Friday, September 07, 2007

An Egyptian friend called us when we were in the U.S. When I mentioned to him that for some reason overly hyped Christianity was getting on my nerves (see J’s July 18, '07 post to see what I mean) and that it was weird, but I didn’t feel quite so overwhelmed by Islam in Egypt, he said, “Maybe it’s because you aren’t part of the culture.” Yes. DUH! It’s easy enough to shut it off when it’s not your Thang. It’s easy enough to walk past a soldier, his head to the prayer rug he’s unrolled on the sidewalk, and just to keep talking and swigging my bottled water. It’s easy to ignore the niqab when every other woman isn’t even veiled and she’s on the arm of a gentleman in an Italian suit. It’s easy to shrug your shoulders at the loudspeaker that projects Friday’s shouting imam right into your bedroom when you can’t understand what he’s saying. Most of all, as my friend suggested (or as I interpreted for my own purposes), it’s easy to accept something that is running parallel but not intertwined in any concrete way with your life, and to then be able to see it as less of an intrusion than a rhythm that’s there in your experience, in that one singular experience you are having in a place that is foreign to you.

Next Thursday, Ramadan, which is celebrated at a different time every year, commences. The Egyptian government has already made us fall back an hour so as to prepare for shorter days and keep Ramadan more bearable. This year it will be hotter than the previous Ramadan, so I imagine it will be more miserable to go without water, food, and all vices (cigarettes, sex, sometimes even looking at a woman) the whole day than it was last year. I teach an 8:00 class this semester, but the Ramadan schedule has me teaching at 7:30 in the morning. I don’t think it matters – the students will be tired no matter what time of day it is. I like this because with my other classes I’ll be done about 1pm, and traffic around 2 or 3 stays in one honking place during Ramadan.

When I was in college and stupider than at present, I went through a semester or so where I fasted each Monday. I don’t really remember the rationale, just that it had something to do with the gluttonous nature of college weekends and some stupid shit about “purifying” myself and the constant, unoriginal, and false belief that I was a fatty. Simply put, after scarfing down a frozen pizza and a bag of Cadbury eggs with one of my friends at 4 in the morning, I decided to embark upon fasting. I relive this embarrassing situation only to point out that, after a day and night of fasting, the next time I ate was a miserable experience culminating in body meltdown. (I’ve heard there are “good” ways of fasting, but I was 19.)

Now imagine that fasting is not only a month-long religious obligation, but at the moment of breaking fast (Iftar), you are plied with ridiculous mounds of glorious food. Then, a couple of hours later, you and your sluggish body are expected to go back to school for your rescheduled Ramadan night class. Not fun for you or for your teacher, which was me when I got stuck with the night shift last year.

Anyway, just a note, I guess, that Ramadan is about to begin. Everything shifts – daily schedules, general moods, the nature of student excuses, and your ability to complete anything bureaucratic. Oh, yes – now this is something I notice. The other stuff, the more important spiritual stuff, is what I’ll try to remember and acknowledge, rather than just my petty annoyance.


1 comment:

moonlight ambulette said...

The guy who runs our corner bodega observes ramadan, which means he stands there surrounded by food and coffee and makes people sandwiches and sells them beer and ramen noodles all day. I don't know how he does it! And whenever I am feeling whiny about work, I remind myself of him. He has an f-ing fantastic attitude about everything. It's bizarre.