November 4, 2016

All dressed up

Written by  Sadie Beiler
YES team members dress up for Kartini Day. Left to right: Colin, Jacob, Mollie, Sadie. YES team members dress up for Kartini Day. Left to right: Colin, Jacob, Mollie, Sadie. Photo provided by the author.

This article appears in the November/December 2016 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.

One of the unexpected joys of cross-cultural missions is celebrating new holidays that you’ve never heard of before. As soon as I learned about Kartini Day, I couldn’t wait to celebrate it.

Raden Adjeng Kartini (1879–1904) was an early Southeast Asian feminist who worked to improve the low status of her country’s women. Among other things, she fought for women’s rights to education. She is now much-beloved, and since 1964 her birthday, April 21, has been a national holiday. Even the kindergarteners at the school where we volunteered planned to celebrate in style — so that meant the Southeast Asia YES team was celebrating too!

I love preparing for big events, so I enjoyed every minute of our two-week preparation for Kartini Day. My YES teammates and I made all the decorations at the kindergarten — bright signs with big letters, colorful cutouts of butterflies, hearts, stars, and doilies to hang up, and shiny paper chains. When the decorations were finally finished and hung, it was a beautiful riot of color.

Dressing up

I was especially excited to be included in the next step of celebrating Kartini Day: dressing up in traditional Southeast Asian outfits. My teammate Mollie and I were dressed in sparkly tops with long sleeves of lace and flowing patterned skirts. The outfit was lovely, though very hot to wear. Getting your makeup and hair done professionally is essential (even for our young students!), so Mollie and I went to a small salon in the village. The cosmetologist did a wonderful job and was so kind to us, saying we had beautiful hair. Other women in the salon were getting makeovers to make their skin look as white as possible. Many women there long for white skin — personally, I think their darker skin is beautiful.

When we were all dressed up, we met up with our YES teammates Jacob and Colin, who were dressed in traditional male outfits: a plain dark jacket with large buttons, colorful sarongs tied around their waists, and bright turban-style hats. They didn’t choose to wear makeup — even though sometimes on special occasions the men do.

A flower garden of children

It was time to celebrate at the kindergarten! Teachers, kids, parents, and community members all gathered for the party. The children resembled a flower garden, all dressed in their traditional garb from various parts of Southeast Asia. We held a fashion show so that the kids could display their beautiful costumes. There were songs, speeches, and lots of pictures taken. Everyone paraded through the streets in celebration. And of course there was delicious food at the end — chicken, soup with rice, a fruit drink, and other traditional Southeast Asian foods.

How special it was to be welcomed into such an important celebration among my Southeast Asian friends! It was meaningful to share their excitement and customs. For me, Kartini Day was a day to remember.

Sadie Beiler served on a 2015-16 YES Southeast Asia team along with three other teammates. Sadie lives in Mifflinburg, Pa.

This article appears in the November/December 2016 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.

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