Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ramadan, the month of dates

“People may seem grumpy, tired and angry, but that’s just Ramadan!” I was kindly reminded by a Pakistani friend and local that I possibly hadn’t chosen the time to see Pakistani people at their best when they are fasting all day.

I had heard about the fast before but I didn’t realise the extent to what was prohibited. No water, no food, no chewing gum, no cigarettes and no lip gloss as it could be flavoured.

Ramadan is the 9th month in the Islamic calendar and the period of fasting starts ending after around 30 days, but it all depends on the moon. The daily routine of Ramadan basically starts where people wake up before sunrise, the official time everyone goes by is 4.15am called sehri and they eat and drink as much as they can to help them throughout the day. Then finally at 7.30pm at iftari people eat. The smiles return and the conversation around the dinner table is lively and excitable. The temperature has returned to bearable and people are no longer worried about their rumbling stomachs.

And well as they say, when in Pakistan try as the Pakistanis do. I am not a Muslim, but wanted to try as many of the local customs as I could. So I painfully woke up before 4.15am with my other international house mates and we prepared a feast of cucumbers, yoghurt, apples, eggs, bread, tomatoes, and of course plenty of water. I stuffed myself silly before sehri and prepared to try the fast. The closest I had ever done for a fast before was giving up sweets for the Easter celebration of lent or forgetting to pack the chocolate as I sailed for 27 days before reaching a shop that had supplies!

Intern sehri spread
Hot, thirsty, tired and hungry I could now see how happy the things you take for granted can be. Avoiding food was alright as due to the hot sweaty climate I had lost my appetite anyway. And, well, this may be cheating but after getting a little sick from some of the food, or from too much spice you don’t really feel like eating anyway. But abstaining from water was a challenge. In the War Against Rape office, an NGO where I am working, we played something I liked to call ‘the food game.’ The day would be spent googling images of burgers, chocolate cakes, donuts, ice cream, pizzas and more describing the food we would eat when iftari finally came. Fasting, according to the Qur'an, helps to strengthen one’s faith and will. It is a constant exercise of good patience, and that I can agree with 100%.

Many believe that fasting is like a spring cleaning of the body and this month has advantages on their spiritual, social, family and health benefits. But as I felt sorry for stomach, I couldn’t help looking down the street as we drove through the city and realise that I had no grounds to complain when there are those who are labouring in the hot sun without food and water until later on that day. First world problems indeed!

Usually people will finish their daily fast by going to the mosque and listening to one-thirtieth of the Qur’an each day, meaning they have heard the full book by the end of Ramadan, but I did things a little differently. Rather, at the end of the day before iftari I sit in a restaurant, pre-order my meal and wait for that glorious prayer that soothes my stomach and my food obsessed mind, signifying that the fast has opened. Many restaurants during this time also offer all you can eat deal for when iftari begins, where for as little as $7AUD it is an all you can eat buffet. These range from traditional places serving the best local Pakistani cuisine to fast food joints like MacDonalds and Nandos too. But before you eat at iftari you eat a date to signify the opening of the fast and as my Pakistani friends like to say, “It’s the month where everyday you get a date!”

“It’s the month where everyday you get a date!”
The timing of sehri or iftari of course depends on the sunrise and sunset, which is different in each city. There are websites and updates in the newspapers dedicated to inform people when the sun rises and sets, therefore telling you when you have to start fasting, but more importantly when you can start eating. 

Ramadan timings
People use this month to spend more time with their families, to relax, to cut back their work hours and to spend more time reflecting on themselves and on their faith. It is a month where families come together, wake up early at around 2.30am to prepare the meal for sehri and enjoy it together before fasting. And then families also come together at the end of the day for iftari as well.

Iftari spread
My room of the apartment faces onto the streets below so I am woken up each morning by a man who walks around the streets playing the drums really loud, waking people up for sehri. I do often wonder if he would receive quite as many blessings if he were to try this on my street at home.

Ramadan closes down the whole city at the start of Ramadan. When I first saw the streets around my apartment they were abandoned, the shutter were doors up and there little life to be seen. But then as if they are slowly opening their eyes, the roller doors of shops began to rise showing a world of colour, beautiful textiles, happy shoppers and plenty of culture. 

Charity is also a big thing during Ramadan so the streets are even more filled with beggars trying to get donations at the big intersections on the road. Everyone does good deeds during Ramadan as they say here جو تم بو گے۔ تم وھی کاٹو گے (“What you sow, so shall you reap”) and apparently during Ramadan your good deeds are returned multiplied my 70. So donations are plentiful.

Well so far I have survived Ramadan. It’s funny what hunger will do to you when you are offered a huge buffet of different traditional Pakistani foods and sweets. Goodbye to being a vegetarian (for now) I'll eat whatever I can when I can. And yes, that may have recently included eating goat’s brains. I have only just started the fasting and I am already counting down the days.

Goats brains
Fasting does become easier and easier. You prepare for the day by eating a good meal and drinking a lot of water at sehri which makes the fast easier that day for you. But that means that you need to wake up, prepare your food and eat it before 4.20am, which I am not too good at. But what I am really counting down for is when Ramadan finishes as there is a big festival called Eid-al-Fitr چھوٹی عید. I mean, who isn’t going to get excited about a festival also known as the Sugar feast, which signifies breaking the fast. Wish me luck! 


  1. I randomly came across this post on Facebook and I'm glad I did . I dont think many travel blogs cover Ramadan and fasting in Pakistan , so this is pretty cool ! :)
    You've captured the entire day pretty well and being a traveler myself during Ramadan I can relate to many things written here . And yes, Eid is indeed a festival worth looking forward to ! :)

    Your blog and posts are worth following ! Good luck with the rest of your travels around the world and I hope you enjoy your stay in Pakistan .! Eid Mubarak in advance ! :)

  2. This is amazing Hannah=D We at AIESEC in IBA are so proud to have you as an intern=)

  3. Hannah :) the way you have portrayed the experience of fasting and the month of Ramadan in a few words is just awe-inspiring :) the fact that you are keeping fasts makes me us feel happy that we have an intern like you visit Pakistan and this act also warrants a nice gift :)