Saturday, August 29, 2009

Nil by Mouth

Well, it's time for Muslims the world over to forsake food, water and making the beast with two backs during the hours of daylight, which can often seem an arduous task. Islam claims to be a universal religion of course although any Muslims who happen to live in Svalbard in Norway, Europe's northernmost inhabited region, could be in for some Ramadhan problems over the next few years seeing as the sun there doesn't set at all between April 19th and August 23rd. That's a question for the theologians to address though as they struggle with their holy texts whilst trying to prevent their Arctic Circle flock from turning to skeletons.

Closer to home, Ramadan in Jakarta is perhaps not the oasis of peace and reflection that it is meant to be. It's an oft repeated fact that more food is consumed in Indonesia during the fasting month than at any other time of year. It's pretty much all out warfare on the roads and in supermarket checkout queues during the holy month and shopping Plaza food courts resemble refugee camps come 6:30 p.m. every evening. In fact, the whole deal is pretty much as commercialised as Christmas has become in the West.

The current religious zeitgeist is up against the relentless forces of capitalist realism and our advanced technologies that increasingly seem more likely to unplug us than the reverse. Thus a defensive, knee jerk, anti-intellectual fundamentalism seems to be the order of the day. Over in America, the whole Jesus Inc. project is clearly a few loaves and fishes short of a full picnic, whilst in the Islamic world, the great scholarly traditions that enabled the West to fully reclaim its Platonic and Aristotelian philosophical canon when the Dark Ages abated, have been succeeded by authoritarianism. Edicts, rules and fatwas are now in the ascendancy and are coming to replace the long debate in the Muslim world. This week's top story, for example, concerns the Malaysian model who has had a caning for drinking beer delayed until after the Idul Fitri holiday. Well that's something for her to look forward to then isn’t it? I'm betting that when her mates said to her, "Let's go out and have a few beers and get really caned tonight," she didn't have this outcome in mind. It gives new meaning to the phrase, "Going out on the lash," doesn’t it?

Back to the fasting though, I thought that I'd give it a go for a day in the name of transcultural understanding. I guess any proper writer worth his salt looking to cover the fast would do the whole month but not me. There's just no way, I’m sorry. Shall we leave it at that?

Many fasting Muslims that I have met over the years claim that laying off the fried rice and baso during the day is a healthy thing to do. Medical science does indeed advocate the fast every now and then however one should apparently drink plenty of water when one lays off the solid food. This will enable the body to shift from digestion mode to toxin elimination mode. Thus the Muslim fast isn't necessarily that healthy, although a good Muslim doesn't fast for health reasons of course.

Anyway, I woke up at 4 a.m. after a night of prayer and contemplation down at one of the city's less salubrious watering holes and staggered downstairs for a fry up. I'm guessing that bacon and eggs are not high on the list of pre-fast foods recommended by the clerics but this was to be a strictly physiological experiment and so I fried up the old babi anyway. A few slices of toast also went down as well along with as much Aqua as I could drink before I returned to bed for a couple of hours more sleep (is this cheating? I'm guessing that this is a common procedure for many Indonesian Muslims).

After reaching the office at about nine, I ploughed into a hard day's square eyed computer bashing. At around midday, the time when I usually nip out for a slap up Padang feed and a few Teh Botols, I started to feel my first pangs. I was peckish for sure but not eating for a day is easy. It's the not drinking that gets you. The dry thirst got increasingly uncomfortable as the day wore on. How these construction workers do it in the hot sun is beyond me but it can be no surprise that general productivity in the country takes a nosedive during the holy month.

By late afternoon I was starting to feel decidedly unwell and slightly dizzy. I had a vision of 72 virgins descending from the heavens and encouraging me to pop down to the mini-mart for a bottle of Pocari Sweat. "Away foul temptresses," I yelled, drawing bemused looks from my co-workers and sent out a prayer to the Almighty. After apologising for not actually believing in him, I implored him to pull me back from the brink of imminent renal failure.

Come six o'clock, I had a throbbing headache and that first glass of water tasted like that first beer must do to someone who's just done a ten stretch. I don't know how they do it every day. I'll be coming to you live from Svalbard next year.