Friday, October 06, 2006

Ramadan is Here

In case you weren’t aware, we are right in the heat of Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims, as they take special time for worship and contemplation.

Unlike living in Cairo, which was fairly cosmopolitan compared to Banda, everyone here is expected to either live by Ramadan rules, or respect those who do by not partaking in any unallowable behaviors in public during the fasting times. This means no eating, drinking or smoking in public until sundown. At this time, and all through the night until sunrise, the fast is broken and families and friends get together to eat, pray and celebrate during the night.

This means most stores are closed during the day until late afternoon and there are only a handful of restaurants catering to the International community which are open during the day. These restaurants have their blinds drawn so those on the street can’t see in. There is a sign on one of these restaurants specifying that no Muslims will be served lunch throughout Ramadan. Actually, this same restaurant got raided by the Sharia police just this Tuesday and has been forced to close now until 4pm each day during Ramadan. Not much freedom of religion here!

Rob and the other expats have been requested not to eat in their offices during Ramadan in consideration of the local staff. Since there are very few restaurants open (and less every day, by the looks of it), there aren’t many choices for eating. Expats are sneaking into offices with doors to shove food in their mouths before returning to their desks for work. Rob has lost about 20 pounds because it’s impossible to maintain a 6’6” man on Cup of Soups for lunch.

It’s to a point where I won’t let the boys buy a Fanta at the store to drink since we are ‘outsiders’ and even though they are kids, you hate to offend anyone. It’s only been since the tsunami since many foreigners have been able to live in this area, because of the fighting between political parties. I’m just trying to walk the straight and narrow.

It’s taken me about a week to feel comfortable eating in my own home, since I’ve got quite the staff of Muslim personnel milling about, and I’ve forgone my morning cup of instant coffee in the car as we are driven to Kyle’s school. Haven’t had this much abstinence since Lent!

In Egypt I remember my horse riding instructor Ismail smoking an extra pack of cigarettes a day during Ramadan just to help keep his mind off food. There, I guess it was okay to smoke, or at least there was a little more freedom for personal interpretation of the rules.

I remember how stupid I was at Jared’s second birthday party when one of his Egyptian friends came over and I kept offering his mother food and drink, trying to be a good hostess, forgetting she couldn’t do either. Actually, I forgot and did the same to the Bahasa Indonesian teacher who has been coming to the house. Duh! Habits are hard to break.

One similarity between both countries is the fact that business slows down considerably. Most offices are only open until 3:00pm each day, and start times are much later, as well. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to Rob or many of the other expats. I still start my phone calling around 6pm to remind Rob that it’s dinner time and gee, it would be really nice to see him sometime during the day.

It has been quite a transformation here. There is no morning traffic, since the fast resumes at 5am and most people are probably worn out from nights of eating and praying. It is dangerous to be on the streets approaching sundown, as people race to get home in time to break the fast.

At sundown, a horn that sounds like an air raid siren goes off signaling it is okay to eat. At this time you could lay down in the road and not get hit, as there are no cars or motorcycles on the street, since everyone is eating. I’ve given up trying to get to yoga class, since it’s impossible to find a bechak (sidecar) driver who isn’t eating or praying, and I don’t dare get stuck somewhere away from home; visions of screaming babies and morose boys fill my anxious mind.

Before Ramadanthere were prayer calls in the morning, noon, and sundown. During Ramadan there are prayer calls all during the night. And a prayer call is an Imam (Islamic prayer leader) or recording of an Imam being broadcast on loudspeakers for all to hear, regardless if it is at noon, 11pm, 3am or 5am. In Egypt this was usually greeted with a cacophony of stray dogs singing along. I’ve started sleeping with a pillow over my head again.

One of the expats at the office told of how careful he had been to find a house that wasn’t near any mosques, just to find out that during Ramadhan, they open new ‘contracted’ mosques and one happened to be right next door.

If it isn’t the neighborhood mosque waking you up, it’s the guards as their friends and family bring them food during the night and they sing along to their radios, talk and have a good time. Now is the time I wish we had a little more insulation than what concrete block walls have to offer.

Oh well, another week and then it’s a two day holiday which here translates into an entire week of no working as everyone celebrates. You’ve got to love a country that honors religious holidays for Muslims, Christians and Buddhists. Not only do they recognize the Ascension of Mary, but it is a non working holiday. Now, if they would just recognize Jewish holidays, we’d only have to work half the year!

As they say here during Ramadan; “maaf lahir dan batin” “May you be forgiven for anything that may have hurt you.”

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