Stories from Afar & Up Close

On a Su-Shi Diet

“You are fasting? Ah, for the day. No? For the whole month? Why would you do that? Next thing we know we will see you wearing a veil!” Yes, I am fasting during the whole month of Ramadan. No, I am not becoming Muslim. I am merely practicing what Anthropologists like to call participant observation. You do what the people around you do, to experience what they experience and thus, hopefully, come to a better understanding of why people think what they think and do what they do. As many people around me are fasting, I decided to join them and not eat and drink from sunrise to sunset for one whole month (in Lebanon, this is from around 4.45am until 7pm – apparently, in The Netherlands sunset isn’t until 8.30pm… pfff!).

The first day was a big shock. I had decided to wake up at 4.30am to drink enough water for the whole day. Big mistake: as I laid back down, my belly was playing storm-on-sea and there was no way I would sleep again. At noon, my brain started to fade, and at 6pm I had trouble looking straight. Dinner, at my beloved’s parents’ place, was a relief. The opening bite was the traditional date followed by a sweet drink, and then the equally traditional lentil-soup and fattoush (a Lebanese salad) which went down faster than a fish down a waterfall. Glasses and glasses of water to quench the thirst, regretted half an hour later as I sat on the couch to digest, feeling I was about to explode.

Fasting has become less hard over the days. The hour at which the fatigue sets in gradually moves to later in the afternoon, and I occasionally manage to think about something else than food or drinking. The good part are the iftars – the dinner to break the fast after sunset. Here goes: the more the merrier, and eating alone during Ramadan is not done, so I am, like last year, invited to many a home-cooked meal. But I don’t mind eating my iftar alone. There is a certain magic to preparing the meal without so much as licking my fingers to taste what I am cooking, setting the table on the balcony, and then, with so many people on the balconies around me, waiting for the mosque to start singing; the sign that dinner can be consumed. The only problem is which mosque to follow: Sunnis start eating when the mosque is done singing, but Shia generally wait another 20 minutes or so, just to be sure that the sun has gone down completely.

On the balconies across the street I see two families – one on the 5th, one on the 2nd floor. The grandfather on the 5th floor usually sits down at the table long before sunset, and he is joined quickly by his family members as the call to prayer ends. Silence, interspersed by the clicking knifes and forks on the plates, ensues. I am guessing they are Sunni. It takes another quarter of an hour for the grandmother to emerge on the 2nd floor, with a big bowl of soup in her hands. Their dedication to fast until the last moment implies they are Shia. Me? I have started eating somewhere in between the two. I am on a Su-Shi diet.