I arrived at my permanent site June 21st. Ramadan didn’t begin until July 8th/9th so there was plenty of time to meet people, settle in, move about, and explore. Sort of.
School was still on vacation when I arrived and there were no small humans in my household. This made it particularly difficult to make friends. At my last house (and in many other situations in my life), I made friends with the small humans roaming around (you all met Noreen and Safa in previous posts). Once the locals see you are in good with the little ones, that endears you to them and you start to befriend their parents. It’s a nice little niche I’ve found for myself as a faux Mary Poppins. This doesn’t exactly work when there are no small humans. Since I also had not started teaching, my exposure to other teachers was limited. This put the kibosh on a ton of immediate teacher friends.
This is something we were sort of warned about. If perhaps less by PC officially and more by current volunteers. Be warned: Ramadan is Coming. What does that mean for us non-Muslim volunteers?
Well, we are given the option to fast or not. Most of you probably don’t actually know what fasting is in this context, as I certainly did not. It is not the lack of eating for days on end, but instead the lack of eating, drinking, smoking, and other things from Sahur (Vocab: the early morning prayer, this happens around 4:30a) to Maghrib (Vocab: the evening prayer, it happens around 6p). The no eating isn’t that much of a challenge for me. For those of you who are in theatre I think we can all recall at least one 14-15 hour work day during tech week in which we forgot to eat. I know I can. I often forget to drink water unless reminded. (I know, I’m a goldfish.) But here, 7 degrees above the equator, a day without water is a little more daunting. I would happily give up food for an extra few hours if it meant I could drink water all day. The result is staggering. I don’t really leave my house much and the bike ride to school seems arduous and daunting (a mere kilometer at most). People take a lot of naps and there’s not a lot else that’s done. Soooo, I watch movies. I sit. I read. I go to class occasionally, though not to teach. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.
New question: Why do they fast? Very good question, reader! It’s important to understand the why before you jump into the do. Well, I was informed that Muslims fast during Ramadan in order to better understand the suffering of those less fortunate. How can you truly want to give to the poor if you have never felt hunger like they feel it? Seems like a legit reason, so, I figured why not ikut! (Vocab: follow) It also helps that fasting is a great way to ingratiate myself to my host family and my friends. It’s a way for me to participate and belong in a place where I am so often the outsider.
But now we’re here, in the midst of Ramadan. I’m always thirsty and my tolerance for other human beings dwindles to near-nothing. I fail to see, at present, why Peace Corps chooses to send volunteers into this environment to begin service. I don’t see a viable alternative as of yet, but trust me, I’m looking.
So, I still go to school on occasion, if only to remind myself I might be useful someday. I talk to the classes and say hi to the kids. I’ve already promised to help with English Club, Theatre Club, and to learn Pencak Silat (the local martial art) with the kids twice a week. On top of that I’ll be teaching more than I’m supposed to every week with classes I’m not really supposed to teach. It will either be really good or really bad, only time will tell. But none of this starts until mid to late August (no one really knows because schedules aren’t really a thing here).
Sit back, folks, because we will continue to wait. My blog will continue to be boring because I will likely continue to do nothing until the fasting month is over. We will all be happy to know that Ramadan is followed by what I understand to be a week-long party known as Idul Fitri. This is where most people return to their original villages and visit. There is supposed to be a great deal of parties and eating. The next week is one of the biggest holidays in Indonesia: Hari Raya or Independence Day.
I know that we have a thing for the Fourth of July in America. For those of us who aren’t the most patriotic we take a day to ignore all the things that piss us off and focus on all the good America can do. For the already bleeding red, white, and blue it’s a day to hoot and holler about how proud you are of your country. Super. We drink, we have a BBQ, we watch fireworks (or maybe burn ourselves trying to light our own), and we have a grand ol’ time. But do any of us remember a time we weren’t free? Do any of us actually trace the pride we carry to fighting for our freedom from the British? Naw. Not really, no. On the Fourth of July here the most common question I got was: How old is your country today? And you know what? I didn’t know. I had to do the math. (237 years old. I know that now.) Indonesia is 68 years old. That’s younger than my grandmother. There are people alive who were born in a Dutch occupied Indonesia. There are people whose parents remembered it. Needless to say (any more than I already have) Hari Raya is a big freaking deal and I’m kind of stoked.