Having lived here for over 7 years, we have gone through a lot of Ramadhans. Ramadhan is a time that really shakes up your existence in Jakarta as all of the things that you thought you had a handle on, now do a duck and weave and the city becomes almost incomprehensible again. The traffic at 3pm turns into a heaving, murderous mass of people with their hands and feet on the accelerator to get home fast before buka puasa (breaking the fast); the curtains are drawn over warungs so you don’t know what is open and available. At times the malls are so empty you feel like you have missed the message that it has gone out of business and your usual supermarket shopping time can find you in a cast of thousands queuing behind people who seem they are shopping for the apocalypse. Jakarta is not a city that runs on time or efficiency, but now people disappear, everything shuts down at random moments, people even lose interest in pretending to be interested. I had applied for a BCA credit card 2 months ago and I rang up the bank to check my application and they said, “We are missing two documents but I can’t tell you what they are,” then they hung up. Brilliant.
It is a time where women talk even more freely about having their periods. Where your usual beer fridge at the 24 hour mart is covered over or emptied and your favourite bartenders look in fear if you order a cocktail, and possibly serve it in a mug to keep hidden from the Defenders and their big sticks. A time where people stay up all night until suhur, have a small feast and then sleep as much of the day away as possible so the fasting time seems less. Where selected members of the community have seemingly been given the task of waking up everyone by banging on gates and doors so that they don’t miss their last chance to eat before sunrise with, “Bangun, suhur!” echoing through the neighbourhoods.
The city takes on whole new rhythms and feels both more peaceful and more chaotic.
This year, I decided that I would try out some fasting – puasa – to see how Ramadhan shifts and to show solidarity with my Muslim family and friends, please note, without any pressure or expectation from either group. Perhaps this comes from the luxury of not being from here thus not having to follow any cultural edicts, though an Indonesian work colleague of mine who I share a schoolyard duty with cracked open his delicious smelling nasi goreng lunch the other day, as I sat fasting, with the explanation that he didn’t start fasting at the start of Ramadhan so just couldn’t get momentum to start with a shrug of his shoulders.
The first weekend of the fast revealed something important about my life; my life basically revolves around food; planning what to cook, picking up groceries, calling gojek a thousand times to pick up missing items, cooking, eating, cleaning and repeating the cycle. Or planning what to eat, scrolling through the possibilities of restaurants in the area and deciding whether to go there in person or call a gojek to pick up what I want. It’s all about the food. So what to do when food is taken out of the equation (after realising how absurd your life is)? Gather with family and take it in turns to chase the baby while the rest lay spread out on the floor gasping for breath – or possibly taking instagram selfies (#only5hourstogo #sothirstyrightnow).
The best thing about Ramadhan is the little markets that spring up on the side of the road selling a variety of special Ramadhan foods (see? it’s always about the food). Lontong is my current obsession – rice cooked in banana leaf and filled with fermented tempeh or potato and coming with a special Ramadhan spicy peanut sauce, just delicious. Plus you can choose from mountains of gorengan (anything fried like tempeh, tahu, banana) and you don’t even need to get off your motorbike to purchase – just pull up in front of one of the many stores, point at what you need and be on your merry way. There are sweet little cakes like kue putu and bubur susum; both are a mixture of rice flour, coconut milk and palm sugar. Mixing those 3 ingredients together seems to be the flavours of Ramadhan and then add more sugar and coconut milk on top. Another variation is adding banana to the mix and have it floating in the sugary soup; you got kolak pisang. Last night I ate a black rice variation; tape uli – with coconut sticky rice – the flavours were so amazing.
Then, after picking up the purchases and laying them out on the table with a couple of dates (so cheap at this time of year), filling up glasses with coconut water freshly cracked open from another side-of-the-road store, it is time to try and not look at the clock – and fail – and instead check one thousand times a minute. Never has time moved so slowly.
This time has changed my relationship to the call of the mosque at sunset, now it is the sound of sweet relief, and to take my time slowly sampling the treats in front of me, chewing slowly and savouring the flavours. Hm, not likely. It is time to shovel a day’s worth of food in my mouth and retract all the benefits of fasting. This is something I hope to improve over time, we are only halfway, after all.
So, selamat menunaikan Ibadan puasa everyone and don’t forget to keep your eyes out for tasty treats and let us know any food recommendations before we miss out so we can enjoy our buk-ber.
[Note: “Buk-ber is short for “buka puasa bersama” which means breaking fast together. How good is Bahasa Indonesia for lazy people like me, everything can be shortened. It’s my mission to learn more of these abbreviations.]