I realise that the text about Ramadan is seriously overdue, for which I apologise profusely. It feels like ages ago now, even though Eid (ul-Fitr), a three-day (in Pakistan) holiday celebrated to mark the end of Ramadan only finished just over two weeks ago. On the other hand, it’s likely to feel like it’s been a long time, because the last 2-3 weeks have been packed with a lot of activity. I’d better cut to the chase then.
After the first difficult week of Ramadan when the fasting was a massive shock to my system, I started feeling myself again and enjoying the experience. By mid-June or just over half way through, it had become such a routine that I often wondered what life was like before. The first meal of the day, iftar (featured image), turned into an anticipated daily ritual, tasting of dates, with which you typically break the fast, homemade lemonade, which we often served with fresh mint for a refreshing kick, fresh fruit and a dish the name of which I always forget and come up with something vaguely similar instead, at which B. bursts out laughing. Anyway, the dish is called dahi ballay and consists of fritters made with gram flour & spices & water paste which you first drop by spoonfuls into hot oil and fry until golden, then soak in water and eventually mix with plain yoghurt, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes. I absolutely adore the taste of this dish and will forever associate it with Ramadan, I think. Sometimes we also had onion and potato pakora, which is basically pieces of onion and slices of potato covered in gram flour and deep-fried, a deluxe version of onion rings and chips, if you ask me. Ramadan must be the only time when you are allowed to eat at night and don’t have to feel guilty about it. You’ll have fruit and/or other snacks after iftar, then a proper dinner at about midnight or 1am, eat more fruit or have a yoghurt-based drink called lassi and begin the fast again at about 3.15am.
As Ramadan is supposed to be the time of reflection and prayer, pretty much like Advent – the four weeks leading up to Christmas or Lent – the forty-day period of time which ends on Easter Sunday, I also tried to use it to read a bit more of the Quran and found it to be so similar to what I remembered from the Bible (the Old Testament) that I basically ended up reading both to see how things were depicted in both Holy Books. I also came across a series of Ramadan lectures/talks given in Polish by imam Nedal Abu Tabaq, a doctor living and working in Poland. He devoted the majority of these lectures to Prophet Joseph, an important figure in the Bible’s Book of Genesis and also in the Quran. These lectures are available on YouTube in Polish only, unfortunately, but tell a fascinating story of the Prophet who I remember very well from Biblical cartoons I used to watch on TV when I was a child. Interestingly, apart from minor differences, the Biblical and Quran versions of Prophet Joseph’s story are basically the same, though the Old Testament gives a super detailed account whereas the Quran version is much more concise. This is the case with many other religious stories and ideas (for instance eating pork is also forbidden in the Old Testament), which really proves that Christianity and Islam are much more similar that most would like to think.
I would have liked to devote more time to studying religious scriptures, but B. was working on a massive project which I was helping him out with and then I was given another film to translate, so again, it got very busy. Besides, half way through Ramadan I started noticing that I no longer was able to sleep straight after the morning prayer at around 3.30-4am (when the fasting starts again), because that was when I had lots of energy and was able to concentrate on work. It meant however that I ended up going to sleep later and later every day, so towards the end of Ramadan I couldn’t sleep earlier than 9-11am. It was very frustrating because though I was already brain-dead by 7am, my body saw it was daytime and refused to go to sleep and also at about that time I started feeling the hunger. This resulted in my going to sleep at 9-11am and waking up at 5-6.30pm, which was not long before iftar. On a couple occasions, I didn’t sleep until midday, because we had to run some errands and get several things done in the town early in the morning before it got too hot, which nevertheless I found much more bearable that forever trying to go to sleep. By the way, the weather during Ramadan was amazing. Though it was (and still is) a hot summer in Pakistan, there were also plenty of refreshing showers and a few good thunderstorms, a welcome break from the heat and humidity.
Sleeping during the fasting hours felt like cheating, but I found it extremely difficult to reverse my body clock back to its old routine. Also, there were several other factors which made the sleeping harder for me in the last 10 days of Ramadan; basically, I’m the kind of person who can’t sleep when they’re stressed and I had a few good things to be stressed about. First and foremost, I had to be in the UK by the end of June (just over two weeks ago) for the summer job at the University of Liverpool that I’ve now been doing for the third time. B. was supposed to be going with me and it had never even crossed my mind he wouldn’t, but the visa people in the UK have been taking too long to make their decision, as a result of which I had to go alone and the prospects of him joining me are basically zero at the moment. Also, even though B. wasn’t going, we decided to leave our flat, because in September we’re relocating to a very exciting place (details to follow later on this summer), so we thought we might as well pack the flat up before my leaving for Liverpool. Packing for a 2.5-month stay is bad enough, but packing up the flat – super stressful and mind you, it was B. who actually did the bulk of the work before leaving the place for good. All in all, because of all the stress and sorrow, I developed a sleeping pattern which was wildly out of any kind of decent routine and only managed to get back to normal a week after Ramadan ended, which also had something to do with the delayed flight to the UK and consequently, a jetlag.
Luckily, Eid began the day before I left (there was a possibility it would start on the day I left as it depends on the phrases of the moon) and so amidst the hectic and tearful activity, we managed to celebrate the first day of Eid (equivalent to Christmas Day, I’d say), or at least a part of it. I even baked four coffee and walnut cakes to give away to neighbours and family as in Pakistan people give each other food during Eid and other celebrations, but we actually ended up keeping two out of the four cakes to ourselves and only gave away two cakes.
I’m happy that I managed to complete my first Ramadan. I fasted for the whole 29 days and only missed a handful of prayers. I wish I’d not missed them, I wish I’d studied more and felt less tired. Again, I admire all those who have to work through Ramadan. If everything goes according to plan, next year I will be one of those people and I imagine it’ll be much harder than this one. It was by no means an easy thing to do, but I kind of miss it, actually, particularly the ritual of having iftar and how special it felt.
I can’t even begin to tell you how I’m feeling about the separation that My Pakistani Dream Team is going through at the moment, particularly in July, which is my least favourite month of all due to a personal tragedy that I have to relive at around this time each and every single year. I miss B., I miss Islamabad, I miss the food, the people, the weather, the mountains, the park … I miss home.
So long x