This year, Indonesian muslim citizens are experiencing a different kind of Ramadan. The holy month implies normally a lot of invitations to break fast (iftar) together with friends or colleagues. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are unable to gather.
The government had banned mudik—the annual exodus ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday. Many people couldn’t spend the day with their families. The only way to keep the spirit of togetherness alive was through conference calls.
One week before Eid, which fell on May 24-25, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology predicted that internet usage would soar at least 30% as many people might use video calls to “celebrate” with their family. Already during the holy month of Ramadan traffic had soared 40% compared to last year.
Iftar via Zoom
Working and studying from home might be one factor behind the increase. Another possible explanation: Many Indonesian youngsters were having iftar through video conference.
Jakarta-based Ernas Azis connects with his clique several times via Zoom, when they would normally meet in a café or Japanese restaurant. In front of their own gadgets, he and his friends eat or drink while chatting just about anything.
“I have problems with this,” he told KrASIA. “Virtual meetings will never be enough, we still need to have face-to-face gatherings! This is hard, just like a long-distance relationship.”
For Ribka Diana Utami, iftar via Zoom or other conference apps is better than nothing at all. She usually receives invitations two or three times a week from friends. With some of her university or high school friends she hasn’t interacted for years.
Small gatherings provide for her above all opportunities to catch up and also to create new connections. E-iftar doesn’t have the same impact. Sometimes, people don’t put a profile picture on their account and Utami has a hard time recognizing them in the conference call.
“It also feels awkward, especially with people I haven’t talked to for a long time since I couldn’t read the flow of conversation. In real life meetings, you can get clues from body language or facial expression,” she says.
This also happened during Eid, where most people spent the day with their core family while video-calling distant relatives. Even though they can’t be together physically, the digital presence is easing the desire for an in-person meeting.
Mira, who works as a translator in a game company, lives in Singapore, more than a thousand kilometers away from her husband who stayed behind in Jakarta. They speak regularly on WhatsApp and Skype, but for Eid, she wanted to be at home.
“To be honest, I’ve wanted to spend Eid without a big family gathering. But not like this,” Mira thought and finally cancelled her trip, not wanting to risk herself and the people around her.
She didn’t have any special plan for the Eid holiday and only ordered Malay food to eat together with her housemates, then talked to her husband on Skype. It didn’t feel different from her regular days.
“The hardest part is realizing that I can meet my husband again soonest in August,” she said. “All I can do is to be patient.”
Until now, the country has seen more than 23,000 coronavirus cases with 1,473 deaths. There is no end in sight, hundreds of people broke physical distancing rules during Eid holding mass prayers in mosques, creating new clusters. The government has planned to reopen public places like shopping malls in June, even though the spread of the virus doesn’t appear to slow down.
It seems like Indonesians need to resort to virtual hangouts with friends for a bit longer.