Asian Insider

East Java town eyes livelier Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration amid eased Covid-19 curbs

Local residents, like people in many parts of Indonesia, have resumed praying at mosques. ST PHOTO: LINDA YULISMAN

BANYUWANGI, EAST JAVA - As Hari Raya Aidilfitri approaches next Thursday (May 13), Banyuwangi resident Fitri Koreasari is looking forward to cooking up a feast for her family - a spread that will include festive favourites chicken opor and beef rendang.

Unlike last year, when many cities across Indonesia were under lockdown, looser restrictions and fewer infections in Banyuwangi, a laid-back town in East Java province with around 1.8 million inhabitants, mean she can now gather with her loved ones at home instead of meeting via video calls.

"Last year, I couldn't even meet my mother, who lives with my sister just 3km away from my house, as access to our housing complexes was blocked," the 37-year-old mother of three told The Straits Times. "We also couldn't visit our neighbours and greeted them only behind the gates."

She added: "At least this year we can gather with our family members here, although those living outside Banyuwangi cannot make their way home."

Ms Fitri's first son and sister-in-law, who live in neighbouring town Bondowoso, as well as other relatives in Surabaya and Bali island, cannot return home as the inter-city roads are blocked and the Covid-19 tests required for travel are costly. "I promised my son to visit him after the roadblock is lifted," she said.

Each year, millions of Indonesians return to their home towns by air, sea and land at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan in a massive exodus known as mudik to celebrate Aidilfitri.

However, like last year, the government has banned home-bound journeys until May 17, closing roads and suspending sales of tickets for long-distance travel.

Many managed to get home by rushing to travel before the ban was imposed.

Mr Muhamad Bagas Sutiono, 41, is hoping that the presence of more relatives and neighbours who managed to make their way back will make for a "more lively" celebration this year.

"Banyuwangi was a (Covid-19) red zone last year. Our families living far away could not travel home, so it was so quiet," said the father of two. "Hopefully, we'll celebrate it differently this year with our families at home."

His wife, Ms Yanti Bagas, 37, plans to cook various dishes, including chicken opor and lepet (boiled sticky rice wrapped in coconut leaves), two days before Eid and share them with their neighbours.

"We want to enjoy the festivities like usual this year and can gather with our families and neighbours again," she said.

Banyuwangi, home to many followers of Indonesia's largest Islamic mass organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, has been categorised as a Covid-19 orange zone, with moderate risk.

As it is with people in many parts of the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, local residents have resumed praying at mosques, especially on Fridays.

During this Ramadan, Banyuwangi people have gathered for snacks and desserts to break their fast, known as tajil, in designated areas for street vendors across the city.

They also take part in breaking-of-fast gatherings, or bukber, and join in nightly congregational prayers at mosques, known as terawih.

East Java's Indonesian Ulema Council said on Wednesday that mosques in places with low to moderate Covid-19 risks are allowed to carry out Eid prayers, but red zones of high risk are not.

In Jakarta, Governor Anies Baswedan is considering allowing Eid prayers in open spaces.

Bank employee Revangga Jimy plans to join prayers on Eid at Masjid Agung Baiturrahman, Banyuwangi's biggest mosque, and meet his friends afterwards, something that he missed last year. He, along with his parents, brother and cousins, prayed at home last year, and restricted visits from neighbours.

"Last year's Eid was very quiet. It should have been a time when we met families and old friends, but it was gone because of the pandemic," he said.

While his relatives in places such as Manado and Purwakarta still cannot return home, the 27-year- old single anticipates a merrier Hari Raya this year, welcoming more neighbours and friends as well as shaking hands with them for the first time since the Covid-19 outbreak hit the country.

"We are confident now because my parents and I have been vaccinated," Mr Revangga said.

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