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Loved and lost: Families visit the graves of their loved ones in Kemiri Cemetery in Rawamangun, East Jakarta on Sunday. Cemeteries in Jakarta have seen a significant increase in visitors ahead of the start of Ramadhan this weekend. JP/P.J. LeoRoyani, 53, had to wait for more than a month to visit the grave of her son, Muhammad Iskandar, at Karet Tengsin cemetery in Central Jakarta because she had no money after paying for her daughter’s cesarean operation.
Despite having no money, she felt obliged to visit her son because it is a tradition for Indonesian Muslims to pray for the spirits of the dead at their graves prior to the Ramadhan fasting month. The tradition is locally known as nyekar.
She finally visited her son’s grave on Wednesday, two or three days before the start of Ramadhan, after hitchhiking a public minivan from her neighborhood in Petamburan, Central Jakarta, and receiving Rp 10,000 (US$1.06) from a friend to buy flowers and rose water.
To reach her son’s grave amid a field of well kept graves, she had to thread through swarms of vendors selling goods from sunglasses to meatballs.
She was immediately greeted with the sight of the run-down grave of her son, who passed away one and a half years ago.
Upon seeing that her son’s grave marker, made of wood, had cracked in the middle with the soil around it collapsed, she burst into tears. “Ya Allah (Oh God), my son,” she said while whimpering.
She asked for a local grave caretaker to fix the grave while watering the earth first before plowing around the collapsed soil.
Royani, a mother of six children, two of whom had passed away, then started to caress the soil before spreading flower petals on top of the grave. She also poured a bottle of rose water in front of the grave.
Meanwhile, not far from Karet Tengsin, Dian Septiani, 21, paid a visit to the graves of her relatives, including her grandparents, uncle and great grandfather, at Karet Bivak cemetery in Central Jakarta.
Unlike Royani, she lives in more fortunate circumstances as she can afford to visit her relatives’ graves frequently.
“I come here with my parents and brother every two months,” Dian, an undergraduate student at the University of Indonesia, said on Wednesday.
Approaching Ramadhan, cemeteries in the city are packed with people like Royani and Dian who come to pray for their loved ones.
However, not all people go to cemeteries for religious purposes. Yati, 71, for example, goes to Karet Bivak to earn money.
She sells goods for praying purposes such as jasmines, rose flowers, pandan leaves and rose water, which are all used at the cemetery.
“But I only come here a month before Ramadhan,” Yati said while waiting for buyers at her booth.
“As Ramadhan draws closer, I can earn up to Rp 200,000 a day,” she added.
For her business, she buys flowers at the Rawa Belong flower market in West Jakarta and rose-perfumed water at the Tanah Abang market in Central Jakarta.
Yati, who lives behind a luxurious apartment building near the cemetery, is not the only one in her family to make a living from the graves. Her cousin also sells flowers while her son-in-law works to maintain the cemetery.
There seems to be no age limit to those earning money at cemeteries, as children and teenagers can be seen scouring for used bottles and asking for money from visitors.
Agung, 13, for instance, was busy on Wednesday looking for used bottles while holding a clear plastic bag in his left hand at Karet Bivak cemetery. His eyes moved swiftly from one grave to another.
“I only come here after school or during a holiday to earn some pocket money as a scavenger or beggar,” said the student from a public school in Petamburan. (han)