I have to say today marks the first day that I woke up to realize I’d overslept…and the time on the clock read 4:30 AM. But today is Day 5 of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, and my entire schedule has been shifted. I decided to join the fast with my family this year, mostly for community integration and to understand what people around me are experiencing. I also wanted to see if I could do it, and even though I’m lacking the spiritual motivation stemming from an Islamic command to fast, I still find spiritual significance in my fast since Christians fast too. Anyway, I’ve been anticipating Ramadan for a while now, mostly excited, a little nervous about how my body would handle the fast…and I came down with my first illness two days before the holy month started. (No sooner do I blog about being healthy and it comes back to bite me.) After unattractively vomiting in front of a dozen teachers and probably 100 students – which, incidentally, would make a great ‘most embarrassing moment’ story since I can never remember mine but honestly I wasn’t embarrassed as much as miserable because I was 45 minutes from home and feeling like I would die – I spent two days in bed, feverous, unable to keep anything down. I resorted to texting a PCV friend to send an SOS email to my parents to call me, since there’s nothing worse than being sick in a foreign country when you can’t speak the language (thanks for the call, Mom! Made me feel much better). And the medical advice and treatments I were offered were quite different than what I’m used to…and pretty funny. Everyone agreed that the wind had entered me, causing my illness. Oils are commonly used to treat all kinds of ailments here, and my ibu gave me oil to rub on my stomach – literally “Wind Oil.” The bottle reads, “Giving a refreshing cold sensation, relieves headache, dizziness, stomach disorders, motion sickness, and influenza symptoms.” Wow, all of that from a dab of oil? Well, it didn’t cure my stomach bug but it did help with nausea and there was a refreshing cold sensation. My family was shocked and scandalized that I wouldn’t eat, and each time my ibu heard me vomit into my trash can (part of following a blog of PCV means you get to hear all the disgusting details) she asked if I wanted to eat. “Of course not, that’s ridiculous, I am clearly puking my guts out,” I thought, but I just politely said, “Nanti,” (“Later”). Even so, my sweet and extremely concerned family bought me lots of food, including seaweed flavored popcorn, to make me feel better. After consuming 2 liters of Oral Rehydration Salts, which taste like they sound – like seawater – I recovered and got to join the fast a day late.
Back to Ramadan, it falls during the ninth month on the lunar calendar that Islam follows. This means the actual dates change year to year. During Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours from food, water, sex, and mostly importantly, cigarettes. Side note: almost every Indonesian male smokes cigarettes, and there are no regulations about non-smoking areas. This means I’m inhaling a lot of secondhand smoke…outside, inside, in the teacher’s room, in my house. There’s not much I can do about it except be grateful that Ramadan provides a break from that! I digress. In addition to fasting, Ramadan is a month to focus on charity, helping others, purifying oneself, etc. It’s a little like Lent, but with a lot more rules. The first meal of the day is called Sahur and it begins at 3 AM. Each morning my ibu or bapak knocks on my day and I arise, bleary-eyed, to stumble to the kitchen and stuff as much food into myself as I can. If I can, I sleep again around 4 for a couple hours until it’s time to wake up and get ready for school. The school days are shortened during Ramadan for the sake of all the fasting students and teachers. Then it’s back home to rest, read, and wait six more long hours until Maghrib, the second meal of the day when we break – or as Indonesians say buka (open) – our fast. The time for Maghrib also changes day to day so we usually watch television to track the little countdown (think New Year’s Eve for a whole month) until it’s time to eat again. So far, we’ve broken fast between 5:30 and 6 PM putting the total fasting hours at around 14+ hours. The best part of breaking fast is that we usually have special drinks, like iced tea or coconut milk concoctions. After eating we retire to the living room to snack…apparently you can’t eat too much food in between Maghrib and Sahur. Then my family all goes to the musholla (small mosque) to pray for an hour or so in the evening, leaving one person (besides me) home to guard the house. I usually hit the sack between 7 and 8 (I know, unheard of, it’s hard to believe this was several hours before most of my floor meetings started when I was a RA in college). Sleep. Repeat.
So how am I doing? Remarkably well. With my previous experience fasting I’ve always had headaches, difficulty concentrating, overall irritation, etc. I actually haven’t experienced any of this (yet?). The hardest part for me is waking up at 3 am and stuffing myself full of food before I feel remotely hungry. Then I get pretty hungry around lunch time but it wears off mid-afternoon. (The second hardest part is trying to take a nap on an empty stomach. I really need to develop this skill ASAP or I will be sleep deprived for the rest of the month.) I did have another bout of nausea yesterday (perhaps related to fasting, perhaps related to lack of sleep?) so I took another day off fasting. We’ll see how many days in a row I can do, and if I experience any more problems. Hopefully not! It’s been a neat experience so far, although I won’t be sad to see the end of Ramadan when I get to sleep in until a luxurious 5:30 AM.
In other news, I’ve still only taught 3 classes (and that was only the introduction to classroom rules) so things are still moving at a glacial pace school-side. Tomorrow we are supposed to pick up where we left off and then have shortened classes for the next couple weeks before we get a two-week break for the end of Ramadan. All in all, it’s almost like having a summer break back in the states. I’m anxious to get started but I’m practicing patience…and honestly my fasting self will appreciate the shorter classes. J
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