by Duha Maher Nabulsi
It was Mid- July; the hottest month of the year. The recollections of the call to prayer going off rang through my memories as I rushed to finish up what I had in my hands. I tried to gulp down water in time. Once the sound of prayer stopped, I put down what was left. That was it. No more food or water for the next 17 hours. Today marked the first day of Ramadan.
I was lucky enough not to have to start fasting for Ramadan while school was in session, or else I would have fallen asleep in class–or worse–been very tempted to eat all the chocolate chip cookies and bags of hot Cheetos the other students would have munched on during lunch. Worst of all, I might have even been tempted to drink some cool and refreshing water during all the humidity. But lucky me, it was my day off and I had spent the majority of it sleeping; which is what most people usually do during Ramadan to help with the passing of time. I had received messages from my friends asking me to go out and eat with them, which I refused for obvious reasons. I was too exhausted because I hadn’t eaten all day. I got the same reaction that every Muslim is tired of hearing, “Oh my god, I feel bad for you”.
To non- Muslims, this may sound miserable; no food or water as long as the sun is up for a whole month. I’m not going to lie, it’s really not that great, but it’s also not that bad either. It’s a joyous month for us to both grow in spirituality and to have amazing late night family meals. Ramadan meals aren’t like normal meals, as mothers not only cook enough food to feed an entire country, but they cook special dishes made just for The Holy Month. Much to most non-muslim’s surprise, the main thing that I struggle with isn’t the fasting from food itself, but the patience it takes to do it right. We don’t only fast from food and water, but from other behaviors as well. For example, you’re not allowed to curse–and if you do–it’s considered as breaking your fast. So, for someone who has no patience, this may be one of the hardest things to do.
I’ve gotten used to fasting by now, I’m even okay with missing breakfast. I was about to head to work, but made a quick stop to my bathroom to brush my teeth a few times before leaving. One of the perks of fasting: bad breath. Yeah, I know. Gross right? I didn’t want to be talking to my customers at work with my breath stinking. Before starting my car, I had to say a few prayers to myself: “Please god, give me patience as I drive to get to work.”
Then I took a deep breath, slowly pulled out of my driveway, and hit the road. I was soon met with a car in front of me who seemed like a new driver.
“Are you serious?! Dude come on! The sign says 50 miles per hour and you’re going 20. Why are these people even allowed to drive?”
I had started to tailgate the driver until a lane opened up next to me, which I signaled to merge into. I pressed on the gas pedal to speed up into the lane, and looked over through my left window to shake my head while looking at the passenger.
“You little shi-” I caught myself. I had almost broken my fast. As I sped away, I shouted to myself in the car, “Oh Lord, give me patience!”
I finally made it to work, where I was scheduled to come in at 5:30PM. What’s the first thing I did? Went straight to my breaker, Jennifer, and told her to give me a break at 8:50PM so I can finally eat and drink.
“Why can’t I send you to your lunch break at 7?” Jennifer asked.
“There’s no point. I can’t eat until 8:57. I’m fasting” I replied to her.
“Fasting? What’s that? She asked.
Oh great. This was the millionth person I had to give a speech to on what fasting is. I then proceeded to tell her what fasting was and what I could and couldn’t do.
With the same shocked expression I had seen many times before, she asked, “Wait. You can’t really drink water or eat? How do you do that?”
“Nope can’t do any of that. Honestly, don’t know. It’s really not that bad.”
“But not even water ?”
No, idiot, I just said I couldn’t drink anything. “Nope no water either.”
“Oh my god. That sucks! Okay I’ll give you your break at 8:50”
Working in a restaurant during Ramadan really does test your patience. The smell of pasta gets my stomach growling the entire time. It was exhausting, running around carrying heavy trays of food to tables, only to then look at how delicious the entrees looked. At one point, I ran some food to a table in Bianco. The way the glazed chicken breast sat on top of the creamy pasta started causing me to salivate as I passed it out to the customer.
He chuckled, “Finally, I’m starving! The last time I ate was about a couple of hours ago!”
Oh yeah? I haven’t eaten or drank anything for the past 12 hours. Who’s really hungry here?
“Enjoy sir!” I replied with the fakest laugh and smile and walked away.
The growls from my stomach started to get louder and louder as time passed, to the point where my coworkers could hear it. I quickly covered my stomach with my arm and walked away as if that would stop the obnoxious sounds it was making. I checked the time. Okay, cool. I had approximately 1 hour, 36 minutes, and 2 seconds left until I could eat. Yeah. Muslims get desperate at times when it comes to calculating how much time they have left before they could eat.
An hour passed, and there was no sign of Jennifer. Then 2 hours passed. Still, no sign of Jennifer. By now, we were finally closed.
Wow, I pretty much fasted over the duration needed.
Was this the first time it happened? No, not really. I’ve gotten a break an hour before sunset in the past and what a waste it was. There was literally no point in taking it at that time since I couldn’t eat anyway.
As I got off work and headed home, all I could think about was the feast I was going to arrive to. Seasoned rice with grilled chicken placed on top and sprinkled with roasted almonds. Sides of rolled and stuffed grape leaves with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice poured on top. Next to that would be the piles of squash stuffed with seasoned rice, meat, and tomatoes sitting inside a tomato soup mix. All surrounded with sides of salads tossed in vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Man, I couldn’t wait to be stuffed.
I pulled up into the driveway quickly, rushed to get inside of the house, and went straight to the dinner table. There, in front of me, an empty table.
Oh well, I guess mom put the rest of the food in the fridge, I convinced myself. So I hurried over to the fridge, gripped onto the handle tightly, and swung the door open with a bright smile. Again, nothing but ingredients. Slowly, that smile began to disappear as I frantically looked around the fridge in search of some food being stored behind other things–but no–there was no food.
You have to be kidding me.
I was over everything. I wasn’t hungry anymore and just went straight to bed.
Ramadan was finally coming to an end. The next day, we would be celebrating our holy holiday, Eid Al Fitir. Everyone was making their preparations to celebrate by shopping for Eid outfits, but what was I most excited about, you ask? I could finally eat my 2 pounds of mac and cheese and bags of hot Cheetos at 2 in the afternoon if I wanted to. Also, I could cuss out dumb drivers without having to censor myself.
Many people might ask, “So what is the purpose of Ramadan anyway?”
Well, let me ask you this: how many times do we put our hands towards our mouths on a daily basis? A lot, right? By stopping ourselves from eating and drinking for the day, we start to feel hungry and thirsty and pay attention to the pains of that. We are able to empathize with those who can’t even get the chance to break their fast because they simply don’t have the means to do so.
Believe it or not, Muslims don’t fast just for fun–we do it for a purpose. Throughout Ramadan, we are reminded of some of our faith’s most important principles: discipline, self-control, gratefulness, and most of all–patience.
A few days later, after Ramadan
I took in everything I learned throughout Ramadan and began to apply it to my daily life. You could say that I’ve become a peaceful angel….
“Oh my god, you little shit! Why are you on the road, you can’t even fucking drive!
Duha Maher Nabulsi is a full time Arab-American student and part time waitress who aspires to become an academic counselor and college level professor. One of her lifetime goals is to teach abroad.