At night, around 6pm, a sound akin to a tornado siren goes off and Muslims disappear to their homes to break the fast at sundown. We hear that Muslims probably actually eat more during Ramadan because they pack so much away when they can eat. We are used to the call to prayer echoing through our neighborhood five times a day, but during Ramadan the broadcasts last all evening with chanting and singing coming from mosques all around us. Sometimes we can hear four or five at once, and that clutter of chanting can get very eerie.
For a taste of what we hear every night, click play.
There are other effects as well. There are lots of Ramadan sales at stores, but the cost of meat nearly doubles this time of year because of the demand. It is like the Christmas season with lots of shopping and business happening, and we will give gifts to all of our Muslim neighbors. During Idul Fitri we will visit their homes (and they will return the favor at Christmas) to show our respect. There's also a Ramadan bonus of an extra month's wage that is nearly mandatory, sort of like a bonus is expected at Christmas unless a business is in trouble. When I've asked my neighbors for fashion advice they note that extra modest dress is expected for everyone (even non-Muslims) during the month of fasting.
We get a week of vacation at the end of the month of fasting around Idul Fitri. We don't know yet if we will get out of town, though, because we hear that the human migration of everyone returning to their hometowns is so huge that traffic jams last for days, and all public transportation is packed full.
All of this is fascinating as a cultural event, but very poignant as we ponder the meaning of Ramadan for Muslims. They pray and worship every day this season to atone for the guilt in their hearts and to take advantage of the added favor they believe God has during this season of fasting.