Odd man out. These rebels stand out from the rest of the rural universe they live in. While everyone around them happily clings to old traditions, old values and old ways of doing things this small group of exceptions challenge the norm. They question what their community takes for granted. They have strong views of social, economic and political life across the country with interests far beyond the kampung. They are well aware of the life in the city, the positive impact of technology and the negative impact of climate change. Their aspirations go well beyond life in the village, seeking more knowledge, more opportunity, more comfort. They demand social justice, equality and fair play.
Walk with Me
After work I went to Suryo’s house. Chatting over tea, I noticed Ara’s new jilbab. I had never asked but thought this was a good time to start a conversation I had never dared to start before. “Pink suits you” I said pointing to her headscarf. Ara is never shy and flashed me a big grin. I saw Suryo glance, as if wondering where I was going next. Without thinking too much I said “Ara, why do you cover your head even at home?” She said, “Because you’re not my muhrim. And I want to.” Without prompting she went on to add: “This is how I was brought up. As a child when I asked my mother why she wore the jilbab I understood that it gave her comfort. She felt comfortable, modest and secure.
Secure in her faith, secure in her relationship with her community, secure in her relationship with her husband. I feel very much the same way. I wear it because I’m a good Muslim. I wear it for myself not, for anybody else.” I was surprised how easily I understood her even though I don’t see the woman in my life ever wearing one. I have often thought that symbols of our traditions keep us tied to the past. In a reckless sort of way it makes sense to me to abandon any symbol that ties us down. I want so much to be free. Free of any burden. So I said: “Merdeka! (freedom)”. Suryo jumped in instantly and said “she is free”. What makes you think she’s not?” I realised it was best to end the conversation there. “I hope so, I really hope so” This is not something we are going to resolve any day soon.
Heading home I realised how we are indeed a country that’s changing. We have skyscrapers in our cities, smartphones in our hands but there are more jilbabs today than my mother has ever seen. Are we going backwards or forwards? I like it here but sometimes it’s claustrophobic even under the starry skies. If I get tired of Uncle Arya yelling at me at the warung I’ll go and start my own. I think Lili would like that.