Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Running on Fumes

Yes, Ramadan is here and it inevitably takes over daily life in Jakarta among other places. Yesterday was the first work day of Ramadan. Many people adjust their working hours or daily habits accordingly in order to make their lives easier. In case you don't know, Muslim people fast during daylight hours in Ramadan. They get up at 4 a.m. to eat breakfast before the sun rises and then don't eat or drink again until after sunset. I have great respect and empathy for the people who do this (ironically, Ramadan is all about feeling empathy of those who are less fortunate) and must accept it. The thing that I have been wondering over the last couple of days is how Ramadan effects the overall health and safety of Jakartans. I don't mean health as in starving themselves (there are special rules for pregnant women and the elderly etc) but more as in mishaps.

I couldn't help but notice that many of my co-workers who were fasting weren't really on the ball by the time the afternoon rolled around. Who can blame them? I wouldn't be on the ball if I didn't have a coffee or 2 within my first couple of hours at work. This got me wondering about people who have jobs that could be hazardous or require great attention. It is like the waiver for so many prescription drugs: DO NOT OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY. Well, if one were fasting for an entire day, is it safe for that person to be driving a gigantic truck or a bus in the afternoon hours? As I was driving home in the afternoon, I had to swerve and pay attention more than normal (normal traffic in Jakarta is anything but) due to an increase in careless driving. After I got home, I wanted to immediately go run some errands since everything goes crazy in the late afternoon. I saw a woman driving a van on the wrong side of a street soon after leaving my house. She almost hit an oncoming motorbike until her passenger tapped on her shoulder. I don't think the motorbike even noticed. I saw many similar scenarios during the rest of my drive.

This got me wondering if there ends up being more workplace and/or vehicle accidents during Ramadan. Does anybody know of any such statistics? Obviously, a construction worker or a bus driver can't use fasting as an excuse not to do his job. This, in my mind, would create a dangerous situation. Taxi drivers already work 20 hour shifts. How safely can they drive without nourishment? Some jobs cater to this and allow their employees to adjust their working hours so that they can start and finish work earlier than normal. In most cases, these are office jobs which aren't very dangerous to begin with and probably do little more than avert the odd paper cut.

After I had finished my errands and was on my way home, traffic had reached the point of near insanity. It was close to 5 p.m. and everybody was frantically trying to get to where they wanted to be in order to break their fast at approximately 6 p.m. Nobody wants to be stuck in a traffic jam alone in their car when it is time to eat for the first time. This is usually a celebratory event where people get together and have a feast of sorts. Needless to say, my knuckles were pretty white when I did get home due to the increased urgency of exhausted drivers. I saw many opportunistic folks who had set up little table selling snacks for the fast break. The funniest opportunistic thing I saw had to be the Mc Donald's employees taking orders on the street. They were standing at an intersection (in Mc Donald's reflective vests for safety) and taking orders from cars. I assume that these people would get home and soon be greeted by the Mc Donald's delivery man with a combo of their choice ready to eat at sunset. Ronald Mc Donald and his pals are proud to be part of your religious culture.

I would like to close by saying MOHON MA'AF LAHIR BATIN to all of my Muslim friends and wish them a happy and peaceful Ramadan. That being said, I BEG you not to break your fast by eating Mc Donald's or KFC!

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