How not to die on Ramadan (being a foreigner)
I have always planned to travel the world. Who never did that, right? Sounds absolutely great when you think about it. Exchanging cultures, eating different kinds of food, meeting new people. Only the best things pop up in your mind. But trust me when I tell you: it needs a lot and lot of research for you not to make silly mistakes that could cost you your whole trip, or even more.
When I first got to Cairo, in Egypt, I was so exited and worried at the same time that I was focussing not to panic. It sounds really dramatic, but it is true. I was so worried about how I would feel and who was going to wait for me at the airport that I forgot to do the basic. Research. I didn’t know what was the Ramadan period and that it was about to start. Actually, this year, it started specifically on the evening of Wednesday, May 16. My flight landed at May 20th.
I came to work in a project for the AIESEC organization to work with a startup company to help them grow and also learn as much as I could. This looked to me as a dream come true. 3 months working with creative people which had as one of the main goals to make an impact in the world. That is my main objective since I can remember, so I just checked in and came (and this is a story for another post).
It was around 5pm when I got out of the airport, mesmerized with the most incredible sunset colors that were illuminating the Egyptian capital. My hands were sweaty but my heart was calm, it was impossible not to fall in love with that horizon in front of me. My cellphone was not working, so I had sometime to just let myself be hypnotised by the atmosphere in the city. Ramadan had just started and the friend that was with me told me about it, I was completely fine. Inside my head, it was not going to change or impact anything on my routine. And it was. Or even better, it has.
In this first day, I arrived at the hostel that I was going to stay for the next 3 months and they immediately ordered me food, because of course they needed to eat too. When in Ramadan, muslins don’t eat or drink water (and have some more restrictions, but I will focus on that two) while the sun is outside. It means they fast from around 3am to almost 7pm. Basically the whole day. Again, I didn’t worry about this info because I was not going to fast and I thought that during Ramadan things would not change for tourists. They do. When my food arrived, I ate and soon went to sleep, still not believing that I was here and fascinated with all of the possibilities that this travel experience could give me.
From the second day on, things were about to change. Soon I realized that no place would deliver food before the Iftar hour (that is when they break the fasting). At least the ones I knew. Again, I didn’t research about it that much because there were a lot of things going on and I was distracted. But mistaken or not, I was hungry, even though I could deal with it. I tried to keep food with me to eat at the iftar and then after the iftar, in the next day, I would have food from the day before to eat until I could order again. Turns out food, without a fridge to stock it in, doesn’t last long and I should have known that. Day after day, I tried to get a solution for the food problem, but I couldn’t, so eventually I starved for some hours a day. It was hard, but I survived.
Of course that you start learning, asking and finding options to encounter alternatives and avoid this kind of situation.
Ramadan is much more than not eating and not drinking (water and all kinds of liquids). This holy period has some kind of aura that you can feel and almost touch. It is amazing how the peace and people´s faith can give you such a nice feeling, even when you don’t share the same kind of believes or traditions. My favorite time of the day during Ramadan was the iftar hour. Not because we could buy food or ear properly, of course not. At this specific time, we could see Egyptians sharing food in the streets. They used to give food to people that were fasting. They literally shared food with people that were hungry, giving juice boxes, bread and water to everybody, strangers, Egyptians, foreigners, believers or not. You probably are thinking that this is a very touching act of kindness, right? I imagine if the hungry one was you. I guarantee you that it would mean more than the world.
But you can ask me, “but hey, why do this people fast? They get hungry because they want to, in a volunteer way and this has no sense”. I would probably agree with you and have this same questions in my mind if I didn’t come to Egypt and experience this my own self. They fast because they have the idea that they need to feel how the poor people feel when they don’t have money to buy food. They abdicate from their privileges for a whole month to put themselves in a place they wouldn’t need to be to learn. To feel. To pray for those who don’t have what they have.
Can you imagine how the world would be if every single person could, just for a small period of time, abdicate from the privileges they have to put themselves in the place of the other?
Well, I sure know that this was the most difficult and life changing experience for me. Even that sometimes I didn’t understand it, complained about it or wanted to go home. Sometimes the answer could lie just in front of you and you would need to put yourself in another perspective to reach it. And when you don’t do it, the meaning could get simply lost.