As a lot of you may know, it is the month of Ramadaan. A holy month for Muslims all over the world where they fast for 30 days. I have a lot of Muslim colleagues and friends. I may have said this before, but I lived a very sheltered life growing up. I went to an Afrikaans primary school (I was in the one English class) and an Afrikaans high school (again in the only English class). The pupils were predominantly white, with a pop of colour coming and going every now and then. Somehow the students of colour never seemed to stay long. My mother and stepfather didn’t really have friends that were not white, so I grew up in a little bubble of the things I knew. When I started working after school it was incredible culture shock for me. I was quite suddenly exposed to a lot of different races, cultures, religions and sexual orientations. Fortunately I am quite liberal and have never really judged people based on any of these things. I can tell you in my denomination of Christianity we were taught to respect the religions of others. I did visit a few different churches with my friends in high school, to see what different churces were like, but they were all Christian. Most of them quite different from my own, but all Christian.
Since working at the company I have been with for the last 16 years, I’ve always been intrigued with the Muslim faith and have the utmost respect for those who fast for Ramadaan. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must be. Considering my intense love for food, I could not wrap my head around it. This year I decided to try and fast too. I wanted to know what it is like and I wanted to see if I can. Don’t get me wrong, my intention was not to fast for the entire Ramadaan, but I thought I would start by trying for one day. Everyone else was already a week into Ramadaan and I finally said goodbye to my monthly visitor so I decided to dive in.
I woke up a few minutes earlier than normal so I could prepare myself something to eat before leaving for work. I thought it would be a good idea to have a bowl of oats since this should give me energy and keep me full for long. I haven’t been eating breakfast for a couple of months, so eating a bowl of oats at 5:30 in the morning was a bit of a struggle for me. I pushed through though, knowing I would not be able to eat for the rest of the day. I made myself coffee in a travel mug as I do every morning which I had on the way to work. I made an exception and had a smoke in my car as well since the cut off time to begin fasting was around 6:30 and I knew I wouldn’t get to work before then. I always thought that Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset, but that isn’t so. There is a calendar with specific times and the times change as the month progresses.
I start work at 7:00. At 7:53 I was already missing the second cup of coffee I would have had by that time. My mouth felt dry. The coffee trolley at work whisked by. Normally this would have provided me with my third cup of coffee for the day, but I asked our lovely tea lady in the morning not to make me any. She thought I’m nuts. She will make me coffee even if I am not at my desk. She knows how much I love my coffee. She was very surprised when I asked her to skip me for the day.
It was my full intention to make notes throughout the day, but it has turned out to be a relatively busy work day and I didn’t get around to it. I must say my ability to focus was compromised. I found it hard to start something and then finish it or focus on it. Hunger was fine actually and I was also totally okay not smoking during the day (no, this is not the part where you ask me why I don’t just quit). I was seriously thirsty all day though. Since early in the morning. Around 11:20 they started packing out the lunch to be served downstairs in our canteen and the food smelled amazing. When the coffee trolley made her last round after 13:00 I needed to distract myself from the sound because it would normally mean I was getting coffee delivered to my desk and I really do look forward to that.
I had about another 3 hours to go before I could break fast. I didn’t really think it would be a problem. I was stiff from sitting down in my chair all day instead of getting up for loo breaks and smoke breaks. I had to make a point of getting up to stretch my legs, but I was also trying to conserve energy so that I could make it through the day. I felt quite tired and had a hint of a headache, but it would be a fleeting pain and then it would immediately go away.
About the night:
When I got home it was freezing and Rudi was sleeping after an overnight shift. I whipped off my jacket and shoes and crawled into bed with him immediately. By home time I was already really tired and to be honest I just wanted to lay and do nothing. I can understand now why my Muslim colleagues like to leave work an hour earlier, I would have been very happy to. I really didn’t want to cook and after much back and forth about who was going to go out in the blustering, windy, rainy weather to go and get pizza Rudi finally relented and agreed to go. He left 6 minutes before I was allowed to break fast…so I ended up breaking fast with a cup of coffee and a smoke. That warm cup of coffee was heavenly. I still wasn’t actually hungry by the time the pizza arrived, but I ate too much of it anyway. I drank another 3 cups of coffee before bed.
Since I made it through the first day relatively unscathed, I decided to fast for another day to see what it was like.
So I wanted to know what two consecutive days would feel like and I wanted to see if adjusting what I did in the morning would impact how my day went. So I had a bowl of oats in the morning again, but this time I also had two glasses of water. This is UNHEARD of for me. I don’t like drinking water, but I realized I had to hydrate myself to face the day. I also stayed thirsty and woke up thirsty from the previous night, so knew that water was the answer. I had my regular cup of coffee on my way to work over and above breakfast.
This time I only got thirsty much later in the day, but I did still get thirsty. Maybe I didn’t drink enough water in the morning. [If you would like some guidelines about daily water intake and the benefits, you can read here] I also got hungry at around 11:30 and again around 14:30, but it was manageable. I was a lot quieter than normal. I can be loud I guess. One reason for this was because my mouth is dry and my throat a bit sore from the drought therein. The other reason is to conserve energy and because I was tired and lethargic. The second day had it’s own set of challenges and was harder than the first day, but it was still doable.
I was very hungry by the time I was able to break fast. I was literally watching the clock waiting for the last minute to tick by. My neighbour was too sweet and sent me some dates (the traditional way to break fast) and savouries. While I was waiting for the time to pass Gabby decided to go to the loo and just as I was allowed to, she called me to help her. I was frustrated since I had waited the whole day to finally eat or drink something, but went to help her quickly. The kids raided my plate of savouries and I only managed to have a springroll and the dates. We had some soup for dinner, which is perfect for this cold weather.
Since the next day was a public holiday I put the fasting on hold. I would like to try for a full week as I’ve heard that day 3/4 can be pretty hectic.
I certainly have new insight into what it feels like to be fasting. While it may be considered “easier” to fast in the winter because the days are shorter and one doesn’t need to wake up after 3 in the morning to eat before starting to fast, fasting in winter is difficult too. I found that I got extremely cold while fasting. I guess your body is so busy trying to just run it’s normal processes like breathing, keeping your heart beating, etc that warming your body is lower on the priority list.
While I certainly don’t *have* to fast, I would like to try and fast for a full week next week. There are some health benefits to fasting as well and who doesn’t want to be more healthy? I have my own reasons for deciding to try fasting. My reasons are not religious, but I did want to see if I had the willpower to do it even if I didn’t have to. I did want to know how it would affect my body, but I was also keenly interested to see how it would affect my mind. I very seldom introspect and being still and quiet prevents me from distracting myself with all the outward things and being boisterous.
Heaven knows I could do with some introspection right now.
I would love to hear what your views are on fasting and whether you’ve ever done so for any reason. Thanks for reading!