29 July 2013

Visions and barking

Dreams and visions: the last week was filled with them. I started to write them out here, but they felt angry and bitter. A year of writing about resentment is nothing in the grand scheme of things, a 'season' in life, my former Evangelical self would assure me. Crying out. We had metaphors for this as well. 

For all the talk of Ramadan happening outside of my perception, the longer it goes on, the more I can see it. At fast food restaurants, mothers are feeding cheerful, oblivious children piles of junk food, while looking on lovingly. A man walking through the mall holding an ice cream cone on the way to a child. I am in the middle of it, sitting in McDonalds, awkwardly drinking coffee: insult to injury, they accidentally give us two ice cream cones instead of just one for Naomi. I swear to god I only ordered one. But now, of course, I have to eat it, what am I going to do. Throw it away? I'm not fasting; I'm not Muslim. I want to say this outloud, announce it like it hasn't already been announced. It's okay, everyone, don't worry, I'm not Muslim. I see a fat Chinese man eating ice cream, and we share a knowing glance. Look at us, we're not Muslim.

Am I the only one embarrassed? I shamefully ask for another refill of coffee from a woman in tudong. I feel like a child: only the children are eating, the weak ones. Look at me: it's obvious I don't belong. Give me access to coffee and ice cream, but also withhold my access to something I can't perceive. What am I trading this coffee for? Fat white men aren't supposed to think about this: we just do what we do and don't think about the gaze going both ways.

We found a Ramadan bazaar nearby, filled with all the smells and excitement of a festive season. Chicken, in particular: fabulous chicken. Everyone seems happy. In Malaysia, they make a sandwich called roti john which is just a long bun filled mostly with ketchup and sauce, and a small amount of meat. But 'John': John is the generic fat white man name. Children call me John; every fat white man is John. Walking past a stall at the bazaar, one of the men selling it has a flash of brilliance in his mind: calls out to me, 'John!' (laughing) 'Roti! John, roti! Roti John!' and they laugh and laugh and I pretend I don't hear.

We pack up the chicken and go home and eat when we are ready, not when the call to prayer comes. In the house, I can feel shame too, if I want to. Everyone is waiting to eat, but we are not. A whole social system we are free from, but not really free from. Of course I can eat: I'm not Muslim. 

I will go back to Europe for the week, to my people, the European linguists. This whole social structure of the fast will dissipate among blonde-haired, blue-eyed Johns like me. I will no longer be fat and white and a gluttonous child. I will have the advantage again; the fasters will become oddities. I will be normal, just like that, and I can go from the one being looked at to the one looking.