So I’ve been in Colombia for 3 weeks now, and today is not only my 3 week anniversary but also Eid, the end of the month of Ramadan. It’s been an emotional and challenging few weeks so I thought I’d write about some of it, especially as my family are all in Algeria and I haven’t been able to speak to them, writing seemed like the therapeutic solution.
A quick brief for those who are not familiar with Ramadan – it’s the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is when Muslims fast from dawn until sunset. This means no eating, drinking, or sexytime as well as some other forms of abstinence. It makes you more conscious of yourself, your behavior, your faith and your everyday blessings from Allah.
I miss dates and milk. Breaking my fast on anything else feels so wrong. Throughout the year my Dad is very insistent on the presence of “real bread” in the bread basket. By real bread he means French baguettes. And when dealing with French baguettes you best be getting your hands on the crusty fresh warm ones or you might as well not come back from Sainsbury’s because he wont let you through the front door. Dates have a similar, or even higher importance during Ramadan. The day before Eid I spent the equivalent of about £8 on a small packet of dates to relieve some of my homesickness.
Just before coming to Colombia I really took having my family around for granted. I went out with friends I wanted to say bye to, and I only made it to one or maybe two family meals, something which I really regret. I miss the craziness of my kitchen, my Mum is like a mother hen in the kitchen, she hates people touching the food or using the microwave and goes a bit mental the 10 minutes before Iftar (when the sun sets and we can munch!). If we try to escape to the living room my dad gives us this stern look and sends us back to the kitchen to “help your mother”.
In recent years my sisters and I have managed to get around this conflict by claiming responsibility for certain dishes or aspects of preparation and staying out of our mother’s way. My contribution is usually a cake of some sort. I remember last year my dad took us all out to buy our necessary ingredients and came poking the the kitchen to see what we were preparing and asking lots of questions.
My sisters and I bounce between the kitchen and the dining room getting everything set up, and my Dad will sometimes come in to direct us in laying the table. Otherwise he is praying or watching Arabic television. English TV is very rare during the month of Ramadan in my house. It’s crazy and everyone is in the same boat, just looking forward to sharing the meal around the table. It’s one of the only times in the year that we really do that.
It has been just as challenging trying to cope with doing Ramadan alone as it is to keep the discipline. Being by myself means that I haven’t been making massive tasty meals because I was really tired from getting into the new rhythm of early mornings and my work timetable. Most nights I just boiled a pack of noodles and shared fried plantains that the Mexican girls I live with had made. It’s not usual to lose weight during Ramadan because you usually make up for things at Iftar with massive yummy meals, and eating late usually plays havoc with the old metabolism. But this has been the first year that I’ve dropped a few pounds. I’ll definitely appreciate sharing Ramadan with the fam next year!
I went to a dinner the other day which I was invited to through some of the people in the Theology department of my university. I thought that I was going to someone’s house, but when I arrived with the head of the theology department and another professor, I realized that I had been wrong. The gent hosting the dinner was a Turkish professor, and he had invited a lot of prolific members of different churches to share Iftar. One of the leaders of the Catholic church in Colombia was there, and the head of the Greek Orthodox church, as well as many others. And apart from the head of the theology department I was the only other lady person there. It was a bizarre but lovely evening, having a mixture of Muslims and Christians. Everyone was given to the opportunity to give thanks for the meal, and the Greek Orthodox father said “Que Allah les bendiga” which I thought was really special. It means “May God bless you”, but he used the Arabic word Allah instead of “Dios” which is something that many people usually see as belonging just to the Muslim faith. I really liked that he used the word in his own sentence. I felt privileged to be there and it was the yummiest Iftar that I’ve had over here – stuffed vine leaves, avocado salad and plantains…
My boss at my university has been amazing and really supportive. He invited me over to his house to eat with his family, and tonight he has invited me to a restaurant with him and his wife. I was a bit nervous about how people would react to me fasting. In England people are sometimes really shocked and can’t believe that fasting includes not drinking water, and seeing as Colombia is a Catholic country with very little religious diversity I thought that people would be even less understanding. However I was massively impressed by the response I got from the majority of people I talked to. People ask loads of questions and are really interested and it hasn’t been half as difficult to bridge the cultural gap as I had expected. One of the girls I lived with has a Muslim friend and was really excited to help me out in finding information about the mosque, even offering to take me! Other girls made an effort not to eat in front of me, and to check that I had eaten at sunset which was really nice.
Being tired from not eating or drinking has been tough, especially because the tiredness has made me feel especially emotional and homesick, but I am glad that I stuck with it and kept the discipline to keep my fasts in Colombia. Beyond the abstinence you have to be conscious about your behavior and watch what comes out of your mouth as well as what goes in it. No losing your temper, bitching, swearing or getting jealous. It’s like a detox of the body and the mind. Despite the craziness of my lifestyle here I have listened to Tariq Ramadan’s Ramadan Chronicles on Facebook throughout Ramadan to help me feel grounded and peaceful. For those who haven’t heard to him, Tariq Ramadan is a Swiss Egyptian academic and writer. He has a PhD in philosophy and is renowned for promoting the re-interpretation of the Islamic texts. Everyday he released a five minute sound clip on his Facebook with lessons about character development and positive messages coming from the teachings of the Prophet (pbuh). It has been really nice being able to listen to the chronicles because they were about behavior and attitude, as opposed to being specific teachings about Do’s and Don’ts. Overall I’d say that fasting and being more conscious of myself and my faith has made me feel more peaceful and happy, which is something I’m grateful for, seeing as most of the time I’m quite anxious or nervous about things around me.
Today I went to the mosque in Bogota for the Eid prayer. It’s under construction so it was basically like a building site, but when it is done it’s going to be beautiful. The community isn’t humungous, but it was nice to see other people because I miss seeing my girls from home on Eid. Usually we got to Kelsey Kerridge sports centre in Cambridge for Eid prayers and I get to see my ladies looking all beautiful and excited. At least they had Arabic cakes at the mosque, and then I was invited to have breakfast with the Turkish families afterwards which, yet again, was delish.
Anyway, I just thought I’d share the experience for anyone who was interested. I am by no means a model Muslim or someone of any authority, but if anyone has any questions feel free to inbox me or comment. I hope everyone has had a nice day, whether they are celebrating Eid or not ❤