By Yasmine Farahat
Ramadan is here, one of my favourite months of the year. The spirituality, the family gatherings, the whole –normally chaotic– country synced to one single rhythm, moving in unison. Anyone living in Egypt can relate to that and appreciate it.
But then you move away from Egypt, and Ramadan becomes a completely different experience.
I’ve been living in Montreal for two years, and the difference is quite big. The day is much longer; sunrise is at 3:07 am and sunset is at 8:40 pm on the first day this year; just a little under 18 hours of fasting per day. You go through normal day at work (full 8 hours, if not more), by noon you’re starting to get a little cross-eyed, but you convince yourself that you’re ok. By 3 pm you’re definitely ready to go home, but you still have 2 more hours to go. Torture.
Making mistakes is unavoidable, and you can’t casually say, “It’s because of fasting” and brush it off, because unlike Egypt, no one relates to it, or even understands it. In fact, it can get so bad for some people that they decide not to fast, because otherwise they would simply get fired.
You go home, with still quite a bit of time to kill. Some would take a nap, but those not used to sleeping during the day may find that difficult. Some would read Quran, but at this point your concentration is seriously impaired due to low blood sugar and dehydration. Oh and that unrelenting hunger pang.
Comes fast breaking time, you’re so exhausted and ecstatic to be eating. Once done, you just sit like a zombie, trying not to fall asleep. Many brave people I know would go to pray Tarawih at a mosque, one thing I have not been able to do since I moved here, simply because Isha’a prayer is at 10:30pm, and after such a long and tiring day, I’m ready to drop in bed at 11pm if not before that. And you can forget about going out and socialising, nothing’s open after 11pm except bars and clubs.
This year would be my third Ramadan in Montreal. I’m starting to relatively get used to the feeling on isolation associated with fasting. No one at work understands why you’re not very chatty in the morning, or why you decide to stay at your desk during lunch break. “You’re not eating?” During the first year I used to try to explain that I’m fasting, and I was bombarded with questions like, “but why?”, “what would that achieve?”, “aren’t you hurting your body that way?” with looks varying from disapproval to bewilderment.
The second year I didn’t bother explaining, so to the usual question “You’re not eating?” I would simply say, “I have work to finish.” And it was left at that.
We try to gather with our Egyptian and/or muslim friends for breakfast as often as possible to get that joy of gathering we all miss. And we all thank God there are Arab grocery stores, bakeries and restaurants that provide us with the usual Ramadan treats such as amar el-din, dates, basbousa, baklawa and all the rest. It may not be as good as the ones back home, but it’s definitely better than nothing.