Monday, September 5, 2011

Period Piece

I remember always getting an uncomfortable feeling when Ann Romano insisted on being called Ms. instead of Mrs. or Miss on “One Day at a Time”. I didn’t get why she had to make a big deal of such a little thing. In general, I stay middle-of-the-road on gender issues mostly because I am lazy. However, I was pretty bummed when my full fasting experience and possibility of participating in Tarawih prayers were squashed because of female issues. If you refer to my previous post on the “Top 5 Things I Didn't Know About the Holy Month of Ramadhan" or put two and two together on the clever title of this post (stolen, of course), you’ll get my drift. I understand the reasons, and I was assured that female Muslims praying from home receive special blessings that the men do not. Occasionally, though, it becomes difficult not to veer down the road of the privileged, Western white woman with a sense of entitlement/judgement and get to thinking that a lot of rules in regard to women across the spectrum of religions, while they may have historical foundations, are just bullfrak (I’ve been watching a lot of Battlestar Gallactica recently). And sometimes I can see where Ms. Romano was coming from. 

Despicable Confession: In the spirit of my upcoming blog post on forgiveness (stay tuned), I will confess that one or two times times on the subway, I purposely sat next to the Orthodox Jewish guys out of sheer curiosity to see how they would react as they are not allowed to have contact with a woman who is menstruating. Sometimes they would get up and move, but generally, they would stay sitting there.

Note: I never did it when I was actually in my time of the month, and I wouldn’t actually touch them - but this doesn’t make my intentions any less deplorable. 

However, I reminded myself that I am here to learn. And while I am trying to understand the experience of fasting, I am not fully participating as I am not Muslim and do not follow the prayers that go along with Ramadhan fasting. And, let’s keep perspective that I was perturbed because I wanted to continue to experience the practice of starving myself during the day, and I was being told to eat. Yeah. Not exactly persecution. 

This highlights another interesting cultural difference between Indonesia and America. In America, it is generally taboo to mention menstruation. In my village, however, it is right out there as a part of daily conversation. I have had more than one conversation with my Indonesian host dad about menstruation. Current tally of conversations with American dad = zero. I have grown to prefer the openness as it ends up being easier all around (please reference the section titled “Small Talk” in the Culture tab of this blog for more info) even if it still freaks some people out.

But in America, female Muslims, after informing co-workers that they are fasting during Ramadhan, can’t very well point out, “Oh yeah, but I can eat when I have my period.” So, some fake it. They fake fasting. They end up not eating during the course of the work day, just so they don’t have to go through the awkward explanation of why they are allowed to eat. Good glory, people. Reach out and hug your favorite Muslim female today. What a chore. 

Note: This concludes the menstruation section of this blog post for those who now want to open their eyes. 

In a happy ending to my story, even though I was not able to participate in Tarawih prayers, my host dad, seeing my disappointment, welcomed me to come along to the Eid prayer to celebrate the end of Ramadhan.

After begging my host dad, I was able to participate in the Idul Fitri prayers - I enjoyed knowing you are welcome to bring Hello Kitty purses or take a nap as needed.

I was also interested to find it a lot like going to Church. Everyone stands up and sits down at the same time, they say the same things, they shake hands, and there is a long speech from a guy. Also, no jeans or sloppy tops.

This is taken following the prayer. All the women must be fully covered during the motion of the prayer. I had to study with my host mom the night before and borrow my host sister's garb.

I was excited that I may be able to "blend" in for once as everyone would be fully covered. Unfortunately, most women wear white, and my sister's prayer shawl is deep purple. Instead of blending as I hoped, I looked like a giant, four-eyed, white-faced Grimace. I was hard to miss. All photographic evidence of this has since been destroyed.

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