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.”

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Reflections on Air Travel as a Mother of Young Children

Just got the news our Visas are approved for Perth, Australia! So, in anticipation of the packing and hauling of young children from yet one continent to another, in search of the elusive 'rest and relaxation' (kind of feel like we are looking in earnest for the Fountain of Youth, or the City of Gold), I offer up this oldie but goody reflection of travel from the eyes of a jaded maternal expat:

I have always felt safe in airports. No matter where you are in the world, if you’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all. Happy to have more security now, I do miss the days before September 11, when I was able to talk myself on to a plane using a Costco card with a grainy black and white picture as my sole form of ID. These days, you need to have your passport locked and loaded as you meander down the terminal, since they check it at every bend in the hallway. It’s as if they are afraid you entered as Dr. Jekyll, but now have turned into Mr. Hyde.

As for x-ray machines and security, now days I’m afraid I’ll forget to stop undressing once I get started. First the coat, then the shoes, then the belt; sometimes I’m so distracted with kids, computers and cell phones, I’m afraid I’ll just take my pants off and fold them neatly in the tray before anyone can stop me.

I am thankful that during the early years of my working motherhood, while I was nursing an infant, the security measures weren’t quite as stringent as they are now. In this day and age, not only would I have had to prove that the laptop computer I was carrying worked, but also the breast pump slung over my other shoulder. Why bother camouflaging it in a black simulated leather carrier if I’m just going to have to demonstrate it in front of one hundred of my closest friends in the middle of the terminal? Back in the day, I only had to utter the phrase ‘breast pump’ to the teenage boy disguised as a security guard when asked what type of equipment I was packing. He would come close to passing out thinking about the whole ordeal and wave me through. I could have been carrying a bazooka in the other hand for all he cared, he just wanted me out of there.

The joys of early motherhood and air travel never cease. When my first son was an infant, I would travel from Northern to Southern California for a day every week as part of my job. Trying to be a good mom, I was set on nursing, even after the first time my husband walked in on me pumping at our house and suggested something about being in a dairy. In order to perform this dignified task on the road, I purchased a cigarette lighter adapter for the car so I could pump in the relative privacy of my rental cars in between racing from airport to office and back again. Unfortunately, people are naturally curious. Why did it seem when I parked to pump in an empty lot, that particular bush next to the car was the one the gardener needed to trim at that moment? How many times had I parked in a field next to the airport to pump, only to attract other drivers who were wondering what I was looking at? Casing new office buildings and exhibit halls for bathroom stalls with access to an electric outlet for the pump became second nature, just as I’m sure CIA staff feel when they check building perimeters for points of entry.

As my kid, and subsequent kids got older, I started hauling children with me across the United States, and then between continents. We usually lucked out with bulkhead seating, where I would unload fifty pounds of snacks, books, puzzles and toys and like the pied piper of Northwest Airlines, attract every other child under the age of three to my ad hoc in flight babysitting service.

I’ve had friends who have successfully fed their children various medicines promising drowsiness to make for an enjoyable flight. I held out for a long time, relying on a new toy, piece of candy or promise of all the juice they wanted on the plane to keep my kids in line. Then I had to fly by myself from Cairo, Egypt to Seattle, Washington with a three year old, a one year old and the suspicious feeling I was pregnant again.

A friend gave me a few sea sickness pills that had conked her kid out for eight hours straight. I tried it on the one year as soon as I entered the first plane back to the good ol’ U.S. While I could have served drinks off his head he was so asleep, it only lasted one hour; not even enough to get us to Amsterdam. I gave up. I paced the airplanes for twelve hours straight, trying to keep a very active little boy occupied. I read stories, played with playdo, threw imaginary baseballs to pretend homerun hitters in an attempt to distract him from the X-Men movie playing on the screen right in front of our bulkhead seats. Wouldn’t you know that 45 minutes before landing on American soil, both the baby and the preschooler passed out, leaving me to heft two babies, one stroller, two carseats and various bags like some sort of alpaca off the plane.

For all the flying I have done, however, I feel I’ve survived everything those in the aviation business cared to throw at me. Man who only speaks Farsi having a seizure on the plane? Been there. Three hours from landing with only wine and Coke left to drink while I was six months pregnant? Yep. Security guards in small Egyptian airport decided they’d been working enough and shut off metal detector before everyone had gone through? Oh yeah. Lifting too many heavy bags at security that it put me into premature labor? Also, yes. Watching the stewardess give up when she couldn’t figure out how to secure a door during take off? Uh huh. Survived my three year old lugging a cap gun in his back pack through U.S. security when the guards drew their real guns and alarms went off? Oh wait, that was my husband.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Indonesian Language Lesson Number Two

Language lesson number two:

Max makan Alpo saja. Max eats dog food only.

Max tidak makan makanan rakyat. Max does not eat food from the dinner table.

Max makan makanan bakyat buat Max bau jekel. If you feed Max food from the dinner table, he stinks.

Love those German Shepherds! One of the traits of the dog breed happens to be a nervous stomach. Since their tail hangs low and is tucked under the body most of the time, if the stool happens to be a little ‘loose’ and sticks to the fur under the tale, it is difficult for air to get there and dry it out, hence the stinkiness.

None of the Internet sites, dog breed books or owners mentioned this unique characteristic of the animal.

I spent about two weeks in Boise, Idaho wiping one of our Shepherd’s butts, and vowed not to do it ever again. So, now it is Rob’s turn. Part of ensuring the dog’s constitution stays healthy is feeding it only things made to be digested by it. There is no ScienceDiet or Eukanuba here, only Alpo. Many breeders and dog owners will tell you that this is not a very high quality food, and may cause problems. Mix in the nanny who hates to see food go to waste, and we have one happy, albeit stinky, dog.

I really think Rob’s big fear is the fact that if bacteria start breeding in that area, there is a chance the glands will get swollen and someone will need to pop the resulting abscess. There are no veterinarians here and I think I can successfully argue that Rob has had more CPR and first aid training than me, so guess who should perform that lovely procedure?

Happy Monday!