Generous Ramadan

One of my favourite articles about Ramadan first appeared in The Jerusalem Post back in July 2011 and later in his blog, the Chronikler. It is written by a Belgian-Egyptian journalist named Khaled Diab. I love this article because he writes about the wonderful events that happen during Ramadan: the feasting; the celebrating; the entertainment. He also writes about the similarities of fasting in the Abrahamic faiths and accounts a story of the Jewish man that does Ramadan. What I love most about this article is that it makes me think about what Ramadan means to me.

I began fasting in my early teens. I am pretty good at observing the fast but to this day I am yet to fast the full month. I found some years easier than others, and usually this was when Ramadan fell in the winter months! Now Ramadan falls during the long, lazy days of summer, to my dismay. When I was younger, Ramadan was more was about the excitement of eating delicious food before sunrise (suhoor) and during break-fast at sun-down (iftar).

Each morning, my Dad would get my brother and I up. We would come down bleary-eyed and lethargic. But as soon as I saw the food on the table: the cakes, the rice and curry, I instantly became alert with excitement at the thought of devouring everything. I often left the table with a rotund belly, feeling like lead. Iftar was pretty much the same. No wonder I didn’t lose any weight!

In more recent years, I have used the abundance of free time (it is amazing how much time we spend eating or dreaming about what we are going to eat) reflecting on the significance of Ramadan. It is a time for giving up: not just the food, but the ill-thoughts; the material things; the small things. It is a time for thinking about those less fortunate than us, and a time for taking action: serving others; treating people well; spending time with one-another.

When it came to eating at suhoor and breaking fast, the food had lost some of its charm. I discovered that I could live very well on much less, and I don’t just mean food-wise, but materially too. I seemed to have more energy and I had this very strong feeling of well-being. It is a strange feeling: like a warm glow engulfs your body from the inside. I felt pure.

I find doing Ramadan hard on my own. One of the reasons why I enjoyed it with my brother and my Dad was that we were doing it together. At suhoor, we would talk about different things, and Dad would usually teach us something new about the Qur’an or the teachings of Prophet Muhammed. During the day, we would encourage one another to keep going. Iftar was always really special because Dad would have the dates out on the table, Mum the cups of tea, whilst I would be counting down the time. Taking the first sip of tea or the first bite of a date was absolutely glorious.

When Ramadan was over, I tried my best to maintain the good examples that had been set during it. Unfortunately, I could never sustain them to the same degree. Fortunately, doing Ramadan has taught me one last lesson: that these wonderful actions and moments of sharing and giving should not just be confined to one month, and not just confined to one faith; but to all, and every day.

I wish you all a “Ramadan kareem”.

Driving with the headlights on

My Dad is great at emailing me motivational and inspirational videos. I am very attentive when I listen, usually with a pen and paper in hand to jot down useful insights or words of advice, making sure some of it will stick. The one I saw lately was of the 2013 Ivy Orator speaker for the Havard Graduation Class, Blythe B Roberson. At first you wonder where she is going with her speech but keep watching, she’s incredibly smart and funny and she provided inspiration for this post.
The main theme of her speech is don’t try to construct a single narrative for your whole life. She encourages the Class of 2013 to make “whatever weird, scary choices” make them happy. She referred to a wonderful quote by the American author E.L. Doctorow: “Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights but you can make the whole trip that way.” When writing this blog, I sometimes struggle with my thoughts on what to write about; and in finding the right balance between providing entertainment and enlightenment.  This quote encourages me to just keep going.
Since I moved to Brussels, I too am moving away from a single narrative. I moved here two years ago to do an internship in law. I managed to convert my internship into a short-term post; however, I was only offered a two-month contract. Out of sheer desperation, I took it. I wanted to stay in Brussels until the end of 2011, and I felt that anything beyond that was simply a bonus.  
Since then, I have had three pretty different jobs. When one job was coming to an end, I managed to get another. I didn’t have to try so hard to find them, they were opportunities that seemed to pop up at the right place, at the right time.  Every time I got a job, I told myself the same thing: that I wanted to stay in Brussels until the end of the year and anything beyond that was a bonus. I never felt terrified of what was going to happen next, I just trusted that it was all going to be ok. 
I do laugh about the number of jobs I’ve had in the last two years and yet, I feel very proud of this feat. I’ve taken chances and gained a lot both professionally and personally. But, the most important lesson I can take away from all of this is that sometimes (or even most of the time) you just have to follow your gut, try something new and trust that it will all work out. I am by no means in a “stable” position job-wise but I have never felt more stable in myself.

As we approach the summer solstice, my goal is still to stay on until the end of the year. Yet, maybe next year it will be time to leave, to construct a new narrative, and to drive just as far as my “headlights” take me. As I finish this post, I am also reminded of one of my favourite quotes by Dr Martin Luther King Jr: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”