Saturday, October 27, 2007

October 10, 2007

So. Ramadan. It’s still going strong. The fireworks that go off every night and pick up again around 3:30-4:00 a.m. still run like clockwork. It’s traditional to wake up everyone before sunrise so they can eat. Well, we’re up too – usually just staring at the ceiling.

But some of the strangest attributes of this holiday are all the traveling karaoke parties. It’s the weirdest thing: people put a sound system – sometimes a whole band – in the back of a truck and drive around Makassar and sing the night away. And now, this late into Ramadan, there are actually more of these blaring machines than the first couple of weeks. Supposedly they are raising money for new mosques and orphans, but giving money to these people would be like giving money to a televangelist, I think.

That aside, the stamina of the average Indonesian really is amazing. The holiday’s energy has picked up rather tapered.

Many of you folks back home have voiced some shock/dismay/concern over young children taking part in the sunrise to sunset fasting. Worry not. The vast majority of children do not feel forced to do this. They are maybe a bit more subdued during the day, but they’re not cranky or disagreeable – jonesin’ for their next cookie break or Happy Meal. They smile and joke like always, though they stay seated for longer periods of time. Thank Allah. It’s hard to tell if they just aren’t strung out on refined sugar or lacking energy. (Probably both.) I reward some classes with pieces of candy for doing homework or winning a game or whatever, and the Muslim kids – even the squirrelly ones – simply say, no thank you if I absent-mindedly offer them candy. And they don’t mind if others eat in front of them. It’s just something you do. Strong kids.

There is a positive energy – though subtle – present during this time of year. It might have something to do with how a huge segment of the population stays up late, sometimes very late, and celebrates together. The daytime is reserved for prayer and reading The Koran, and the evening is spent having fun with friends and family. And remember, even Muslims that drink don’t drink any alcohol during the month. (Most of them anyway.) So this isn’t drunken carousing one might associate with New Year’s or July Fourth in the States. Don’t be mistaken, Indonesia is not lacking in the carousing department (there’s plenty), but those types would be cavorting in any country or culture.

To be blunt, sometimes I get angry at all the noise coming from the streets. Being awakened by fireworks in the wee hours is not a nice thing, as you can guess. Saturday night, a party just parked out on the street under our window. Bad pop music, karaoke, fireworks and shouting from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. (sunrise). Good thing I brought a Bugs Bunny DVD with us. We didn’t get much sleep, but we got to see that one about “Duck Season! Wabbit season!” and Daffy gets shot a bunch of times. I love that one.

Now, consider this. There’s a hotel across the street and a small community of homes next door to us. No locals complained. There was no angry church lady, no old man in a bathrobe, no bow-tied hotel management telling the kids to shut up. I get the idea that this is just what Ramadan is. Most everyone else was probably up anyway.

It was easy to get angry, of course. Who do they think they are? There’s a good 20 percent of Indonesia who is not Muslim. That’s millions of people! But the more I thought about this, the more I got a pang of jealousy. Why have I never been a part of such prolonged and strong celebration? The closest we in the States come to this is New Year’s. And be honest now, how many of those have been a let down? For me, I can count all my really great New Year’s celebrations on one hand.

I did some volunteer training in Portland with a woman who was from Romania. She flew her mother out for the holiday season one year, and her mother was appalled at our New Year’s Eve. “I’ve never seen such a thing in all my life,” her mother said. Two in the morning was when they started to eat in Romania. Everything closed down for a week, and they danced and ate the whole time, she said. Hm. And I considered myself lucky if I didn’t have to work on Jan. 1.

Why does it seem the whole world knows how to celebrate except the U.S.? Why do we always have to get up early to go work? Or clean the house? Or go to basketball practice? And the people who do celebrate all night are often looked down upon.

Sure Indonesia isn’t a world power and doesn’t have an economy as strong as America’s. They also have a lower rate of alcoholism and don’t kill nearly as many people with guns either. Of course, they have a hopelessly corrupt government and doctors who don’t know how to read X-rays…

Am crazy to hope for a balance between these two extremes?

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