The Drumming Ramadan Men

Ramadan moves every year based on the moon, which means that almost every time I’ve been in Indonesia I’ve run into Ramadan, even though I’ve been there at different points during the summer.

This year, I was in Solo for Ramadan and it was overall very low-key. My favorite lunch place started closing for lunch and only opening for dinner, which wasn’t great, but other places were open, so I survived. I also stopped drinking water during language class, which again wasn’t great, but was manageable.

There was, however, one complete unexpected new twist to this year’s Ramadan. The second or third day of Ramadan, I was startled out of my sleep in the middle of the night by drumming. And singing. A parade, I thought hopefully. It was three in the morning.

The next night, the drumming men were back, right on schedule. A parade every day? Less likely.

I eventually gave in and got out of bed to peek through the curtains at these people disturbing my sleep. As it turned out, they weren’t really men at all, but instead teenage boys. Their nightly drumming and singing, however, remained something of a mystery.

I ended up asking my language teacher what was going on. She explained that their job was to make sure everyone woke up in time to eat breakfast before sunrise. I’d had that suspicion, but I’d thought there must have been something more to it. There wasn’t. I prepared for a 3 A.M. wake-up call every day.

Luckily, about halfway through Ramadan, the enthusiasm for wandering around the neighborhood had tapered off significantly. For a few amazing days, they didn’t come at all.

Then one day I woke up to drumming again, but it sounded different. Almost as if there was only a single drummer. The next day, they came again, but still muted. I went back to sleep.

I asked around and apparently this drumming happens in lots of neighborhoods, both in Solo and Jogja. Often, according to my language teacher, it’s children doing the drumming. The other option is to play a siren instead. Given the choice, though, I’d pick one of the neighborhoods I had the luck to live in before: neighborhoods with no wake-up call at all.

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