Saturday marked the start of Ramadan in Indonesia (in some countries it started on Friday). Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Each year the start date moves back by about 11 days. Muslims around the world usually refrain from eating, drinking (and I mean water or anything), having sex, gossiping, swearing or being negative during daylight hours. I’m not sure if you are allowed to gossip or be negative after sunset, but the eating, drinking and marital relations are a-okay. Ramadan is also a time for reflection and thinking of those less fortunate. Many Muslims will donate to charity during this time.
Many Peace Corps volunteers choose to fast during this time as well—to have the experience, integrate into their communities and bond with their host families. If you choose not to fast it’s important to eat discreetly. It’s not that non-Muslims aren’t allowed to eat, you just don’t want to be disrespectful to those who aren’t. I’ve heard that restaurants, if open, will put curtains in the windows so you can’t see people eating inside. Will and I have chosen to give it a try for the most part. Muslims will rise around 3am to eat breakfast before morning prayers and before any light in the sky. Will and I are not rising at 3am, but instead we are eating at 5am, so I guess that is kind of cheating. However we don’t eat again until 6pm like our host family.
Our first day of fasting was hard. Will and I each ate about half of a granola bar and a few sips of water in the middle of the day. For me it was because I felt like I was going to pass out at one point. I get really grumpy when I don’t eat too—which is not so great for Will. The festivities started around 2am, when neighborhood kids walk around the village banging drums to get everyone to wake up for the morning meal. I managed to go back to sleep…sort of. I got up at 5am to make some oatmeal and a peanut butter sandwich. I didn’t try hard enough to get Will up though, so he didn’t eat breakfast or drink water until much later in the day when I told him he really needed to at least drink water.
Will went to his school in the late morning (school is on break right now, but he had to get some documents signed) and I took a nap. Then when Will got home we got an exciting surprise because the Internet people showed up and started installing our DSL! Our first Ramadan miracle! We were so excited and it was just the mental boost I needed to get through that first day of fasting.
We got through the afternoon using our new Internet and reading (we are doing a Peace Corps Indonesia Ramadan book club and this week’s book is Middlesex). Around 4:30, we decided to go for a bike ride just to get out of the house during a cool part of the day and clear our heads. I also wanted to buy some eggs so I could make that 5am breakfast a hearty one. We made sure to get back in time to take a bath. I even put on a kind of nice shirt and a necklace in case breaking fast was ceremonial or a big deal. However, around 6pm, our family just started coming to the table and getting plates and told us we could eat. They went and sat down in front of the television to eat and we sat in our sitting room and ate. I’m not sure what I was expecting. The food wasn’t any different either, except that after dinner our host mom brought us some dates to eat. I think many people are careful not to push Islam on us, so we end up missing out on some cultural things—or maybe our family does their prayers individually and then they just eat dinner when it’s time. Or maybe since our host mom doesn’t do the cooking (the housekeeper does it all mid-day) mealtimes aren’t super special. Hard to say. We were happy to eat dinner and drink about two liters of water though!
The second morning I got up again at 5am, made scrambled eggs with basil and a little cheese we had from our last trip to a good grocery store, and toast with peanut butter. This was enough incentive to get Will to eat breakfast this time. We then went to the house of Will’s counterpart at about 6:30 and went to his farm with him where we harvested green beans. Green beans here are like one to two feet long—just thought I’d mention that. He gave us an arm full to take home along with two big papayas from his trees. After harvesting beans and riding our bikes about 4 miles, we had to drink more water when we got home (are you seeing a trend here?). Which we did. The rest of the day we’ve spent pretty much laying around as we don’t have the physical or mental ability to do much more than watch TV or read.
Today classes started back up. During fasting month, I have class from about 7:30 until 10:40 so it’s a short day, and by the time you start feeling dehydrated and hungry you’ve already gone home. It will be interesting to see how well we do on this since we already aren’t very strict. I would imagine as the days go on there will be more and more covert snacks and sips of water in our room. As one of my counterparts told me “It will be so hard for you because you don’t have the religious motivation to fast like Muslims.” So true. Okay, I’m off to secretly drink some more water. Wish us luck! Selamat puasa!