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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ramadan 5 – Independence Day

Yesterday was the Indonesian 4th of July. There was no school but all the students and teachers were required to assemble in a field about a half hour from the school. There were many other schools there. All the students stood in lines with their schools and classes and all the teachers stood in rows together. Women on one side, men on the other. Every single teacher (except me) – there were hundreds, wore the same identical shirt. I have seen this shirt on Batik Friday and Saturdays. It’s light blue and printed with squares showing the national eagle and the 5 sided symbol of the 5 principles of Indonesia:
1. Belief in the one and only God,
2. Just and civilized humanity.
3. The unity of Indonesia,
4. Democracy guided by the inner wisdom in the unanimity arising out of deliberations amongst representatives, and
5. Social justice for the all of the people of Indonesia.

When I filed my police report for the stolen wallet, I had to fill in my religion. Everyone is required to believe in God.

The flag ceremony lasted about 2 hours, during which time we all stood at attention and saluted the flag maybe 10 times when the announcer told us to. There was a medical tent and various people were carried on stretchers over there to rest in the shade. I am guessing that almost all of the participants at this event have been fasting for the last week. A rough guess was 5000 people and chairs for about 30 dignitaries under a tent. The days of me being a dignitary are long gone. I’m just a tall, old teacher without the right shirt. Thanks be to Allah, I did wear the right color. I had on a light blue jibab and blue shirt and pants with my school emblem on them.

Welcome to my world. Everyone automatically knows so many things that there is no need to mention them. Things like which shirt to wear, where the event will take place, when… etc. Some of these things I can get answers to, some of my questions are just dismissed. Maybe the person I am asking doesn’t know. Maybe they think it’s not important. Maybe they don’t understand my question. I have no idea. The most common English responses I get are, “Of course.” And “Never mind.”

One satisfying aspect of this cultural difference is that no one listens to the speeches because they already know what the speaker is saying. And I figure if I make an honest attempt to find out things and I wind up being clueless, so be it. Do what you THINK they want and watch and see what happens.

I don’t feel well today, kind of queasy and light headed. I felt great yesterday! I even ran a little bit on my morning walk. Maybe it’s all a part of the fasting process. Some Americans are surprised that I am abstaining from water as well as food during the daylight hours. It just seems so strange to us. Dieting – yea, we’ve all limited or tried to limit the amount of food we eat. But, water! My American mind says, “It’s sick and twisted and definitely not healthy to not drink water during the day.” I guess it comes down to the attitude that I want to experience this culture. In so many ways I am different, in this one thing, I can be the same as everyone else.

Some days it’s so hard being different. There are days when I think, “All it would take would be one phone call and I could be out of here.” Okay, 2 phone calls. I promised my friend I wouldn’t leave without a discussion with her first. All the physical discomforts are minor compared to the mental anguish of isolation. On this most densely populated island on the planet, I feel so alone. Ironic.

Actually, this is a part of the Peace Corps process – months of mandatory solitary confinement to help you bond with your community. So help me, God, I’m trying.

What I’ve learned is that the being thirsty is as much a part of Ramadan as the being hungry. The idea is to understand on a gut level, what it’s like for so many people in the world.

And I think part of the idea is just to unite in suffering. This reminds me of the Lenten abstinences of my childhood – 40 days of giving up something that you like. We kids usually gave up candy. My parents would give up smoking every year. I have no idea why but my Mom believed that Sundays were exempt and she and Dad would stay up till Midnight on Saturday so they could have that first cigarette and then smoke all day on Sunday, and just be tired and cranky during the rest of the week, when they didn’t smoke. The Muslims have the cranky part covered. For Ramadan you also are required to not be angry or unkind or gossipy.

I just kept thinking of 4th of July’s in America. Many people asked me, “Do you have this in America?” I explained to my friends that most Americans put up a flag and often we watch a parade and then we get together with our families to eat and shoot off fireworks. They wanted to know what do we do to honor the government. The idea of a mandatory public ceremony on a federal holiday where the people – on their day off – are required to stand at attention in a hot field for several hours without drinking water all day just goes against every thing that seems to make sense in terms of a celebration of Independence...

Today we have started the “Cottage of Ramadan.” That’s what my dictionary translation is. I asked several people and haven’t been able to find out what why it’s called that. One teacher told me “Students must stay in this building.” I googled it and it’s common in schools here. For the next week, we have no regular classes. Teachers are scheduled to supervise the students at the mosque or in the classrooms. Some sessions are for the whole school, in the mosque, the students and teachers sitting down. I sit outside on the porch of the mosque with the menstruating girls and a few of the female teachers. And we gab while the speaker inside with the microphone tells the group what they already know so they don’t have to listen to it. The sessions repeat every day with different teachers. One topic is BBQ. I told my English speaking teachers what this means to me and they laughed, it’s the s study of the language of the Qur’an. The students are divided into groups with names of the 4 wives of Mohammad and some of his friends or people who married his wives after he died. (I think.)

The one teacher who told me I shouldn’t touch the Qur’an unless I did the proper washing, just came and told me that his father died last week. Just when I start to get all huffy and judgmental in my mind, he tells me that he’s spent the last week with his family in a different city because his father died. And he tried to tell me in English. I really do appreciate every English effort. Maybe we all are suffering in our own way. Ramadan is just an external expression of the suffering.

A butterfly is flying around my desk. From where I sit in the teacher room, I look out the door at a beautiful bougainvillea bush with orange flowers. One week of Ramadan done and three more to go.

1 comment:

  1. I'm trying really hard on the water thing also! I can't get over the notion that there is something wrong with not drinking water for 15 hours. That said, no one else in my community seems to have much of a problem with it... so Semangat, and thank-you :) I feel the isolation much less when I read about your experiences!