A few weeks ago we celebrated Eid Al Fitr, or what is known in Indonesia as Lebaran, the holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan. But a curious thing was happening before the end of this holiday was upon us. A few weeks before the holiday itself, as fasting was upon our stomachs and drums were to wake us upon the nights… sellers of money began to pop up along the side of the road.

Money? Why would one need to sell money? A curious question indeed. What began as a speck here and there, turned into a trickle, and sprung into entire roadways paved with money sellers trailing down the sides. Arm stretched out, holding clear plastic sleeves of various Rupiah denominations.

 

Woman holding out packets of crispy money for sale
“Uang Lebaran” being sold on the side of the stret

 

The answer lies in the holiday itself! Lebaran is a time to return home, visit relatives, and pass along “Uang Lebaran” which is money for family and sometimes friends. These gifts of currency are generally dispensed to children or others. Recipients will fluctuate according to various cultures and differential Muslim practices around the world where sometimes it is always elders who dispense money to younger, and sometimes it is those who are working who dispense to those who do not. Regardless it is a gift, and like all gifts we like them to look nice. There are a calculated 17.6 million Indonesians who set out for travel this past season. What they hope to bring with them is beautiful, crisp rupiahs they will be handing out in colorful, beautiful envelopes. Thus the bountiful amount of money sellers.

As Eid got closer, the streets got clustered
As Eid got closer, the streets got clustered

If your money is stored with the bank, you can absolutely go claim your fresh rupiah bills at your local branch. But beware! If you’re not early enough you may miss out on your claim. We arrived at our bank in the early morning and as we were handed our fresh, crisp 5.000 IDR bills (that’s not a typo, we use . instead of , for separating our numbers in Indonesia) a woman next to us requested the same only to be told “Sorry, that was the last of our bills.” Had we not been able to obtain some fresh ones, we may have gone back to literally laundering our money, something we had to do in the past to our U.S. bills we’d brought. In Indonesia, U.S. currency is graded based on its year of print and condition of the paper which we learned the hard way.

Ironing board with a bucket of water, iron, and bowl of USD soaking in water
Literally. We washed and ironed it and everything.

Some interesting aspects of the economic implications of the holiday are covered in this article. One of which is the common attribute of increased eating and spending during the month of Ramadan. This is in spite of the fact that the month itself is reserved for self control, tolerance, discipline, and spiritual cleansing in order to become closer to Allah. This rise in indulgent behavior has been pointed out to me from many native Indonesians I’ve had the pleasure of acquainting. Some even attest to those gaining weight due to the lavish and abundant spreads made to break the daily fast called Iftar. The hypocrisy can be mirrored in America’s Thanksgiving holiday which is abruptly followed up, if not overshadowed, by the spirit of Black Friday. Funny.

So now you know more about how to launder and sell money for money here in Indonesia! You’re welcome.

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