Weddings, Circumcisions and a very crowded Kijang

Your typical Kijang.
What is a Kijang, I hear you ask?

Well a Kijang is a very popular form of motorised transport in Indonesia, there are a variety of models and brands that carry different names, but generally a vehicle like this is referred to as a Kijang. And to the right is a fairly typical Kijang found all over Indonesia from Bali to Aceh.

So anyway I was invited over to Medan, in Northern Sumatra, to attend a very important family ceremony. I was told that a young lad in the family was to be circumcised in the local Muslim tradition. I believe somewhere around 12 or 13 years of age this tends to happen.

Always up for a new adventure, and pretty sure that I was safe from anyone’s ill intentions with a sharp blade, I decided to head over from Singapore, take my camera and see what happened.

Flying into Medan International Airport (Polonia) is always a treat. Sweeping low across the rice fields, outlaying houses and then the inner suburbs of Medan almost always through a light haze of smoke from a fire here and there. The airport is not too bad by Indonesian standards, but don’t expect JKF or LAX, although it may be more efficient than Heathrow (believe BA don’t fly there so your bags will probably turn up).

Me with the women of the family.
One of the interesting aspects of landing in Medan is that they have an international and domestic terminal, well they did until just before the end of December 2008 when the International terminal burnt down. Now I have landed in Medan a number of times on both international and domestic flights. On EVERY occasion so far the plan has taxied right past the relevant terminal and parked outside the other one, regardless of whether there were empty spots or not.

Then one has to climb out of the plane, get on a bus and get driven to the right terminal, all of 200 metres away. Now being the cynical person that I am one might assume that there is indeed no need whatsoever for the buses if they just parked the planes in front of the right terminal, but who would I be to question the logic of such an arrangement. I am sure there is a certain amount of Indonesian logic in there somewhere.

Immigration at Medan is also interesting. On the way in there is a counter for people with visas already, being an organised lad I always have my visas sorted out. There is however a little office for people arriving without visa. After spending no more than 5 minutes getting their Visa On Arrival, these people are then transported to the head of the line, too bad for the rest of us! No amount of complaining will make any difference, although a few thousand rupiah can get one to the front of the line I believe.

Somehow we all have to fit back into this!
Getting through immigration is not too bad here, seldom does one face the same surly scrutiny leveled at dangerous businessmen such as is often the case in Jakarta. However you better get through the line quickly and get to the luggage carousel as quickly as possible. The carousel is actually not a carousel at all, it’s a one way, dead end track of about 10 metres. So if one is held up in the immigration line you can be certain that your suitcase will be buried under about 50 others, made worse by the spectacle of porters climbing over the unclaimed ones to get their customers bags. Don’t ever put anything breakable in the checked bags if you are flying to Medan.

Coming out of customs you are greeted by the usual array of taxi and kijang drivers, all promising to steal your bags and take you to wherever you want to go. Warning, there are no meters in the cabs in Medan. Its all negotiated, and its not cheap. On average the fares are about double what you would pay in Jakarta, and there is nothing you can do about it. If you are going to be there for a couple of days you are probably better to get a Kijang and a driver on a full time basis. This can also be negotiated at the airport. Expect to pay about US$100+ for the day (12 hours) if negotiated directly and double or more for that through the hotel booking office.

So now we have arrived! Whisked off to the family residence, settled in for a nice coffee and a chat in the cool air that is Medan (the climate really is very pleasant). A good nights rest and then off to the ceremony on Sunday.

Sunday arrives. Breakfast done, waiting for the Kijang. Oops, nobody ordered it yet. Oh well lets see if we can find one! A few hours later, yes we have one, self drive and big enough for the 6 or so people we intend to take with us.

Family start to arrive. All dressed up in their very best. Time to go.

Next problem, Kijang too big to fit down the lane so we all have to walk out to the main road, no big deal. Herding the kids is the main problem.

Dilla belts out some Dangdut.
Here is the Kijang. How many now can we fit in? Well we have 9 people. 5 Adults and 4 kids, No problem. Three in the back, four in the middle and two in the front. Great. Off we go, all laughing and getting ready for the big event. I of course am not sure what to expect at ‘The Event’ but I don’t mention it as I don’t want to appear to be the ‘Bule’ wimp. I turn around to ask one of the nieces a question and discover she is not there. STOP. Where is Ika? Oh, yes we sent her to get tissues, turn around and drive back home, there she is walking towards us, not too sure how far she would have gone. So off we go again, 10 in the Kijang.

