How long have you been fasting? is a question I am typically asked.
Slightly confused by the question, I respond by saying, “Since the first day. For most people, they can’t believe that I’ve been fasting the entire time, which I haven’t quite figured out why.
But they tell me how happy they are to hear that I am and want to know about my experience so far. Our conversation usually ends with an invitation to iftar. Egyptian hospitality is truly at its best this month. But it hasn’t been all iftar parties and konafa dessert; the past couple of weeks have been tough.
Of course first there are the hunger pains that strike in the hours before iftar, but they’ve been getting better as time progresses. Consequently, I’ve also noticed that most conversations during the fasting hours turn to food after a few minutes.
But hunger pains aren’t the only thing I am dealing with. The other day in particular I had to run some errands and encountered a whole new set of Ramadan dilemmas.
It all started when the magnetic strip on my ATM card failed. I had to go to the bank to remedy this problem.
At 2 pm, I was finally able to break away from work but unfortunately found the bank closed. The hours of operations posted on the door said 9 am to 5 pm but the guard at the door said they closed at 1:30 pm during Ramadan.
Frustrated and disgruntled, I remembered what Nasr, an acquaintance whom I met last week, told me in Dahab about going on with life as if nothing has changed. I don’t think my bank got that memo. I also thought to myself, “I bet Prophet Mohamed didn’t close up early when he was fasting.
Defeated, I would have to return and put off my errands for another time. The following day I decided to show up early to make sure I had ample amount of time. After walking into the bank and taking a number, I found that 25 people had beaten me that morning.
But to my frustration, instead of normal banking activity, people were literally withdrawing bags of money.
I remembered hearing how Ramadan is the month of giving and how some people withdraw large sums to give to the poor. So to avoid any bad karma I sat down patiently and waited my turn. After the two hours it took to count the thousands of dollars, it was finally my turn to process a five-minute request.
Leaving the bank I was able to continue my list of errands from the previous day. Everything was going great until later that evening when my fasting frustration once again reared its ugly head.
Since my previous roommate returned to Switzerland, I was looking for a new one. A few people were going to stop by to check it out but I scheduled them early because I had an iftar to attend.
The first two came on time but of course the third was running late. Just before I was going to call and cancel, my phone rings. He was on his way up. I quickly called my hosts and told them I might be late and to eat without me. But true to typical Egyptian hospitality, they told me they were going to wait for me. After a quick tour, I took off at a full sprit to make it before the evening call to prayer (e’sha) sounded.
Hot, sweaty and tired I ascended the 13 stories to their apartment where they warmly welcomed me. Once I profusely apologized for my tardiness we sat down to eat.
After being stuffed multiple times with all types of delicious Egyptian delights, I told them my story of what happened and explained my frustrations of the week. That is when I learned a new Arabic word, sabr or patience, and realized that if I am going to make it through the month – I have to exercise more of it.
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.