As I opened my window that morning, I couldn’t help but notice how different Jakarta’s sky appeared. It was blue and clear, a stark contrast to the usual clouded sky, tainted by pollution.
With just a week before Eid El-Fitr, it seemed that most Jakartans had already started their annual “pilgrimage” to their hometowns, mudik.
This celebration marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, and is typically spent with family and friends. It’s reminiscent of Thanksgiving in the US, New Year's in China, or Diwali in India.
After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 and the “transition” year of 2022, mudik in 2023 might reach its full volume, with an estimated 123.8 million people on the move, including 18.3 million from Greater Jakarta.
Having more than half its population (Greater Jakarta’s population is around 30 million) mudik, and much fewer commuters entering Jakarta during the working hours means less traffic and less pollution.
Pak Parjo's voice interrupted my thoughts as I breathed in the clean air and clear sky. He has been our family’s trusted handyman for over 30 years.
This year, in addition to the usual THR (Tunjangan Hari Raya) bonus he received before mudik, he came to borrow money.
With fewer construction jobs in recent months, Pak Parjo didn’t have enough money to travel to his hometown in Central Java.
I couldn’t help but wonder, why do people like Pak Parjo feel compelled to participate in mudik even when their financial situation is strained?
The financial challenges are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the obstacles faced by those participating in mudik.
With nearly half of Indonesia’s 281 million people on the move during Eid al-Fitr, mostly by road transport modes, reaching one’s hometown can be an arduous task.
I recall the time before the pandemic when it took over half a day to drive from Jakarta to Semarang in Central Java during Eid al-Fitr, a journey that would typically last only six hours. For those who opted for public transportation, fares would often skyrocket, and the vehicles would be crammed with passengers.
When people finally arrived in their hometowns, they would be greeted with traffic jams reminiscent of those in Jakarta, as if the city’s congestion had followed its inhabitants to these smaller, overwhelmed urban centers.
Mudik, a cherished tradition, emphasizes the importance of nurturing family bonds and maintaining connections with one’s hometown community.
People reuniting with loved ones, seeking forgiveness from elders, and honoring deceased relatives, a reminder of the vital role religion plays in our society.
The Eid al-Fitr holiday marks the end of Ramadan, and as people come together to celebrate with prayers and feasting, they are fostering a sense of unity and belonging that transcends their individual experiences.
On the other hand, mudik which is deeply rooted in Indonesian culture, also exposes some inconvenient truths about urban-rural dynamics, social stratification, and the environmental and health impacts of this mass movement.
Not all Indonesians, such as Pak Parjo, can afford to participate in this annual journey due to socioeconomic disparities, shedding light on the social inequality that persists in our country.
Furthermore, the mass movement of people during this time puts a strain on the environment and public health systems. This calls for our collective action and the implementation of sustainable policies, including improved transportation infrastructure, public health measures, and environmental stewardship, to address these challenges.
As I pondered these challenges, I considered the possible reasons why people like Pak Parjo force themselves to participate in mudik even when they lack the necessary funds.
Perhaps it’s the cultural values and social pressure that compel them to uphold traditions and maintain connections with their roots. Or maybe it’s their desire to reinforce their sense of identity and belonging within their family and community.
Regardless of the reasons, I can’t deny the impact this annual journey has on Jakarta. For the two weeks that Jakartans leave the city, the traffic eases, the sky clears, and the air becomes fresher. On the other hand, those cities that host the visitors become congested and bear the burden.
As I closed my window, I felt a sense of gratitude for those who left Jakarta and a newfound appreciation for the small-town residents who welcomed them home. And with that, I wish everyone a Happy Eid Mubarak!