps to get us back to our hotel.
The route took us through some tiny streets that a car would be hard-pressed to pass through. There weren’t many people out, which is common in the early afternoon when people are hiding from the toughest of the sun’s rays. But after we rounded the corner on a quiet street, we found that it wasn’t as deserted as we thought it was. A tarp was strung over part of the road and a crowd of people gathered around it laughing and yelling and clapping. We checked in with Google, which showed that this was the way home. So we walked up to the crowd and it was hours before we walked away again. They were having a day of neighborhood lomba [competitions] and we were invited to join in the celebrations.
The first was a kerupuk-eating competition, where young kids ate crackers from a dangling string without using their hands. It was hilarious and pretty cute to watch. They had several rounds so all the kids could participate, with a Final Round for the top eaters. Participants and winners were announced over a microphone by the R.T., the neighborhood leader.
We arrived just in time for the transition from the children’s games to the lomba ibu-ibu [women’s competition]. Competition was fierce and the games were… not as benign as eating kerupuk off a string. I’ll give you an idea: look at the photo below. What’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Does the scene look crowded? Does it look like a hot day? Does that eggplant look phallic to you? The ladies here certainly seem to think so. All of the lomba ibu-ibu involved either eggplants or bananas, both of which enjoy frequent innuendos even when they are not being suggestively handled.
The first competition involved tying a string around your waist with the eggplant dangling by your behind. You then squat, shimmy, and otherwise contort yourself to get the eggplant into en empty water jug. I’m pleased to say that Jimmy Fallon and my Aunt Anna helped me prepare for this game over the summer, although we used a pen and an empty champagne bottle to practice. Never would I have guessed that a night of goofing off would help me prepare for an important cultural exchange! It looked a little something like this:
Needless to say, hilarity ensued. Mackenzie and I both gave it a go, though neither of us were nearly as fast as the other ladies. The competition consisted of starting at the other end of the track, running over the to jug, getting the eggplant in the jug without your hands, and running back to the start with the eggplant inside the jug. It. Was. Hilarious. All the more so because of the commentary I heard during the festivities, which was even more scandalizing than the race itself: “Ingat semalam ya!” [Remember last night!] “Seperti ku mengajarkan!” [Just like I taught you!]
Next up was a blindfolded banana race: four ladies lined up and were blindfolded, after which they were given a banana. On the count of three, they hustled over to the other side of the track and fed the banana to their partner. The first lady to swallow her banana wins for her team. Mackenzie and Sam played together, then I played with a woman named Umi. She won us first place in the first round, and we got second place in the Final Round. Haha!
And just when we thought the games couldn’t get any more outrageous, it went to a whole new level: passing the eggplant to your partner using only your thighs. Everyone was howling with laughter at this point, where some of the ladies stuck an eggplant between their legs and grabbed a laughing partner to pass the eggplant off to. Us foreigners excused ourselves before our names were called, but we did stay to watch one round.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen something as funny as teams of grown women shoving eggplants between their legs and passing them on. Mind you, this is not normal behavior in Indonesia and will only be seen in more liberal neighborhoods on special occasions. A HUGE thanks to the neighborhood in Setiabudi for letting us join in the fun!
Sore & Malam! [Late afternoon & evening/night]
After a full day of walking and sweating and laughing, it was time to istirahat [rest]. We showered and were enjoying A/C in our own rooms in the hotel when a message came through from Grace: the party wasn’t happening for them. A bummer, especially since they had already made white chocolate-dipped strawberries to fit the party’s theme of red and white. Mackenzie, Sam, and I rallied and made it over to Grace and Sam M.’s new apartment for a long evening of strawberries, wine, conversation, and a big pile of Padang food. Thanks, ladies! I couldn’t have picked better company for celebrating the holiday for the first time.