Hearing the azan everyday is perhaps the biggest symbol of Islam for me here in Indonesia. Sure, Islam permeates all aspects of life but despite seeing men and women dressed in hijab and wearing Muslim head garb, I believe I hadn’t fully experienced their practices. The coming of Ramadan was one of my highly anticipated events especially since my host family is Muslim.
According to our host brother, there are sometimes various start dates for Ramadan in Indonesia: the one followed by the Muhammadiyah, which is based on the lunar cycle and patterned after practices from the Middle East; and the other is the one followed by NU and the government and is mathematically-based. My family started fasting Friday of last week, which is in accordance with the Muhammadiyah practices, while others started the next day. The night before, we went to eat Javanese noodle (I got something called magelangan, a tasty mélange of noodles, rice, chicken, and herbs). Due to absurdly large portions, my host mom and I weren’t able to finish our meals. While waiting for our di bungkus packages, the azan sounded and across the street from us, white-robed figures assembled to start the nightly rituals. The whole process grounded me and readied me for the next day, when Alex and I were woken up at 3 am to eat this feast of sweet, spicy dishes with rice. We slept again after the meal, and woke up about 3 to 4 hours later to start our day.
I did a semi-fast – I had to drink some water since Jessica, my partner, and I rode a motorbike around and interviewed people. When Jessica went to buy some water, it was a strange experience walking into and seeing food in a grocery store, thinking that I wanted to buy them because I was hungry, only to remember that I wasn’t supposed to be eating. I definitely felt weak during the day, and I can only imagine how it’s like for people who had to do this now on a daily basis. On the way home, Jessica and I passed by so many makeshift stalls, seemingly to rise from the ground only during Ramadan that sells food specifically to break the fast. I had a jolly time perusing and buying some of the various types of vegetables, fish, chicken, tofu, tempe, porridge, desserts, and drinks. That night, when we had our buka puasa, the food tasted much more delicious and powerful – as if the entire day of abstention had changed my taste buds and even perception of the food. Hanging out with the family after fasting and eating all the great food brings you so much closer together, too.
The experience made me want to fast again at some point during in the next few weeks.