Man I'm Hungry...
In Indonesia the Ramadan fast is called puasa, but in Arabic it's referred to as sawm. Because the period of daily fasting depends on the sun, the times to start and end vary from location to location. Since Indonesia is right on the equator we get about 12 hours of sun per day with little year-round variation, so the fasting period is relatively constant. As you move away from the equator, though, the amount of sun varies increasingly the closer you get to the polar regions. This is caused by the tilt of the earth. You've probably noticed this yourself if you are from the US or Europe; in the northern hemisphere summer the days are much longer than in the winter. Since it is currently summer in the northern hemisphere, the sun is out for longer and so the Muslims that live in these places are obliged to fast longer. Conversely, since it is winter in the southern hemisphere the days are shorter, and so the fast is shorter. In predominantly Muslim areas the length of the fast is normally listed in the newspaper, but there are also websites and other resources that provide this information for other places.
In order to prepare for the daily fast, most people get up very early in the morning (again the time depends on where you are) to eat a meal before the sun starts to rise. This meal is called sahor in Indonesians and suhoor in Arabic. Here this is usually around 3.30am. Most of the time people go back to sleep afterwards. During the day people are not allowed to eat, drink, consume medicine or smoke, but if you happen to be sick you are allowed to violate this prohibition as long as you add compensation days at the end of the month. The daily fast ends when the sun sets with buka puasa, literally "opening the fast" in Indonesian (iftar) in Arabic, a meal that starts around 6.30pm here.
After the siren goes off, most people begin breaking the fast with a sweetened beverage with chopped fruit served over ice (if available). This provides ready energy, and then people get on to the regular meal. The folks I've been around here can eat and eat and eat at this point and there is no keeping up with them. Though most restaurants are closed during the day, they generally stay open later during Ramadan so that people can eat well into the night. It seems like lots of people stay up until the morning meal, but I haven't done any kind of structured survey to support this. What is clear though is that during Ramadan patterns of behavior and commerce change.
People don't have to follow the fast, but there are some social pressures here to follow the norm. As mentioned in the past, I don't follow the fast because I don't have the desire to, but I avoid eating or drinking in front of other folks as a courtesy. Normally they will tell you they don't mind, but I feel uncomfortable eating or drinking in front of others that are abstaining. When I lived in Malaysia a few years ago I did attempt to fast to see what it's like, but after the fourth day I was quite ill so I had to stop. Since then I don't really have any curiosity about it; my body is not built for it and I don't have the religious conviction that makes it a realistic endeavor.
Plan for Ramadan...
|This will keep you 8 hours or so on the road.|
Next, if you have to be involved in any sort of group activity, it's advisable that you wake up or stay up and eat the early meal. In many cases even if you want to sleep you won't be allowed to, as people will wake you up. For the most part, at least in rural Sumatra, people won't understand any resentment you have to getting up, nor will they understand if your just not ready to eat that early, so it's best to just go along with it rather than make a fuss. When I was sleeping in the barracks of the tiger protection team last week the guys, god bless 'em, played cards all night while I was trying to get some shut eye. Sumatrans seem to have a much greater tolerance to noise and flashing lights than your average Westerner, at least when it comes time to sleep, so bear this in mind.
Lastly at the end of Ramadan everyone wants to go visit their families and so all flights are booked months in advance and the price of tickets for transportation that are available increase significantly. If you are going to be in Indonesia during Ramadan take this into consideration, because if you don't you risk getting stuck someplace. Likewise, count on people being away from the office (or count on them coming in late) at least towards the end of Ramadan. At this time pretty much everything shuts down, so if you have to schedule meetings or get work done, it's not likely to happen during this period. Moreover, if you have to get some sort of official document or anything else from a government office, your likely to face a delay, so when thinking about extending a visa make sure to take this into consideration.
Anyway, remember that Ramadan is the most important and sacred part of the year for Muslims. It's pretty interesting, if inconvenient, and you can learn a lot. People are very friendly and are willing to tell you all about it, and folks will invite you to buka puasa with them, which means a big deal to them.