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Millions of Indonesians Celebrate End of Ramadan - 2003-11-22

Millions of people are on the move this weekend in Indonesia as the cities empty for the Lebaran holiday, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. The chaos has some unexpected benefits for those who stay behind.

Another train packed with holidaymakers pulls out of Jakarta's Gambir station. Some three million people are expected to leave Jakarta over the next couple of days, part of a nationwide exodus of more than 20 million.

The country's transportation system all but collapses. Hawkers at Gambir were offering tickets at double their face value to those who did not have the chance to reserve seats in advance.

Jakarta's daily traffic jams, known as "macet," evolve into the legendary annual "macet total," when every route out of the city is gridlocked. Two years ago some people were stuck in their immobile vehicles for 48 hours straight.

The nine-day Lebaran holiday marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, which falls next Tuesday. People leave the cities to go back to their home villages laden with new clothes and other presents for their families.

For many, it will be the only time they see their relatives all year. Thousands of people come to the city in search of work, leaving wives, husbands or children behind. They send what money they can back to the countryside, but for most, the cost of traveling home more than once a year is too expensive.

For those who remain in Jakarta, the city has some surprises in store. The raucous chaos of one of Southeast Asia's most vibrant cities takes on a gentler cast as the holiday calm settles.

The pall of pollution that usually hangs over the city lifts, giving spectacular views of the mountains to the South and the sea to the North, and allowing hard-pressed residents to breathe a little easier.

After the holiday, Jakarta will pick itself up again with renewed vigor, refreshed by the holiday and reinforced with tens of thousands of new people, who, impressed by the tales of possibility spun by their visiting relatives, decide to take their own chance in the big city.