Tonight after work, there was a dinner put on by the diversity awareness group at work to honor Ramadan, a Muslim religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. When I heard about the dinner I was really excited because I've always heard about Ramadan but never really experienced it and I love learning about other cultures. Plus, I've been dieing to try Indian food! A couple weeks back, at another work event, I met a young Muslim couple that I got along with really well. They both celebrate Ramadan and told me that I should definitely go to the dinner and sit with them. After that, I was totally in.
So first, a little background on Ramadan that I learned today. I looked this information up before the dinner, and then during the introduction to the event, most of it was reinforced. The month of Ramadan can when it takes place during the year because it is based on the Lunar calendar.
It lasts for 30 days and although there are numerous factors associated with it, the most notable is that during the month, Muslims fast and abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise until sunset.
Fasting is supposed to teach people patience, sacrifice, and humility. It is not supposed to be a torture mechanism but it is supposed to induce a feeling of peace and calm, cleanse the body, teach self-control and feel sympathy for those less fortunate. Also during Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance into the future, ask for help in refraining from everyday evils and try to purify hemselves through self-restraint and good deeds.
Ramadan ends with Eid ul-Fitr, a day of celebration and feasts. I’m actually sort of ashamed that I never learned this earlier because for the past 4 years I have had a day off of school for Eid ul-Fitr. Yet I never took the take to actually find out why we had that day off besides that it was the day of some funny holiday whose name I couldn’t pronounce. Eid isn't until next week but today, Ramadan was celebrated at work.
The more I learned, the more I liked this holiday because it is practical and it isn’t outrageous. You may think that it is extreme when you hear “fast for a month” but it really isn’t so. Elderly, those critically ill or even anyone not feeling well that day, pregnant women, women on their period, and women nursing are all exempt from fasting. Those traveling are exempt (time differences), children are exempt (ends at puberty) but they often try. For those that cannot fast, they are asked to donate food to someone less wealthy then them and if possible, make up the day that they missed later on in the year. There is also a focus on sharing and helping others and a social aspect of inviting others to join them for meals.
yesterday I decided that today, the day of the work Ramadan dinner, I would fast for the day in order to get more meaning out of it. Throughout the day I jotted down my thoughts and the times that I had these thoughts. This really is kind of funny for me to read now too because I legit just had a word file open all day where I would write something down when it popped into my head related to fasting. Not going to lie, it was REALLY intense.
6:15 a.m. Time to get up! I know the sun rises in about a ½ hour so I’ve got to make sure to get some water into my system.
6:48 a.m. – SUNRISE IN ALBANY, NY --
6:54 a.m. Dang it! I got distracted by blow-drying & straightening my hair that I didn’t realize how much time had gone by and I didn’t drink as much water as I would have liked. Ugh. Here goes nothing…
7:34 a.m. As I’m driving to work I have urges to stop everywhere I want to get something to eat. Weird, since I never usually have eaten at this time… it just goes to show you how much of it is mental. Because I don’t think I’ve ever had a desire to get breakfast at McDonalds. In the words of my brother, “I’d rather lick a toilet”
8:22 a.m. Stomach growling begins. I REALLY want a glass of water.
9:49 a.m. I am trying to ignore that I really want water and coffee.
10:32 a.m. Actual hunger is starting to set in.
11:18 a.m. Hunger is fading. Right now I’m really more bored. Usually I get up throughout the morning to get coffee, go to the bathroom, refill water bottle, etc.
1:02 p.m. Umm… I just went and sat with my friends while they were eating. I’m not really hungry right now but I’m exhausted and my head is cloudy. I don’t know if I would feel this way if I had eaten/drank and maybe I’m just tired? Who knows, but I just want to take a nap right now.
1:08 p.m. I lied. I’m hungry again.
1:43 p.m. Ooooh! Look at that! I went 35 minutes without thinking about the fact that I was fasting.
2:30 p.m. I’m so thirsty and hungry. I want to go to sleep. I want to nap until it is time to eat dinner. I remember my friends used to tell me that when they would fast for Yom Kippor they would try to sleep through the whole day if possible. Yeah. I’m totally feeling like that would be good right now.
2:40 p.m. I wonder how thirsty I’d have to be to be at that stage where you drink your own pee?
2:44 p.m. I send an IM my friend saying I don’t know if I can make it through the day
2:45 p.m. How much of this is mental and how much of it is my lack of food/water literally making me want to close my eyes and nap immediately.
4:19 p.m. Good news? I just had a meeting and forgot about this for a little bit. Bad news? When I stood to get up I felt a little lightheaded.
4:46 p.m. Is this over yet…
5:33 p.m. I’m feeling good. I think this may be the best meal of my life coming up.
The dinner was AMAZING. I had incredible rice, shwarma, rice/vegetable stuffed grape leaves, kebab, hummus, nan, and baklava for dessert. AMAZING. I sat with the wife of the couple I befriended and some of her friends, older women, who all practice fasting throughout the entire month of Ramadan.
I was so proud of myself and happy that I made it through the day of fasting because it really meant a lot to these women and they were so surprised and respectful of the fact that I fasted. That I told them I wanted it to mean something and that I really respected the reasons why they all fast. Also, food was served at 6:30 p.m. but sunset wasn't until 6:50. The women kept telling me that I should eat because I didn't NEED to be fasting but I told them I wanted to wait those last 20 minutes with them. It was hard but it was easier to do it with a group. I can see how Ramandan brings people together, really.
Today was a great day. I learned so much, ate delicious food, made new friends, experienced a new culture, etc. Today's lesson might have been the hardest I've learned so far. Literally, no food and water was so hard.
P.S. Sorry for the long post!