Friday, October 13, 2006

A fasting diary

I'm one of those people who probably would jump off the Brooklyn bridge, if everyone else was doing it. Not because I have to fit in, but because I really want to understand what other people are experiencing. At least, that's what I tell myself.

So I had to try fasting for Ramadan. Just to see what it was like.

Temptation: our home water dispenser

Ramadan fasting means no food or drink from dawn to dusk. I wasn't worried about the food part. But not drinking all day, during the dry season, with the sun beating down, when I get dehydrated just walking to work? I'm used to drinking a lot here, so that was going to be a challenge.

I prepared carefully, choosing a day when I didn't have any Indonesian classes or other activities, and I didn't have to work too late. I laid in a good supply of Indonesian teen-girl novels, my latest obsession (they're fun, easy to read, and conversational, so that someday I'll be able to talk like a normal person instead of a phrasebook). Most important, I would have sole command of the remote control, because Chad was doing some reporting in Yogya.

A good supply of teen-girl novels

Here's how it went:

3 a.m. Alarm goes off. I drag myself out of bed. 3 o'clock is well before dawn, but that's when people get up in order to complete breakfast and prayers in time. As I stagger to the kitchen I hear a booming voice from the nearest mosque, rousting the lazy and sleepy from their beds.

3:10 My meal is all planned out: a bowl of oats with milk and dates, a hard-boiled egg, papaya juice, and plenty of water.

3:30 Back to bed. I turn on a Ramadan TV variety show. These are a subset of the usual evening variety shows, done before a live audience and generally featuring some combination of skits, clowns, people in traditional Javanese garb, men dressed as women, contests, shouting, fart jokes, and music. I can't imagine watching something this hyperactive at this hour of the day. I flip around. More variety shows. A woman in heavy-duty Muslim garb giving a little lecture to an audience of women in headscarves. Then I hit the jackpot: a Ramadan soap opera!

Pintu Hidayah (The Door to God's Wisdom), one of my favorites

This one was about an evil man who sells his own daughter so he can buy a particularly ugly SUV. He gets killed in the end, which we all knew was going to happen. Unfortunately he doesn't get run over by his own SUV, which is how I would have written it.

5 a.m. Set alarm for 8 and drift off to sleep.

8 a.m. Getting woken up by an alarm twice in one morning stinks, but I have just a fraction of a doubt that maybe I have Indonesian class at 9 after all (the teachers come to our apartment so it's just a matter of waiting around to see). I'm already thirsty. Too late now! Get up, take a shower, start reading My Cousin is Gay.

9:47 No Indonesian class, which is a good thing because I'm sleepy and cranky and my brain is beginning to demand its morning cup of coffee.

11:08 Lips dry. Throat irritated. Jakarta smog amplifies thirst. The city is also a "heat island"; the concentration of buildings and paucity of greenery make it measurably hotter here than in the surrounding areas. Whose idea of a joke was it to make the conditions hardest in the place where the highest number of people live?

1:15 p.m. After drifting in and out of sleep, watching a lot of bad TV, and not making much progress on my book, I mobilize for work.

1:30 Catch a taxi to Palmerah Market, near my office. I only have 10,000 rupiah (about a dollar) so I have to take a cheapo Taksi Express, not a swanky Blue Bird. The key thing is, it has air conditioning so I can avoid losing fluids.

1:50 Buy a papaya at the market and walk down the alley to the Jakarta Post, trying not to sweat.

The alley behind the Post - a good place to see street vendors, cats, rats, garbage, laundry, and motorbikes

2:00 It's a relief to get to work, where I will be distracted. I feel pretty awake but headache-y. I sit down at my desk, get organized, log onto the computer, and promptly delete a bunch of stories I'm supposed to edit. I have to go to the Opinion desk with an apologetic face and ask them to re-send everything. Maybe I'm not feeling so awake after all.

4:43 I'm arguing with all our Opinion pieces in my head and counting the minutes until sunset. I know I'm thirsty but I don't really feel it anymore. I just feel really tired. Luckily I can still work effectively, or I'd feel honor-bound to cave in and break my fast early.

