What a feeling. I see the Red-and-White flag flying proudly on Kabul sky.
Today we celebrate again our independence day. Indonesia is celebrating its 62nd anniversary. And for the Indonesian community in Afghanistan, this day is as special as it is for our other countrymen in Indonesia.
Flag ceremony was a routine for most of us when we were receiving education in Indonesian schools. Who had never experienced boredom of attending flag ceremony? Who had never grumbled to be given task to be flag-ceremony commandant or national anthem choir? At least I did. When I was in elementary school and high school in Indonesia, I used to hate Saturday after-school time as it’s the rehearsal schedule for weekly Monday morning flag ceremony. I used to grumble for this so-called nationalism development, discipline training, citizenship building (bla, bla, bla) to justify the routine flag ceremony. I used to grumble when my headmaster forgot to stop his long and dull speech while we, the poor little students, have to stand helplessly under the scorching sun.
But all of the dull memories of flag ceremony turned when I left Indonesia to study in China. In my five and half year in the dragon land, I have attended flag ceremony only once. That was in 2004, in Indonesian embassy. And for the ceremony I came late (I expected Indonesian embassy were used to be very late for everything but at least not for the national-day flag ceremony).
What used to be something to grumble of now turned to be something to be grateful of. I remember how it was very difficult to get the opportunity to attend a flag ceremony. In 2005, I was in the middle of Tibet highland, trapped on a bus from Ngari to Lhasa (what a painful 4 day journey, nonstop) and I celebrated our national day alone, whispering the national anthem to myself, to kill the boredom of the never ending bus trip. Last year, I obtained my Iran visa on August 16, 2006 and I immediately rushed to go to the border, ran to Mashhad, and tried my best to arrive in Tehran (about 1000 km away) to attend the ceremony in Indonesian embassy the next morning. But I was not lucky. When I arrived in the capital, the ceremony was just finished. Again, I missed the flag ceremony.
And three years after my last attendance in the flag ceremony, that is today, finally I have the chance to attend. Indonesian community in Kabul is not big. Besides embassy staff and diplomats, there are not more than a dozen Indonesians living here. The small community makes relationship deeper between each other. Everybody is like a small family member.
I have a double duty for the flag ceremony. First, to make documentation, thus making good photographs of the ritual, as everybody knows I have a big camera. Second, is to play the national anthem and “mengheningkan cipta” music, played from the Windows Media Player. The sound system was all prepared, and my duty was just to double click the file name, wait until the songs finished, and stop the music. That’s all. Sounds easy. But for this I need to attend final rehearsal the night before (but it was continued by very nice dinner in the Chinese restaurant!)
At 8 a.m. I arrived in embassy. I was surprised to see myself on the mirror today. How beautiful I was in the complete formal batik shirt. One of the embassy diplomats, after knowing my lack of clothing, presented me fresh batik with trousers, plus office shoes (I have only hiking shoes, not quite compatible with the shirt). When I arrived in the embassy compound, there were already some Indonesian ladies in beautiful kebayas preparing the children to wear traditional costumes. There were not all Indonesians though. There were some Afghans who were, due to relation to the embassy, grabbed to attend the flag ceremony.
Not until 9:30 the ceremony was not started. Madam Aini, Indonesian wife of an Afghan man, complained that the ceremony started very late. Sun was high already. And children also seemed quite suffering from the heat. Ladies were separated from the gentlemen. Whether this sexual segregation was only to practical reason or to follow the custom in Afghanistan, I was not sure. But for the male ceremony attendants there were separation as well for Indonesians and non-Indonesians. In fact, among the attendants there were more Afghans then Indonesians (10 Afghans to 5 Indonesians). The commandant, flag waivers, constitution, prayer readers, and MC were all Indonesians, though.
When the Red-and-white flag was ready, I double clicked the computer. Indonesia Raya (Great Indonesia) national anthem was flowing beautifully from the loud sound system. I felt the pride of being Indonesian national. What was being a merely a routine in Indonesia, here becomes something to knock the deepest feeling of my heart. I don’t know whether it is so-called nationalism, or whether nationalism is usually get thicker when one is being abroad, but I can say I love Indonesia more after I am outside the country. I used to grumble about my country, but after living in many other different countries, I feel that my own country is not bad at all.
The flag ceremony had a small accident. And it was related to me. When I played Mengheningkan Cipta, the computer ran out of battery, it shut down immediately. The song stopped in the middle. Mr. Ambassador suddenly finished it, “Mengheningkan Cipta, Selesai!” I felt very bad because of the incident, but it seemed that nobody realized. Just when I explained it to a friend, he said, “No wonder why I felt the song was a little bit short.” Maybe he also already forgot the complete compulsory song we used to sing all the time during our school days.
When for Indonesians here flag ceremony might be nostalgia of past time, it is not for the Afghan citizens. They don’t share the common memory of attending flag ceremony, the common history of independence struggle, or the common sense of celebrating the anniversary of the country they even have never been. Some of the Afghan children got bored quite easily in attending ceremony with language completely intelligible for them. The children then played by themselves when the Ambassador was reading the proclamation text.
The long-waited food session came afterwards. Before that, the embassy celebrated the monthly mass birthday for Indonesian community in Afghanistan. This is the only Indonesian embassy in my experience to have routine monthly mass birthday for the citizens. And, as one whose birthday was celebrated, I had the chance to cut the big birthday cake (marked with number 6 and 2 in red-and-white color). There are four Indonesians who were born in August. One 6-year-old boy, one 2-year-old girl, me, and one young embassy staff. It seemed that this month is the children’s birth month, as one friend joked.
I also got a present from the embassy. Guess what. A pink school bag with image of Japan superhero. Maybe the embassy wanted to remind me that it’s time to study again. It’s time to go to school again.
The food session was fabulous. I couldn’t help not to eat the rendang and krupuk snacks, plus yellow rice and crunchy lumpia. The Afghans didn’t take so much of the yellow rice, as they have their own national dish, the Kabuli rice. The embassy prepared both of Indonesian and Afghan dishes to cater everybody’s needs.
Children were the happiest among all. Everybody got gifts (including me with the pink school bag). The Afghan security guards also got red-and-white T-shirts which then they wore proudly when patrolling along the streets. And everybody went home with a fresh memory about Indonesia.