These are two of my fellow teachers, Ms. Cois (Joyce) and Ms. Nikmah. Cois is the newest teacher at my school. Yea! Not me! And I helped her learn the names for the other teachers and showed her around a bit. Ms. Nikmah is my team teacher for English class 11 - so 7 times a week we go together to teach an hour long class and then she stays and teaches the students English for another 3 hours each week.
These are 11th grade girls from my school in 100 degree heat and maximum humidity, marching for 2 hours with no break for water or to stand "at ease." Teachers had been assigned to go with the students who were in different groups - boys first, then groups of girls. ALL of the teachers rode motorcycles, following the students, except for Cois and I. She walked almost 3/4 of the way before accepting the motorcycle ride. I walked the full way, because in Peace Corps we're not allowed to ride motorcycles and because I wanted to see what was happening and because I CAN. I mean, I really can walk and lots of people here simply aren't able... well it is hot and I did have to wear my jilbab and long skirt and long sleeve shirt because this was a school function, but it was so fun.
My group of girls was awesome. This idea of wearing their father's Muslim hats on top of their jilbabs with the red and white ribbon (the flag of Indonesia is a red stripe over a white stripe) was a brilliant idea and they really did look great! The students at my school have been practicing for days to get their marching really snappy. A leader gives a command, the 2nd in charge marching at the back repeats it and exactly 4 steps later, they all in unison, turn, or stop or move slightly to the side or fan out into a wing shape. It's impressive!
My town held the 17th of August - Indonesia Independence Day activities early because Aug 17 is during Ramadan when almost everyone will be fasting and not drinking water from prayers before dawn till prayers after dark.
Here's the information from the last Peace Corps newsletter:
- Fasting. Observant Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from sun-up to sun-down. It is not compulsory for non-Muslim Indonesians to fast, but it is considered respectful to not eat or drink in front of fasting friends or colleagues. Sexual contact, being angry, gossiping, cursing (in any language!), and smoking is also forbidden/frowned upon during the day.
- Why? The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also allows Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity. Fasting is meant to teach the Muslim patience, modesty and spirituality. During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.
- Common customs:
• Greetings: "Selamat Berpuasa!" This means the opposite of Selamat Makan, something like "enjoy your fast" or "enjoy your faith." This is said throughout the day.
• Exceptions. Men and women who are sick or travelling may choose to not fast. This goes for women who are menstruating, nursing, or pregnant also. Usually they'll make up the days after Ramadhan is over. Children up to the age of about 12 are not expected or required to fast a full day, though they may try -- with their parents' encouragement.
• Break Fast. "Berbuka." It’s the best time during the day, and is signaled by the setting sun, sirens, television programs and a call to prayer. Everybody will really prepare for it, making and consuming a delicious meal after a long day of fasting. At breakfast, the greeting is "Selamat Berbuka Puasa" which essentially means "enjoy your food!"
• Midnight wake up call. It can be quite disturbing -- bells, loudspeakers, banging pans -- usually from 2 am until sunrise. It is not compulsory to join sahur (that’s the meal time before sunrise), but many join in because it makes the fasting day easier.
• Sleepy & irritable. Everybody (especially students) will feel sleepy in class as a result for waking up in the middle of the night, and having an altered routine. You may find that people have short tempers as well -- part of the fasting challenge :) -- usually a result of fatigue and hunger.
• Fireworks (kembang api). For your own safety and everbody elses, avoid playing with fireworks of all kinds. Especially "petasan/mercon" (the ones which make loud noise). These two are extremely dangerous and every year people are actually killed or hurt by them.
• Television. Families often have the TV on in the late afternoon as they prepare their berbuka, and into the evening when there is special Ramadhan programming.
• Night prayers. About an hour after fasting break, people often will go to the mosque to do Sholat Tarawih. These are special prayers, done only during Ramadhan. Some people, will stay in the mosque to read Koran after Tarawih.
• Charity. In the last days of Ramadhan, you may see people giving rice or money to the Mosque for distribution to the poor.
• Idul Fitri. The big celebration at the end of Ramadhan begins with early morning prayers, visiting one another to ask for forgiveness of past wrongs, and more food! Parents and other adults often give small amounts of money to children who come to visit.
I plan to fast as well. At least to the best of my ability. I may need to drink a little water in private (in the bathroom at the school.) The teachers have told me that we do reduced time periods so the students go home early to rest and during the last week of the fasting month there are no classes and some of the PCV's (and me too!) are planning a trip to Bali then. Our 3 months of mandatory "stay at your sites, do not travel, integrate into your communities" time will be over and quite honestly I am longing for a hamburger and a conversation in which I understand everything that is being said and I want to see some of this beautiful country that I've assigned to. Walking can only get me so far!
Just another little bit of update. I am not allowed to teach in the pre-school near my home. Peace Corps supervisors came and visited my site. Playgroups & pre-schools in Indonesia are real schools and in our agreement at the National level we are only allowed to teach in the one school to which we are assigned. Yes, you did hear a sigh as I wrote this. Oh well. Do what they want me to do and see what happens. Sometimes I have to trick my mind into acceptance. It goes something like this: Maybe by not teaching the little ones, I will be free to do something else which would be even more satisfying! So I just need to keep my eyes open for the even better idea that the Universe has in mind for me!