5:50 The call to prayer sounds from the nearby mosque. I look up and see a couple of people go quietly to the water coolers. I wait for a minute and go get a glass of water myself. Relief!

6:15 Eat some dates at my desk, followed by a peanut butter sandwich. Surprisingly, I'm not all that hungry.

7:52 Still feeling really tired, no doubt a result of the long thirst, the lack of coffee, and the disrupted sleep schedule all rolled into one.

At 9:00 I'm glad to go home. I try to read a little but I can't concentrate, so I go to bed early.

So that's a day of Ramadan fasting. And that's under exceedingly cushy conditions, of course; I was mostly lying around in my air-conditioned bedroom, not out doing road work in the sun or cooking in a hot kitchen or anything. On the other hand, I also didn't have the family, cultural and religious rewards people get from Ramadan. It wasn't terrible or anything; I could imagine doing it for a month if I had reason to. But since I don't, I'm going back to drinking water so I can walk to work, go to the gym, and keep my strength up for another day in the hot city.


Chad's Dad said...

I'm impressed! I listened to a women on NPR describing what the fasting is like. She said the first day is reall hard and then she gets used to it. She also felt like it was Christmas everyday because of all the family involvment which you were lacking. I don't know how she knew what Christmas everyday would be like.

ace said...

i'm very impressed, you remind me of someone very dear.


~big grin now.

m said...

great post! I've always wondered how people manage the "no water" part of the fast. I get headaches if I don't drink enough water, even in my colder climate. Doing that for a month in a hot climate -wow. I guess that's where one's faith comes in!

m said...

ps: i'd love to hear about some of those teen romance novels -- if you're actually able to read any of them all the way through...!

kopisusu2 said...

Thanks! Yes, I've heard the Christmas analogy, too. From what I know of Ramadan, I think it actually has a greater emphasis on family; people are getting together with family and friends all month for the pre-dawn meal and then the breaking of the fast. I'm a terrible grinch though; I get so turned off by the commercial hype around Christmas that I have a hard time seeing the good things about it.

Treespotter, I'm touched!

And Michele, yes, I'll talk about some of the teen novels at some point. I've finished a couple now and they were both pretty interesting. I'm really intrigued to see what My Cousin is Gay is like. (As for the title, books and magazine articles often have English titles, even though the text is Indonesian ... I guess it's cooler.)

crawdaddy said...

Super post.
My thirst for strange media has me on the edge of my seat wondering what those teen novels are like.
My Cousin is Gay?
And the Ramadan TV shows... I'm jealous.
Are these the equivalent to our Very Brady Christmas, John Denver with the Muppets, Charlie Brown (insert holiday here), Tonight on a very special holiday episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer kind of media?
I have to get you guys to dub some of this stuff.

Memento said...

i got your link from treespotter's blog and just wanna say: well done! :)

i fast and i'm not in indonesia. i think the hardest thing about fasting abroad is being woken up by alarm twice a day (as you wrote) and attending meetings where everybody drinks their coffee and eat cookies!

drbruce said...

Good work! One of my students who isn't a Muslim tried fasting a few weeks ago to see what it was like for those of us who are supposed to fast. She said that she liked it. The water thing is tough to get by, however, when you have to go out. Surprisingly, I find it easier to fast when I'm working than when I'm on vacation - like now.

kopisusu2 said...

Ah, Jason, you would love the TV here. There's just nothing like it in the States -- especially the sci-fi mystical Islamic soap operas where people turn into eagles and snakes and have epic battles in the clouds. We've tried a million ways to dub it through my videocam, but I think it doesn't speak Indonesian. I may have to break down and buy a doohickey for my computer. The world must see Indonesian television. (That means you, too, Michele.)

Welcome, Memento! Don't you find it hard to eat and then go back to bed? I don't like that feeling of sleeping on a full stomach. Offices are difficult. Those of us who aren't fasting at the Jakarta Post try to be discreet in our eating and drinking. But there are water coolers everywhere, and of course it's water than one wants most of all. And yes, DrBruce, I do think work is a distraction ... although for ojek drivers, construction workers and others out in the hot sun, it's not a good kind of distraction. No wonder they sleep in the afternoons!