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My Ramadan
From Pakistan to California and back again
Fiza Fatima Asar (FizaPK)     Print Article 
Published 2006-10-05 11:54 (KST)   
Last year during Ramadan, while it rained, I walked back to my dorm from the cafeteria. I was returning from my evening meal (iftar in Arabic), the one I ate every sunset during Ramadan to mark the breaking of my fast. While I walked "home" alone, I did not seem to mind the rain splashing against my face and drenching me from head to toe. The rain hid my tears, as my mind traveled back to the real home -- I wondered what my family in Pakistan would be doing right now.

It was 6:30 a.m. in Karachi then -- California was exactly 12 hours behind Pakistan so it was easy for me to figure what time it would be at home. They must have already had their morning meal (suhur) and their fasting must have begun, I thought to myself. I recalled the suhurs at home and smiled.

It was such a chirpy morning -- no one could have ever guessed it was only 4:40 a.m. The entire house would be up, at least all the ones who lived in Karachi -- my father, my mom, my brother, his wife, our cook Saima, her husband who works as a driver in the house and myself. My mother would give me a wake up call, as I would rush to go downstairs to join everyone else for the morning meal. But right before going downstairs, as always, I would peak outside the curtains and enjoy the sight. Although 4:40 in the morning, every house in the neighborhood had its lights switched on. Everyone was awake in unity ready to embrace yet another fasting day.

We would be so full of energy, everyone ready to contribute to the family sense of humor, and those in the kitchen and the ones in the connected dining room all participating in the laughter. Our morning meals were extra elaborate -- sometimes I wondered how my mother and Saima handled it. My father likes cereals and a bowl of fruit mix, my brother wants paratha (buttered bread) with fried eggs, my sister-in-law eats fruits and yogurt, and drinks lassi (a special yogurt drink also found in all Pakistani restaurants in the U.S.) and I actually don't mind eating chicken biryani that early in the morning.

For our family it was the other way round usually -- we were more energetic in the mornings and during the evenings we were so hungry it was just us focusing on the food and drinks. I did not remember a single Ramadan morning, when we would not be playing the TV while having our morning meals. Otherwise not such big TV fans, our family considered the Ramadan special programs on TV a part and parcel of suhurs. Personally, I liked listening to qawwali (Sufi music) that often played on the television.

Back in California, the rain fell harder but I slowed down. I was in no hurry to get to my room. I sat on a bench and thought, Ramadans are really so special in Pakistan. It is a different feeling altogether -- an entirely different world. All the restaurants are closed during the day and open right before sunset when people start pouring in for iftars at their favorite restaurants, the ones that stay open all night until five in the morning. It is so lively in the evenings. The traffic becomes thicker and my favorite part of the evening is when after the night prayers in the mosque, we would head towards the commercial area.

My brother and I liked buying fresh cold almond flavored milk from the milk shop while my mother wanted to finish the last minute shopping before Eid (celebrations that mark the end of Ramadan). All the shops remain open all night and close after the morning meals. When we hear someone say "the city never sleeps" we really needed to visit Karachi during Ramadan to know what that phrase really meant. Boys and young men arrange night cricket matches out in the streets with lights fixed along the street light poles and the neighborhood collected to watch the matches. These matches end right before suhur during weekends.

And while reminiscing about suhurs in Pakistan, my mind would begin comparing the suhurs at college in California. It was absolutely different. I woke up in the mornings and the dorm was dead quiet -- obviously, everyone was asleep. When I looked outside the window, I could not see any rooms with their lights switched on. I was all alone. I would take out the cold turkey sandwich lying in my fridge from the night before and chocolate milk to drink with it. If lucky, I would find a packet of Oreo cookies too. And even this would seem a lot to me, I just did not like waking up alone and eating so early in the morning.

***

This year, I graduated and came back home. This year before Ramadan I thought to myself, at last, after four years Ramadan back home! Interestingly enough, last year I missed Pakistan, but this year I am terribly missing Ramadan in college. What is it about Ramadan and missing people? This year I got the answer!