Drive 200 metres, who is that?? Going the other way on her motocycle is Rina’s sister. Seems we had forgotten to count her in. So turn around, back home again, now we are 11. Yes, 11. How? Well 2 adults and 1 kid in the front. 3 adults and 2 kids in the middle, 3 in the back. Lots more laughing, lots more discussion, some of which loosely translated to “Rina, your husband so big he has room for 3 people, better he sit on the roof”. I am hoping it was only a half hearted suggestion, and after I very roughly translated back to them, well the smiles and laughing suggests it was.

Nice driving across town, into a newer area and then suddenly we are off the main road, probably only 20 minutes from home. By now I am wondering why we all had to go at once. Upon asking it seems we are to visit a coconut plantation owned by an Aunty, ok, didn’t know such things existed so might as well go and have a look.

Find ourselves driving down some very suburban streets when we suddenly stop in front of a very nice little home. Thinking this is the end of the journey I pile out to make room for the others and start to go and greet the very nicely dressed people coming out of the house.
Well no, it seems that we are not stopping here, we are picking up more people. More people I say, how can that be? Well after 10 minutes of earnest debate about where everyone can sit it is agreed! We can take 3 more and the other two can go on their motor scooter! 3 more, that’s 14 in a Kijang.

Some nieces enjoying the Dangdut performances.
How? Well 4 in the front, 5 in the middle and 5 in the back, plus the scooter puttering away behind us. It was very very squeezy to say the least. Of course all of this was punctuated with even more laughter than before, and many more suggestions that one of the downsides of marrying a Bule is that we take up so much room in cars.

So now after another 30 minutes driving we finally turn off the main road again. Down a narrow tarmac road, and another, and another all gradually more narrow and then, there it is. A party! A full blown, live music, buffet style, outdoor party! Guests somewhere over the 50 or so people. And outdoors.

We stop, we fall out of the Kijang, we stretch and laugh and swell the crowd at the party to more than 60. On the way in we get our plate and fill it with rice, beef rendang, chicken curry, vegetables and other assorted yummies. Then we sit with the crowd, get introduced and start eating.

As I am casually looking around for the best photo opportunities I spot what looks very familiar to me. A typical Acehnese Wedding Chair! Complete with bride and groom. I turn to my wife and say “Honey are you sure we are at the right place, this seems to be a wedding, not a circumcision”.

What, what she says. So I point to the bride and groom, who are also looking at us with some interest as I am sure they did not have any Bule’s on their invite list! Oh my god! Well, after some 5 minutes of very quick questions and explanations it seems that we ARE at the right place, but we got the event wrong. It is a wedding, not a circumcision. Phew!

Ok, well of course there was now another long and extended amount of laughter about our misunderstanding, and as these people are family we can hardly leave. Would be far too rude to eat and leave, so we sat around, got introduced to the bride and groom, who were almost as surprised as I was that I was at their wedding, although the bride is apparently a relative of some kind to my wife so no harm done there.

We have just discovered we are at a wedding and not a circumcision, all the more reason to laugh a lot. Bride and groom view us suspiciously in the background.
Then the music starts. Anyone who knows Rina knows that live music and microphone can mean only one thing, singing. However before Rina had a chance to get out of her chair a young niece decided she needed to get up there and belt out a couple of popular Dangdut tunes. For the uninitiated, Dangdut is a purely Indonesian style of Rock music with strong links to Bollywood and Arabic music, its very intoxicating and very very sensual. Dila belted out two or three of the current top 10 and got a huge round of applause, especially as she is only 6 or 7 years of age, her voice was a lot older than that.

After a little coaxing from the family Rina decided to climb up to the stage and also belted out a couple of numbers before prayers and then it was time to go.

14 back in the Kijang, another 6 or so on motorcycles and a very slow trip home to collect my bags and head to the airport.

So a quick weekend in Medan. No circumcision, not sure how I feel about that. A surprise wedding, that was ok, and a lot of good old fashioned fun and laughter in the middle of a very crowded Kijang.

Lets do it again one day.