Friday, April 29, 2011

Call to Prayer - Feels Like Home

I remember hearing my first call to prayer as it was projected across Amman, Jordan. It was eerie and a little bit scary to me for some reason. Initially hearing it gave me a feeling similar to when you hear guys on New York City streets yelling things about God through a megaphone. Now, I take comfort in the calls to prayer, and I liken hearing them to being reminded of my life growing up in Wappingers Falls.

Approximately 4:15am (Solat Subuh)
One of my most endearing features is my total inability to be on time. I am regularly anywhere from 3 to 30 minutes late for any meeting. As we like to do, I blame my parents for this as I was awoken by my mother almost every day for school until the day I left for college. I would get the first call through the bedroom door in a sweet, motherly whisper, "Er - time to get up." And then I would immediately turn over under the warm covers, hoping to squeak out another half hour of sleep. In ten minutes or so, I would get the more urgent-sounding call that my freshly popped Eggo waffle and Flintstones vitamin were awaiting me. My mother would then warn in an exponentially louder volume that if I didn't get in the shower right then, I would definitely be gunning it to the bus.

I think fondly of these things on the mornings I am awoken by the Solat Subuh. As my host family is devotedly praying, I am in my bed bargaining with myself on just how long I can delay rising to pop my Peace Corps issued pre-natal vitamin and start the day. It's only been three weeks, though, and, in true fashion, I can pretty much sleep right through the morning call to prayer now.

Approximately 11:30am (Solat Dzuhur)
In the St. Mary's cafeteria, the surly lunch ladies would have us say grace in the only location on the eastern seaboard guaranteed to survive a nuclear bomb attack. I always thought it curious that such a secure location was a basement decorated with Charlie Brown cartoon characters. As I hear the Solat Duhur and prepare to eat my 2nd helping of rice (nasi) for the day along with whatever delectably fried treats my host mom packed in my lunchbox for me, I think back fondly to circle sandwiches and Ssips.

Approximately 3pm-ish (Solat Ashar)
Upon departing for the day at St. Mary's, Sr. Gregory would come over the loud speaker to have us all follow saying the "Act of Contrition". This would be followed by the line-up of buses and a reminder if there were to be any functions in the "school hall" that evening. This is not to be confused with the morning announcements where Sr. Gregory would announce which altar boys served Mass that morning. The St. Mary's kids would have their names touted proudly through each classroom of the school while the outsiders were not worthy of a direct mention. "The 6:30am Mass was served by Matthew Simonetty...and a public school boy."

Walking through my village from school, I wave to the kids who have fresh powder on their faces from their afternoon mandi (bath). As their parents ask in Indonesian where I am going, I think of stepping onto those big, bluebird buses to go home at the end of the school day in Wappingers Falls, and I am happy to be able to respond, "Pulang". "I'm returning home."

Approximately 5pm-ish (Solat Maghrib)
While growing up, we always said grace before eating dinner. We said the standard mealtime grace followed by special intentions (a prayer for Grandma, our dog, Rosie, etc), and topped off with a "Hail Mary" for good measure. We had a period of holding hands during grace which spurred some controversy. Turns out my brothers hate the idea of holding hands almost as much as my dad is angered by people who think covering their cars in bumper stickers is a good idea. Nowadays, when all 9 of our nieces and nephews are gathered around the table, for grace, we opt for a song routine borrowed from the rambunctious Biasotti clan from around the block.

During the Solat Maghrib, I am either pouring cold water over me for my afternoon mandi or enjoying the day's third helping of rice with my host family as we watch TV. As I listen to the banter, it reminds me of the tuna fish and spaghetti dinners I grew up believing were standard across all American households - only to later discover that they are, indeed, the oddest combo for a meal ever devised. Now, when I am eating my chicken feet and fried beef and coconut patties, it doesn't seem particularly odd at all. 

Approximately 7pm-ish (Solat Isyak)
When I was a kid, after watching a good 4-5 hours of TV, it would be time to settle in for bed. My mom would tell us, "Don't forget to say good-night to God."

Nowadays, I get ready for bed at 8:00pm, long after the Solat Isyak has been called. I sit under my mosquito net scribbling illegible drivel in my journal by the light of my head lamp, and I am struck by how little my life has really changed from when I was 12.

In the evenings, my Bunda (host mom) has taken to telling me that she loves me and that my whole Indonesian family is praying for me. Coincidentally, this new routine started the day I also received the following picture from my aunt Sr. Teresa detailing that I had officially been added to her prayer table.

So, looks like I have an entire Muslim household in addition to a Catholic nun in my corner. My new mission is to find a Jew, a Buddhist, and a Hindu to pray for me, so I can really corner the market. Indonesia does not yet recognize atheists or agnostics, but just to play it safe, any readers of those persuasions are also welcome to throw your good vibes and happy thoughts into the ring as well.

Terima Kasih!


  1. Um, pre-natal vitamins? Do the guys get to take these too? LOL!

  2. oh yes. the boys take the prenatals too.