Ramadan is upon us! During this holy month, for those who don't know, Muslims everywhere observe the fast - meaning that they do not eat or drink between the hours of sunrise and sunset (unless they have been restricted from fasting due to illness, traveling, or other prohibitory factors). The fast is a really unifying part of Muslim identity, though before this time I had only experienced it on my own in the US (and, consequently, had to explain what I was doing to many people). Here in Bangladesh, however, where I have the benefit of being immersed in Islamic culture, we have some very ritualized ways of participating in Ramadan. I thought it'd be interesting to detail a typical day in our house, so read on!
We are alerted to sehri (the morning meal before sunrise) each morning by the blare of an air raid siren announcing to the whole city that we should wake, eat, drink and say our doa (prayers). The food laid out is heavy: meat and rice and lentils and all the foods we would normally take in the evening, but the schedule is now flipped. Sehri meals - as my sister described - are like having a very late dinner (at 3:30am) rather than an early breakfast. Another air raid siren announces the end of the eating period and we enter into a period of fasting. We all go back to sleep (I myself sleep in till noon, but I was doing that even before Ramadan started) and then fast throughout the day until near 7pm. No food, no water.
At first, you feel your throat seize up because it's dry in the morning - especially in the first few days. Then there is the tug of hunger that comes in fits and starts throughout the day. But soon that lessens also. Your body becomes used to sensing the presence of food - as there is always someone cooking, to prepare for iftar (breaking of the fast) or to provide food for someone who is not fasting - even though you cannot have any of it. I was actually surprised to note that there is a lot of cooking that goes on throughout the day; nothing different from the usual schedule. My sister says it's better to be preparing the food rather than just smelling it and feeling tempted, but I'm not so sure.
Iftar approaches. Most of the time you have become tired by that time; your mind is lethargic and the work that you have done to busy yourself during the beginning of the day has now petered out into lying around (in my privileged case, reading and napping and watching movies rather than going out to class or work). The last few minutes are the hardest. You perform your ojhu (ablutions) and go to sit at the table where you look at the food and water, but cannot take it until the time comes. The sun is setting and the lights in the house are darkening all around you.
Iftar is announced by (you guessed it) another air raid siren. You say another doa, breaking your fast for the day, and drink water first, then eat. Dates are the preferrred fast-breaking food, and for Bengalis we have a variety of fried foods to follow it up. They taste good, but you can't eat a lot of them since your stomach has shriveled. You feel mightily tired upon eating, but you perform namaz (prayers) and then take some rest. Then perhaps some more food. You would think (as I did) that you would feel more awake after iftar, but really you feel more sleepy. It's best to get the work out of the way during the early part of the day and then let yourself ride out the rest. Days pass quickly, despite what you may think. And there is always time to read Quran and learn more and more.
There you have it, a day of Ramadan in Bangladesh, immortalized forever.