In February, my homestay family is going to be one person larger. My sister-in-law, Mbak Rachma is having a baby! Last weekend, my whole family drove up to Rachmas hometown, Temanggung, in Central Java. Aside from it being a nice vacation, our reason for the trip was to celebrate and pray for a smooth birth. The drive up was a beautiful journey through small villages, and rice fields colored with every shade of green imaginable. When we got closer to the town, the summit of Gunung Beser, the nearby mountain, started peeking through the otherwise cloudy sky.
Once we arrived at the house, the fun began. The weekend was filled with a whirlwind of activities; like delicious food, a motor-cross show, Javanese practice, and introductions to dozens of family members. On Sunday, we spent most of the day preparing for Rachmas ceremony, her Tujuh Bulan (seven months). Rachma is seven months pregnant and as tradition goes, she is going to live in her home village until a month after the baby is born.
The festivities started around 6:00 pm. Neighbors and family members started filtering into the house and separating by gender, into two separate rooms. When everyone had finally arrived and introductions had been made, Fathur, my older brother, and Rachma moved into the kitchen where they shared a heaping plate of nasi kunning (yellow rice, mixed with fish, chicken, and vegetables). One by one, every guest walked into the room, took a spoonful of the food, exchanged a couple words in Javanese with Rachma and Fathur, then exited. When it was my turn to enter the room, not exactly knowing what to do, I took a bite of chicken, dapped Fathur, and patted Rachmas belly. It wasn’t an orthodox approach to the tradition, but everyone laughed along.
We spent an hour or so eating and chatting, I did my best to follow the conversation in Indonesian, but as soon as Javanese was thrown into the mix, I couldn’t understand a thing.
When everyone finished up their meals, they started leaving the house and gathering in the courtyard outside. It was pretty late at night by this point and there wasn’t much activity in the town except for our little party. The courtyard, which was just a cemented area with a few banana and rambutan trees on the perimeter, began filling up with people laughing and joking together. It was very chill vibes and everyone was smiling and happy, especially Rachma. We all gathered in a circle around an intricate ceramic vase about the size of a backpack, that was sitting on top of a woven plate. As I tried to figure out the significance of the centerpiece, everyone fell quiet, and a couple of the older men lead a prayer in Arabic to start the ceremony. After the prayer, two women walked into the center of the circle and picked up the vase together. They carried it outside of the courtyard and onto the street. Suddenly, everyone broke out laughing and started talking again. I looked around quizzically and asked my brother what had happened, and he just pointed at the vase. As I turned my head, the two ladies lifted the vase above their heads, and slammed it down on the street, narrowly missing an oncoming motorbike. The contents of the vase were revealed to be a mixture of water, ginger, and violet flowers, and they spilled all over the road.
For the next part of the ceremony, Fathur picked up the big plate and attempted to roll it down the street. Apparently, the longer the plate rolls, the longer the baby will live. Unfortunately, the plate hit a pebble and rolled off the road a couple meters from where it started. Fathur cracked up and everyone laughed it off.
I went up to Fathur and asked him what the meaning of the ceremony and the vase smashing was, but he just shrugged and said, “Tidak tahu,” (I don’t know) with a grin. I asked Rachma the same question and she also had no idea. It seemed like the entire Tujuh Bulan ceremony had some meaning, but served as just a fun way to get together, and welcome Rachma into the community.
When it was finally time for us to leave, we started saying our thank yous and goodbyes. When I had thanked everyone, I got in the car, pulled out my headphones, and got ready for the long ride home. But then I heard Rachma shout, “Oskar!” in a somewhat hurt voice. I looked over and realized she hadn’t gotten in the car yet, and then I remembered why. The whole point of this weekend was so we could drop her off at her house until the end of February. A wave of realization, then sadness hit me. I was saying goodbye to one of my family members and I wouldn’t see her again for a very long time. I leaped out of the car and hugged her, and then hugged her stomach. I looked at her face and she was beaming. Her smile was incredibly wide and I realized for the first time that weekend that she was incredibly happy to be back home. She is a lot more comfortable and in her element, living back in her village and among her family. It was hard saying goodbye, but in just a couple quick months, we will be welcoming her back to Jogja with a new baby! Alhamdulillah