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Indonesians make themselves at home in Paris embassy

Text by Joseph BAMAT , Faradita SAFIRA

Latest update : 2009-09-17

Ramadan, more than any other time of the year, draws the Indonesian community in Paris together. Delectable typical foods, prayer and children’s mayhem are spun together every Saturday, turning the embassy into a home away from home.

As in any other Muslim country, Ramadan in Indonesia is a time for personal reflection, but also for precious moments spent with the family. For the roughly 2,000 Indonesians who live in France, the month of fasting inspires a deep longing for the homeland, but also a passionate motivation to recreate the perfect Ramadan in their adopted country. In Paris, students, embassy employees and ordinary expatriates come together in their embassy every Saturday of Ramadan in an annual tradition that culminates with the holy feast of Eid ul-Fitr.

The Indonesian embassy, perched on a quiet, sloping street in Paris’ wealthy 16th arrondissement, plays host to the usual diplomatic, cultural and educational events, but also provides a meeting place for religious affairs. “We want the embassy to be like a home to Indonesians,” says cultural officer Kusuma Habir. Indeed, Indonesians gather at the embassy to celebrate Christian, Hindu and Buddhists holidays, but they especially turn out for Ramadan.

The Saturday get-togethers can gather up to 300 expatriates, as well as a handful of non-Indonesians. The evenings are broken up into a series of events, all of which are open and free to anyone.

The class

Pesantren kilat, meaning quick class, is held primarily for children and teenagers, but adult men and women discreetly fill out the remaining spaces of the room while the class is in session. For Amalia, 16, who was born in Paris, the class is one of the rare occasions to find out more about Islam. “It may primarily be the parents’ concern, but even while they are far from the country these children are very motivated in their religious studies,” says Andar Nubowo, an embassy staff member who acts as religious teacher for children. “Alhamdulillah (thanks to God) their curiosity is even greater than that of the students back home,” he adds.

Breaking fast

At sunset the group will break its daylong fast together. Cakes and puddings, prepared from a variety of beans and topped with sweet coconut milk, have been neatly arranged along the tables, but quickly disappear into jubilant mouths. Dinner quickly follows, which has been prepared mostly by members of the community and spouses of the embassy’s staff. Mounds of steamy rice and baked chicken are drowned in spicy curries. “I never miss breaking fast here. I come for the food, but also for the feeling. It cures the hunger, but also the homesickness,” shares Bimo, a violin student who regrets there are no better music schools closer to his family.


Prompted by the sudden rush of suger and curry, small children spin out of parental orbit and fly off in every direction, while the adults begin assembling in the embassy’s basement. The Maghreb, Isya and Tarawih – different calls to prayer – reveal the main reason people are here: to worship together. Rows of men and women kneel and bow countless times, following or creating a holy cadence that lasts until close to midnight. “I feel more rewarded doing the prayer together with the Imam and everyone else. Also, there’s no way you will miss it here, which sometimes happens when you are alone,” says an Indonesian employee in a French energy company, who is observing Ramadan in Paris for the 11th time.

Andar reminds his audience that Ramadan “is the month of benediction, the month full of happiness”, and his pupils have no reason to doubt his words. As the evening’s gathering draws to an end, Indonesians who have travelled thousands of miles, and dream of 18,000 islands, have filled their stomachs and hearts in the best of places: at home.

Date created : 2009-09-16