Bang. Bang. Bang.
“Na’am, I say half asleep.
“Sohour, says a voice behind my hotel door. I get dressed and look at my watch. It’s 2:50 am.
I wipe the sleep from my eyes as I step out into the humid, Red Sea air of Dahab. It is the first meal of the first day of the fasting month of Ramadan. The hotel staff, which invited me to eat with them, scampers about preparing food before the fajr (dawn) prayers.
As I sit down to eat, I hear the bass music of a distant night club, which reminds me of the musaharati, or drummer who used to wake people to eat before the days of alarm clocks. As I enjoy a meal of fuul (beans), salad, cheese and yogurt. The staff explains to me what Ramadan is all about.
An older worker, Nasr, challenges me to continue the routine of my normal life as if nothing has changed. He condemns people who take life easy, such as working less, sleeping more or making excuses, because they are fasting.
After encouraging me to avoid such habits, I ask them for some helpful hints on how to make it through the day.
Drink plenty of water the night before came a collective response from everyone around the table.
Just as they finished responding, a group of intoxicated tourists walked past the hotel singing and dancing. I expected to see some dirty looks for the desecration of this pre-dawn ritual especially since alcohol is forbidden in Islam, but instead I see smiles.
Then one of them explains to me that the Quran states Muslims should be accepting of other peoples’ customs and beliefs even if they run perpendicular to their own.
After we finish eating and the table is cleared Nasr offers me tea. Initially, I politely decline but after some back and forth I eventually accept. I was hoping to go back to sleep after the meal but the tea might disagree.
As we sit around enjoying the warm breeze coming off the sea, the call to prayer begins in the distance and eventually encompasses the city. My new friends excuse themselves and head to the mosque, whereas I head back to my room.
Before I go to bed, I remember their advice and chug one and a half liters of water. Needless to say I made quite a few trips to the bathroom that night.
The next day, I woke up and raced again to the bathroom. I met my friends who were less sympathetic of me fasting than I had hoped. They made sure I saw them consume every exaggerated bite and sip.
The hunger pains didn’t hit until early in the afternoon but ironically, I woke up a bit parched, which stayed with me. As the day progressed my hunger and thirst became worse.
On a busy news day I have gone long hours without eating, which is easy. But not being able to drink is hard. In order not to let myself down by giving in, I diverted my focus to other things.
Eventually the sun began to set. I climbed to the top of the hotel to watch it dip behind the mountains. A sense of accomplishment filled me as I walked to meet a group of men who invited me to break the fast with them after learning what I was doing.
It was great to experience the average fasting routine with some friendly guys but when I got home things were different. Accustomed to the bachelor life I have made a few adjustments to my fasting schedule. Instead of waking up and preparing my food, I have a bowl of granola filled with fruit and milk along with a bottle of water next to my bed. After the five minutes it takes to wolf down my sohour I am back to sleep.
As the first week draws to a close I look forward to the coming ones and learning more about this special month and in turn sharing that with you.
Ian Lee is an American reporter who is fasting for the entire month of Ramadan. He’ll be sharing the trials and tribulations of his fast each week.