Oei Eng Goan
The virtues of mudik, the long-established tradition of returning to hometowns, which millions of Indonesians do to celebrate Idul Fitri with their parents and relatives, are that it rekindles familial ties, fosters solidarity among fellow travelers and regenerates the economies of sleepy towns and villages.
It is predicted that more than 12 million people, most of them workers in big cities across the country, will travel by land, air or sea to their hometowns this year to celebrate Idul Fitri, the holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, which is expected to fall on Aug. 19-20.
An upsurge in the number of travelers means that highways, especially in Java, will be crammed with motorcycles, cars and public buses. That will require the police and transportation officials to undertake extra work to ensure a smooth flow of traffic, security and safety for holiday revelers.
People who can afford it can choose to travel by air or at least book a seat in an executive-class train, reaching in their destinations in a bit more comfort. But those who barely make ends meet have to ride motorcycles — often sharing their seat with their wife and children — covering hundreds of kilometers to get to their villages.
Despite repeated government warnings, thousands of motorcyclists still risk life and limb by piling onto their bikes because they cannot afford bus or train tickets. But, they say, it’s all worth it because they can feel the sheer joy of Idul Fitri when they are among their loved ones.
This shows how important mudik is to the Indonesian people. Like Thanksgiving in the United States, mudik has become an inherent part of people’s lives. Regardless of whether they are white-collar workers or blue-collar ones, they will do everything they can to take part in the exodus.
Morally, mudik is a concrete undertaking to show filial affection to one’s elders and relatives, as well as friendship with former neighbors.
Economically, it is a practical way of distributing wealth from big cities to less-developed towns and rural areas, as the people arriving in their home villages usually bring souvenirs for family and friends, along with money for the rural people.
Mudik is also a good time for migrants to contemplate what they have achieved in the big city after leaving their towns or villages, which are less boisterous and polluted than the surroundings in which they now live. It is also a time when they can share their urban experiences with fellow townspeople and villagers.
Anticipating that this year’s mudik will be much livelier than usual, given that the nation is preparing to celebrate the 67th anniversary of the country’s independence on Aug. 17, just a couple of days before Idul Fitri, the government has made concerted efforts to make travelers comfortable and safe during their journeys.
Dozens of new train cars have been built and more ferries will be operated to accommodate the increasing number of passengers. And the annual repair work on the main roads used in the mudik has been completed on time, which will help minimize delays. In addition, more people are buying travel tickets online, avoiding further hassle.
Thousands of police officers have been deployed at main airports and harbors to keep down the criminal element, and officials from the Transportation Ministry have conducted inspections at bus terminals to make sure buses are safe.
Another measure worthy of praise was taken by the Health Ministry last week when it conducted drug and alcohol tests on bus drivers. Experience shows that most fatal bus accidents happened because of impaired drivers.
All of these steps indicate that the government considers mudik one of those conspicuous yearly activities that help make up the cultural fabric of a peaceful and friendly society.
Because during mudik, people tend to indulge in nostalgia and incline to forgive small wrongful acts inflicted on them.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder!
Oei Eng Goan, a former literature lecturer at National University (UNAS) in Jakarta, is a freelance journalist.