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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ramadan 1- Zagat: Share Your Money

Ramadan has started. I think I’ll number these Ramadan blogs. Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. Another one is Zakat – a certain fixed portion of your wealth that every Muslim is obligated to pay to the poor in the Muslim community.

Ramadan began at sunset yesterday. By that time I had already fulfilled my obligation to the poor and gave them all my money. This is how it happened.

I was riding a bus to a nearby town. I had met a woman at my stop who had seen me many times but hadn’t talked to me. We sat together and talked. She insisted on paying for my bus fare – 40 cents. I gave her a little card out of my wallet that I had printed up that has my blog site listed on it and we exchanged telephone numbers. She lives in between my house and my school and works at the fisheries dept. for the county. I put my wallet back in my backpack and zipped it up. She got off first and told the guy at the back of the bus where I needed to get off.

Indonesians are very worried that you won’t know where to get off the bus. And in fact this is a concern. Buses don’t really stop. They do a rolling stop so that people can hop on or off and they can continue on their way – the more people you pick up, the more money you make. The back of the bus guy (who helps you on or off and collects your money) tapped me on the shoulder and had me move to a seat next to the back door. This is common. He didn’t want to keep that bus idle while an old lady, white person, who obviously doesn’t know what she’s doing tries to get off the bus. At the stop before mine – there are no pre-determined stops – you just get on or off where you need to – but generally there are certain places where people often get on or off – any way – he asked me to change places to the last row. That was unusual. In retrospect, he may have been trying to position me in a better way for what happened next.

I always travel with my backpack on my lap, my arms wrapped around it for security. If it’s crowded, I wear it on the front, not the back. On long trips I keep my money buttoned into a pocket on my pants.

I wasn’t as careful this time. This was not a crowded bus. I kept my arms around my backpack as we traveled, but as we approached my stop, he signaled me to stand up and I put my backpack on. As I walked off the bus; there was a woman in front of me and a man behind me.

As we got off the bus I was aware that there was a disturbance about the woman. Sixth sense kind of thing. She got off but then waited a bit. I turned and began smiling and speaking with her in Bahasa – I’m a teacher. I’m from America, etc. Her face looked like this was a terrifying moment in her life. She clearly didn’t expect me to turn around and signal her out of the crowd of people and speak with her in her language. A motorcycle whipped around in traffic and picked her up. I was mildly aware that she and the man behind me were together but he totally blended in and didn’t stick out in my mind at all.

A real professional.

I walked about 5 or 10 minutes to a side street – not many people on the road and as I walked into the neighborhood a woman came running up to me and told me that my backpack was unzipped. I thanked her and zipped it back up. If there’s heavy stuff it sometimes comes unzipped, but there was no heavy stuff but I didn’t think anything about it. Angela, the PCV who leaves near me and I went to visit the new baby that her counterpart had. He is my vice principal’s best friend and we had spent some time together in Malang and I had been to his home before, the day we all went to the beach together. I had brought a gift for the baby. They had invited me to the 7 day old hair cutting, traditional blessing ceremony but I hadn’t been able to come. The baby was now 2 weeks old and a real cutie. Afterwards I wanted to pay for our lunch but when I looked for my wallet it wasn’t there.

I called our PC Security person, went to the police station and filled out an official form telling them that my American VISA card, my Indonesian ATM card, my Indonesian Univ. of Mohamadiah ID card and about $60.00 were stolen. This is a pretty significant amount of money – at my current rate of spending – it’s about a month’s worth of my average modest living. (My kids already know this – I am cheap. I just hardly spend any money on myself. I like to save it in case I need it, or someone else needs it.) It was so helpful to have Angela’s host sister there to translate everything. And Angela helped me get all the addresses I needed and we mailed the official document to PC in Surabaya. My daughter has cancelled the credit card, PC had the Indonesian bank call me to cancel the ATM card and it’s all taken care of.

Here’s how I think it happened. The guy who collects money on the back of the bus was a part of it. He had me stand up early, behind the girl, who made it look like standing up early was a part of what you do. I stood on the steps with the professional guy above and behind me. He must have unzipped my backpack while I standing there or as I was getting off the bus and took the wallet which was on top of the baby present.

So I’ve given my money away.

My host father felt awful. Held his hands in front of his face and told me that he was embarrassed for Indonesia. He feels that his job is to protect me from the evil in the world. Our home is a security fortress of locks and double locks and a big wall with broken glass imbedded in the top of the 10 foot concrete wall and barbed wire strung above that. I have heard the “Be careful” commandment every day from him before I leave the house.

I had some extra money stashed at home. I keep delaying making the decision about buying the bicycle, so I have plenty to hold me over till I get a new bank card – it’s supposed to happen in 10 – 14 days, but it could take a month or so.

As an interesting side note – while my daughter was in Africa, she also had her credit card stolen. I knew something was wrong – maybe this sixth sense thing is common in our family – asked the kids on my school bus to say a prayer / good thoughts for her (1st and only time I’ve ever done that.) and called Peace Corps in Washington DC (1st and only time for that too.) just to make sure they had my cell phone number correct. Then out of the blue, about an hour later she called me and told me what had happened. I told her not to get so upset, that I had lost my ID several times in life, and it can all be handled and that I had felt the trauma half way around the world.

I have now been lectured by many people about security and I assure you, I am, probably, the person best able to give the security lecture!

And I will be safe. The zakat is a yearly obligation and its fine with me if I get to voluntarily decide who gets it next year.

And all this does fit in with my philosophy of nothing happens by mistake. I learned a valuable lesson, will share the lesson with my fellow PCV’s and the “accomplice” girl on the bus was clearly being presented with a moment in which she can choose an outcome for the rest of her life. As I begin this month of prayer and sacrifice, she’s the one I’m praying for.

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