On our way out this morning to get our tickets for our boat trip to Morotai, an island to the north of Halmahera, we passed through a traffic jam which Bu Esty explained were the welcoming families for those from North Maluku who have just returned home from their trip to Mecca. There were cars lined up on either side of the road and people standing waiting outside the gates of the Walikota Office.
We drove past to the shipping office to buy our tickets for the 10am fast boat only to discover that it became the 12noon boat so that the Mecca travelers returning home to Morotai wouldn’t miss the boat. So as we had 2 unexpected hours to kill, we returned to the gates of the Kantor Walikota so I could witness the reception and for Bu Esty could participate in the reception to welcome home her uncle and aunt who were members of the group.
The travelers had flown earlier in the day and had been transported by what looked like 5 buses to the Kantor Walikota so that the Gubenor (equivalent to our state premiers) could welcome them home formally after their holy pilgrimage.
We followed the crowd to the left hand gate only to discover that the crowd had just been told that the right hand gate would be opened. The families were really annoyed to have been given the wrong information and made their way angrily, pushing and shoving, to get to the open gate to welcome their friends and family. There was a lot of emotion in the air and I think it was due to the fact that the trip to Mecca is a hugely significant and momentous event for Muslims and also because most of the travellers were parents or elderly relatives. The families were so relieved that not only had they had completed the pilgrimage which is quite arduous and requires for most, a decent level of fitness, but also because they had made it home safe and sound. However as soon as we got to the correct gate we all discovered that the earlier thunderstorms had created an enormous puddle just in front of it.
Can you see him standing towards the back? When we finally caught up with him and his wife, Bu Esty grasped first her uncles and then her Aunt’s right hand and pressed it to her forehead in respect for their seniority and the holy journey they have just completed and then gave them each a hug while pressing one cheek to theirs and then the other cheek on the other cheek, while simultaneously taking a gentle yet deep breathe in, hence explaining why the word for kiss in Indonesian literally means ‘to smell’.
We then headed to the boat at 11am to ensure we got good seats on the bottom level however the Gubenor’s speeches must have dragged on as it was 1:30pm before they finally got to the dock and we could leave for Morotai. Unfortunately this late departure means we will arrive into Morotai after dark as it is a 5 hour trip by fast boat!