My first morning there, I awoke when I heard the first call to prayer at 4 am. Well, that may be overstating it. I gradually became aware of the melody that was being sung over the loud speaker. A few seconds more and I realized what it was : the signal for students and teachers to come to the Mosque and pray. Almost all of the residents at the pesantren are Muslim and so 5 times a day they change into a different sarong and a special white jilbab (head covering) and flock to the Mosque. We did not go of course and so I immediately fell back to sleep.
I woke up later and we laid around for awhile watching Al Jazeera, which is basically this part of the world's CNN. After awhile we went to find the laundry lady and went to eat lunch. The school cook gave us a whole bunch of food, which we piled into a bowl of rice and ate with spoons. Indonesians usually eat with spoons or their hands. I have noticed they don't really use napkins but wash their hands right after eating. By the way I love Indonesian food!
That afternoon we walked around the town and out into the rice padis. The countryside around Coper is absolutely beautiful... My camera was utterly useless in trying to capture it. When we were walking back, the call to prayer was echoing out into the towns and fields. Because there are two pesantrens and at least one other Mosque around, sometimes multiple calls overlap, all following the same melody and words in a sort of round. Hearing the call makes me want to go too and sing and pray along.
That evening I sat on the steps across from the Mosque and watched as the mass of girls flowed through campus and inside. Muslim prayer is nearly always led by men, but because this is an all-girls school the girls do the call and a female teacher acts as Imam. It is an amazing thing to watch teenage girls, covered from head to toe, singing out and reciting the call to prayer over the sound system.
The prayer that follows is very physical. This is one of the reasons modesty is required in the Mosque. The people go through different postures to express different things to Allah. The postures include standing, kneeling, and prostrating on the floor. Each person brings their own prayer mat and the whole congregation goes through these motions many times, reciting prayers at certain points. When I asked, the girls told me it made them feel peaceful and unstressed to go to prayer.
These girls are really cool. That night some of the little ones came to visit Erin's room. They took off their jilbabs and watched Beauty and the Beast with us. They also Loved Belay! One girl wrapped him up in my pashmina and jilbabed him and fed him shampoo. Adorable!
The next day I went with Erin to her classes. She teaches English to 15 and 16 year olds. In each class I had to introduce myself and answer questions. Then, Erin read aloud two letters that my youth groupers wrote in response to letters written by Erin's classes. The girls were very excited to hear back from American kids. Both of our groups are getting an amazing lesson about humanity - we are basically all the same at heart. At the same time we don't all fit the stereotypes for our religions and culture.
In one class I asked students how they felt about wearing the jilbab. They told me it made them feel beautiful and modest, and that it made men treat them with respect. I only wore the Princess-Jasmine-in-the-market version of the jilbab, like Erin does, but I can see the downside. It is really hot. It gets on your nerves sometimes. You take it off in private and have to remember to put it back on. Then again, I like the idea of having a tangible way to remind yourself and others that you are a precious child of God and a believer.
All of these practices are appealing to me in some ways because faith needs to be interactive and engage the senses and feelings. Of course they can easily become empty obligations, but when the person can choose to participate (or choose to come willingly to the obligation) they have the power to bring us into deeper relationship with God.