Ramadan is not just about starving and fighting your thirst. Well, I knew that before too. But in the past I thought, fine, Ramadan is also about charity, about perseverance and about patience. This year I learned more. Ramadan is really about bringing one closer to the other. Ramadan is about sharing and missing people. Ramadan is about loving the other and thanking God they are there to be with you. If last year, I missed my family and friends that I had iftars at restaurants with, this year I am missing those who I took for granted last year.

I am missing the weekend suhurs when we -- four Muslim girls on campus -- would get together in one of our dorms and have chicken biryani that we bought from Naan 'n Curry (a Pakistani restaurant) the evening before. We all got together for Ramadan -- not really knowing each other before. There would be my Turkish friend who was there for a few months visiting the college to practice her English. Her English was the weakest among us and yet she was the most talkative. There would be my half-Afghan half-Spanish friend who, for prayers, would wear the scarf I gave her. And then there would be my most special friend -- a 17-year-old who officially reverted to Islam on that Ramadan with us.

It was actually similar to our suhurs back home. We would laugh, discuss issues, gossip and eat our suhurs. We decided all of us would eat yogurt right before beginning the fast because yogurt was healthy and did not let us get thirsty for hours to come. Strawberry yogurt was my favorite.

Because my friend who had reverted still did not know how to pray, I remember having to lead them and actually lead a prayer for the first time in my life. I remember being scared and I remember laughing with my friends after the prayers. They would hug and congratulate me so that I would be encouraged to do it again next time.

I miss having my Yemeni friend call me right before the evening meal, always luckily when my alarm would die off on me, and tell me "Its iftar Fiza! I am waiting outside your dorm in the car. Let me take you to the cafeteria." Her home was only 5 minutes away from college and yet she chose to accompany us for iftars. I miss running with her to the cafeteria before it would close.

I miss my first Eid in college when another Afghan friend of mine decided she would not go home that Eid just to give me company. She took me to Berkeley and we bought mithai (South Asian sweets) and glass bangles, and ate lunch together. It was our little Eid date together. She was to be married a month later so her fiance also let her be with me that Eid. I miss my Palestinian friend Manar.

My friends Anke and Zarena and I decided that we would take classes off together on Eid days. We were scared but we asked for permission from each professor. I miss having my first Jewish professor tell me "What? Why are you even asking me? Listen young girl, it's your right and whether anyone gives it or not, you take all your classes off on Eid. Let no one stop you." I remember loving her for that. I remember us not being scared of asking any other professor.

I miss seeing my favorite professor and having her wish me Ramadan greetings. I miss having her be worried about our food arrangements during Ramadan. I miss my cafeteria manager and workers who all knew it was Ramadan and helped us out in taking away meals for the morning. I miss the Latino chef who once let us in from the back door after cafeteria hours and gave us more food than we needed for suhur. I miss him telling us "yogurt is good it keeps you healthy, take it," "hey, take fruits too," "no, no, take more breads," "take more chips even if you don't want them give them to your friend just take them."

I miss going to the university with my few Muslim college mates. We would go there when we would be missing big Muslim gatherings at iftar. I remember smiling and greeting people as though we were all one and on the same journey together. I miss having our prayers with all the students there lots of us! I miss having our allocated prayer place taken away from us by another religious club, and us not grumbling. I miss our courage to pray in the middle of the hallway because the entire student union did not have room for us. I remember being given dates to break my fast, as is tradition for Muslims. I remember at that point thinking about Pakistan and how even the traffic policemen would come and give you dates to eat if you happened to be stuck on the road during the sunset. I miss sitting with absolute strangers at the iftar table and yet feeling like I was home.

I miss seeing Africans and white Americans, Indonesians and Arabs, Persians and Pakistanis, Europeans and Asians, I miss seeing every one from all parts of the world and not noticing our differences.

This year, I realized what all there is to miss and what all there is that we take for granted. I understood the importance of humanity and the way this one month was there to bring us together. I understood what God really intended making us all fast in the same month, at the same time, in the same way. This Ramadan, I realized how much I love everyone I know. This Ramadan, I realized how much there is to be grateful for. This year I realized Ramadan is absolutely beautiful.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Fiza Fatima Asar

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