My friend sent me an email about Ramadan. The 15th of the month of Shaban just passed, I think. Those things fly by me because I don’t really have daily interactions with Muslims. I think Ramadan is coming at the end of September. That’s the same time school starts. I can’t really front. And I’m only now trying to think of my survival strategies. After my first horrific fast when I got really sick and passed out at one point, I sort of dread the announcement that the New Moon has been officially sighted. I always feel unprepared.
I can’t lie, fasting is hard. Sometimes I wonder if I can make it the month. Sometimes I wonder if I can make it through the day. I can barely keep my eyes open because my energy gets low. Everything becomes frustrating, my mind can’t process complicated ideas, my temper is short. Even when I take a nap during the day, I’m ready to have a melt down by 3 p.m. By the end of the first week I can sort of adjust to a disfunctional schedule. Last year when my friend’s Senegalese Wolof teacher saw me, he knew I was Muslim. I had that totally drained look of a faster 2 weeks into Ramadan. You see, unlike Christmas for Christians…nothing stops for us Muslims in in the West. And we pay, dearly.
Then there are all sorts of other dilemmas. Sitting at lunch meetings with my stomach growling as I try to maintain mental acuity. What about not going out with the BGSA women for a month because I should be doing good deeds with my non-fasting time. Or my internal debates over my dress code:” Is it extra bad if I wear that cleavage bearing embroidered blouse on Ramadan? tight jeans during Ramadan? I can’t ride my bike with that skirt!!” Avoiding the radio because 90 percent of the songs are going to make me think something haraam. God forbid I hear a song with lyrics like, “I say eeny meany miney mo, how many &*%$.. from the club wanna roll” when I’m starving myself and trying to transcend to a better spiritual state. Too bad I always forget to charge my iPod. I’ll try to do better this year.
And the biggest dilemma of all: what to do about faster’s breath. They have traditions that Allah loves the faster’s breath. But other people don’t. I sort of cheat. I gargle with Hydrogen peroxide and brush with tooth paste throughout the day. Many scholars frown upon this because there is a slight chance that we might injest some toothpaste. But because I have to interact with non-Muslims and I have to live with myself, I can’t walk around with the notorious faster’s breath. I avoid talking to people. Plus I hate talking with a dry throat.
There are Muslims who love Ramadan and all its challenges. But I can’t lie, fasting for a whole month sux. I try to wake up and eat before the sun rises. But that sometimes makes me hungrier later on. My metabolism goes out of control. I eat at night, eat everything, everything and anything tastes good. After Ramadan, I have to hit the gym to burn all those misplaced fat deposits. And I’m starvinnnnnnnnnn through the day. It especially sux when everything around you goes on as normal. Non-Muslims visiting Muslim countries during Ramadan hate not being able to get food. Ha!! Welcome to my world. At least they can sneak food at home. But me no, I get some respite for having a menses. Only time I’m happy when Aunt Mary comes to visit.
The Muslim festival marking the end of Ramadan is by no doubt a relief. But I hate the anti-climatic end to my month long process of food and sleep deprivation. Usually I have to go back to work. Everything goes to normal, nothing changes, no visiting friends and family. It is about as much fanfare as, secretary’s day sometimes. I know, no one in my family celebrates Eid. I think I received an Eid gift maybe once in like 13 years. It is a struggle to feel part of a community during that time. In the large crowds I’m usually grateful to find a familiar face and give quick salaams. My Muslim friends are off doing their family thing. If I go hang out with them, I’m sort of like a fifth wheel. So, I just go home and dream of a time when I could have my own Muslim family and we can make up some traditions of our own.
Ramadan was not so bad nor so lonely last year. Stanford always has nightly iftars (breaking of the fast). The food isn’t bad. Stanford has a lot of international students and some second generation Muslims. There are a few Muslims whose families came from Africa. But for two years I was the only African American Muslim convert. And I was the only African American Muslim grad student that I knew. There are few Muslim grad women. The few of us are working on overcoming our crazy schedules and cultural differences. Then, I have an interesting relationship with the undergrads. I’m sort of used to the awkwardness. And I know I’m the black sheep of the Stanford Muslim family, but they have embraced me. I guess I’m like a permanent international student, displaced and far from home.
So, here’s to another upcoming Ramadan. I’m going to try to get excited this time. Maybe if I reframe my perception about the whole thing. Ramadan has community and spiritual dimensions. Taking this journey has put me on a path of solitude. That’s part of being your own person, I guess. That is what Ramadan is about coming to terms with your most natural and human of desires and putting a reign on them. Sure, I suck on the self discipline side…but that lack of food may whip me into better shape. Having some resolve is a good thing, right?