Usually I would be at home during the holy month to sleep after suhoor and wake up a few hours before iftaar. Then my family would eat iftaar together, my brothers and I would go to taraweeh and then we would come home to stay up until suhoor and start the cycle again.
This time was completely different. I spent half of Ramadan in Lucknow, India, where I thought it would be easier to fast because Maghrib is an hour and a half earlier and because I would be in a Muslim community which would lift my spirits in regards to being away from my family. Having iftaar earlier did not make fasting easier because the intense heat and humidity balanced out the time reduction. All of last week was an average of 101 degrees fahrenheit. I was more thirsty than hungry especially mid-day when the heat would be at peak intensity.
Moreover, having class while fasting is always a challenge. Waking up for school a couple hours after Fajr and then having four consecutive hours of class five days a week combined with the change in weather and atmosphere was especially difficult. Though I’ll add that spending part of Ramadan here put my usual Ramadan routine into perspective. I definitely take fasting for granted in the US where the weather is manageable, where we can shelter ourselves in air conditioned rooms and when we leave the house, in air conditioned vehicles. Also, the familiarity of home is another asset that is taken for granted as well because a change in environment is a tricky transition in general. Fasting here made me feel like I was actually working towards iftaar, that I earned it through a combination of a change in environment and a change in familiarity.
In regards to suhoor , I actually operated on a normal sleep schedule where I would sleep around 10 or 11 pm and wake up at 3 am to have suhoor. One other person in my host family fasted too so he would unlock the main door to the house (since my room is located in an extension of the house) at 3 and we would have suhoor together. We searched the kitchen for any food to eat that did not need to be cooked because neither of us really know how to cook and because we aren’t allowed to use the stove or other appliances. So my suhoor consisted of buttered bread, iced coffee, and water. Then at 3:45 I prayed Fajr and went back to sleep until 7:30 am to get ready for school.
School ends at 2 pm and usually the other students stay behind to do homework until 5 or 6 but I would leave around 3 to go back home and take a nap until 6:30 – yes, a 3+ hour nap. Iftaar was between 7 – 7:10 pm for the two weeks of Ramadan I spent here. I would go downstairs to the kitchen five minutes before iftaar and sit with the host family and my friend, the other student living with me waiting for Maghrib time. We usually ate samosas, cholay, dahi baray, and some type of sweet. Every night we told ourselves we would eat only a little for iftaar so that we could have dinner later but anyone who says that knows it never ends up happening. Consequently, we either ate very little for dinner or no dinner at all since we were always full.
After iftaar and Maghrib it was time to do homework again and then back to bed by 10 or 11. This was my general Ramadan schedule in India. Then came Eid. I felt very homesick on the day of our last fast because it was Eid in the US and other parts of the world. My family was celebrating together and I felt very lonely on that day but it is a part of the experience and I came to India knowing that I would spend Eid by myself.
Nevertheless, my friends helped me celebrate. My friend living with me and I went to get our mehndi done early in the morning. We went out to the market by our house where there are men sitting around to do people’s mehndi. I had mine done by a male for the first time ever! I had never seen guys doing mehndi before but they were in fact really good at it and super quick. Another thing, the mehndi they use only needs to be left on for about an hour. The color starts out extremely light and by nighttime or morning the next day it reaches its darkest color.
After we took the henna off we went back home and got ready. We put on our new clothes and had lunch. We took pictures, did some homework, took more pictures, and then at night we joined the other students for an Eid dinner at a fancy hotel near where we live.
Eid, like Ramadan this time around was unique but I enjoyed it and am thankful for my friends who made sure I had a good time. One friend even gave me Eidi! It was such a kind gesture. Although Eid with ones family is irreplaceable and I felt homesick on such a festive occasion, I am pleased that I had the opportunity to spend it with friends and that too in India! I believe I got the most out of my Eid and Ramadan this year. I will always remember my Ramadan this summer, the first Ramadan I observed overseas.