As I sit here at the computer, trying to win my battle with the nyamuk (mosquitoes) in my room (and losing), I can hear the sounds outside my house of life going on around me in Jakarta – the roosters are crowing (and they never stop), the roti (bread) man is driving around and around with the funny electronic jingle he has attached to his bike, the bakso (meat ball) man is beating his little bell, the nannies are playing games with the kids (or each other) and hysterically laughing on the street, the old lady is endlessly sweeping the garden – swish swish – someone is clearing their throat…oh and spitting…aah the gentle sounds of the street that let me know that there is all sorts of funny and confusing stuff going on around me. I think for a moment about how gentle and quiet it is in Jakarta, even though millions of people are teeming around outside of this quiet street going about their daily business.
And then….hmm what’s that sound…it’s 6pm…it’s coming…crackle crackle..the old speaker is being turned up to maximum volume…themuezzin is ready…he clears his throat, puts his mouth directly on the microphone and chants “Allahu Akbar Ash-had al-la ilaha illa llah…” (I think).
And then I realize again how little I understand about this place; its beats and rhythms, its beliefs and motivations, its tinny yet extremely loud speakers blaring out religious reminders 5 times a day whether you want to hear it or not. I have come from a world where we keep things inside; we keep our voices down and don’t talk about our religious belief (mostly because we don’t have any) and now I am living in a city where religion rules.
My pacar, who is Indonesian and Muslim, laughs at me when I complain about the sound of the mosque – he says to me “if you don’t like the sound of the mosque, then you shouldn’t live in Jakarta” and I grimace and say, “But I love Jakarta, I just don’t understand why it has to be so loud” and he laughs in his annoyingly santai way and says “you should buy some land and build your own country”. I suggest buying a little CB radio for every person in the surrounding area so they can choose to turn it on if they want the reminder, but he doesn’t even grace that with a response. After all, he is right, this is Jakarta, it’s Muslim, people like the call to prayer, in fact, many are so used to it that they barely hear it anymore.
When it starts at 4am I am instantly awake, throwing the bed covers this way and that, while he continues to snore blissfully unaware of the madness happening beside him. I think of bule responses to the problem – could I buy the mosque a new speaker? Give a lesson in putting your mouth a few centimeters away from the microphone to take the away the distortion?
Then I think, in a world gone wrong, now isn’t the time to be complaining about anything to do with Islam. I don’t mean that Muslims are scarey, I mean, while the West is having champagne cocktails over the murder of Osama Bin Laden (and forgetting they can’t afford the champagne cause they spent all their money bombing countries and killing people trying to find him), while Obama is making heroic speeches about the sweetness of revenge, it’s a time when women wearing jilbabs and people with brownish skin living in Western countries are at a greater risk of being attacked, of swastikas coming back in vogue, where the losers are pretending to be winners… the football hooligans have been unleashed; brainless and ignorant of the fact that they have been made fools of and lied to.
And so the holy wars continue. Bible vs Qur’an. Me and the rooster. Osama vs Obama. Me and the muezzin. Rich vs poor. Rich vs rich. Poor vs Poor. Ah give me a drink.
So maybe I will ease off my internal battle with the muezzin and try and enjoy the sounds of Islam. Cause when I think about it, it sounds a lot better than the call to prayer of the West…”Tonight on CNN…Operation Geronimo…Enemy Killed…Hurrah!”