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10.6.16

Going Slow While Fasting

It's another day in paradise, here in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Every single freakin' one of the 40 million vehicles registered in Jakarta was in front of me this morning.  I even made a 7a meeting appointment in hopes of beating the rush, to no avail.

Adding to the mayhem is the month of Ramadhan.  So not only are there 40 million vehicles in front of me, they are full of hungry, thirsty people who woke up at 3a to have breakfast before the fasting began.  And this is only the first week.  By the end of the month, people start getting suicidal on the roads.  Half the population of Jakarta are in a fasting, sleep-deprived coma through most of the day.

If you are not familiar with Islam and the fasting month, allow me to regale you.

For 29 days (one lunar month) out of each year, a Muslim (one who follows Islam) is required to go from sun up to sun down without food or drink.  This includes not swallowing your own saliva, which I assume includes someone else's, as well.

Restaurants cover the windows with drapery, the beer cooler is covered and locked at the store, and a great number of folks wake up before dawn to stuff themselves before the morning call to prayer at about 4:15a.

Those bars that still open during the month serve booze in tea cups, so as not to offend, though my question is if a devout Muslim is fasting, what the hell are they doing in a bar in the first place to get offended.  But I suppose that is one of those things that requires logic.

This continues throughout the month until near the end, when folks start getting a glazed, haunted look in their eyes.  Even the mention of common food-related molecules can start an uncontrollable slavering fit and folks can actually get angry at the rest of us who aren't fasting, just because we don't look haunted and desperate.

All of this suffering culminates in the Eid al-Fitr (Arabic) or Idul Fitri (Indonesian).  This literally means "Feast of the Break-fast."  This year, it will fall on July 6, I think.  Hard to tell.  There's an entire government ministry here who's primary concern is the exact moments that fasting begins and ends.  Like all government bureaucracies, they enjoy keeping people hanging on their every belch and twaddle,

Anyway, Idul Fitri starts the feasting of all feasting around here.  It's a lot like a combination of Thanksgiving and Christmas, with millions of folks bugging out and going home to enjoy massive feasts with friends and family for anywhere from two days to two weeks.  Depends on how much money they get in gifts.  More money = longer vacation.

The upside is that Jakarta becomes a ghost town for a week or so.  Virtually the entire population of 12 million vanishes overnight, leaving the city dark and quiet.  Suddenly, destinations that took well over an hour to get to only take 20 minutes.  The damnedable part is that nothing is open during that week, so just when you can actually get around, there's no around to get to.

The worst part about Ramadhan is about 6p every evening, when the mosques start belting out the evening call to pray, hordes (and I use that term advisedly) of people pour out of buildings, cars and any other containment device and head directly to the nearest source of food and water.  This means that just when folks are the most hungry, the most thirsty, most tired, and most motivated to get somewhere, the roads become a vast stagnant lake of shiny metal bugs.  The usual nasty traffic is further bunged up with the piles of people and conveyances parked in front of any place selling water and snacks.

So if you happen to run into someone this month who looks like they've just stared into the abyss and seen the end of the Universe, they are probably fasting.  Might want to give them a break and not eat in front of them, or at least be prepared to put a drip bucket under them.

It reminds me a lot of the old days when Catholics used to practice their religion.  Remember that?  It was hard to find beef on Fridays, or there were lots of specials on fish and chicken?  Back when Catholic kids gave up chocolate for 40 days, or smokers didn't smoke in front of each other (kind of like Baptists and drinking alcohol).  Yup, a lot like those old days of yore. Once upon a time, there was a whole industry built up over Lent.  Only us old geezers remember those days, I suppose.  Of course, Ramadhan is not quite like that.  The Muslims try to make everyone else fast too, so they don't have to suffer watching everyone else have fun.  The Catholics, on the other hand, had to watch the steak houses in full swing and smell that lovely aroma wafting on the spring breeze, or the non-Catholic kids eating chocolate any damn time they wanted.

Ain't religion grand?

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