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