I’ve been hoping to write a little bit about Ramadan here, because I’ve been reflecting on its meaning and role in my life a lot this year. But one of the things about Ramadan, especially in the summer, is that it doesn’t leave a lot of time for things like blogging; when you’re a Muslim in the United States, life goes on as usual during the day, even if you are trying to maintain extra spiritual practices on top of fasting itself. But when you don’t break your fast until after 8p, you’re not getting a lot of time to write, or read, or watch TV, or do any of the things one would normally do before bedtime. Because bedtime comes almost immediately after dinner.
The days of Ramadan are punctuated by two meals, and in July those meals are 16 hours apart: what we Pakistanis call “sehri” and iftar. Iftar is what you hear about most: it’s the big feast at the end of the day, the feast usually shared with family and friends, and it is indeed as glorious as you have heard. That picture up there, that is a picture of an Iftar dinner we hosted last year.
No one has any pictures of sehri. Sehri is the morning meal; the one we wake up to eat before dawn, in the hopes it will provide some sustenance for the fast ahead. I’ve been thinking a lot about “sehri time” lately, how when I was younger my mother would pad into my room and quietly ask what I wanted to eat, how through my half-opened eyes I would tell her, how she would then serve me in bed. How as a teenager, I would refuse to eat, asking only for water, annoyed at having to get up. In those times, everything was quiet, and dark, and still, with as little hustle and bustle as possible. Maybe once or twice a Ramadan we’d go upstairs to my aunties’ apartment and eat a bigger breakfast, but for the most part the goal was to fall back asleep as quickly as possible.
Those are good memories.
For the most part, since having my own home, sehri has been a less romantic affair, filled with the grownup responsibility of making one’s own breakfast. Once, when I was in my early twenties, I spent the night at my parents’ just so I could eat with them at sehri time. I got up with my mother, who proceeded to ask my youngest sister what she wanted to eat.
“OO-ga,” my sister responded groggily.
My mom and I looked at each other, suppressing giggles.
“Nani, I don’t understand what that is,” my mom said.
“LOO-ga!” my sister articulated.
At that, my mother and I were lost in a fit of giggles. This was the point at which Tahira decided to speak coherantly:
“It’s not that funny MOM!” she snapped.
Oh, but it was. That is a good memory too.
My sehri now is different; I live with Andy, who with his usual Puritan Work Ethic, has decided that the most productive way to get through Ramadan in the summer is to get up at sehri, drink coffee with his breakfast, and then stay up for the rest of the morning. He generally works until around 1, then takes a nap with Ilan, then gets up and goes back to work until we break fast. Then, naturally, he crashes with the kids immediately afterwards.
But forget about his nighttime routine. Let’s backtrack to sehri, and let me remind you, in case you’ve forgotten, that all this breakfast eating is happening at 3:30 in the morning in July.
So, for Andy, the goal of sehri is to wake up and be ready to do work at an hour at which it is very difficult to wake up and do work. Generally this means he wants to turn all the lights on and blare some random Netflix documentary while he is eating.
Of course, I don’t want to get up at 3:30a, because I want to go to bed and go back to sleep until the kids (who have been blessedly sleeping in) wake up. So there are negotiations. Because I am an adult, and I don’t get served breakfast in bed anymore, and because I am an adult, and I have a husband whose needs are also important.
There is part of me that mourns a little for the sehri of my childhood and adolescence, but at the time they certainly didn’t feel special. They still felt like getting up in the middle of the night to eat breakfast and then get a couple of more hours’ worth of sleep before going to school, where I would proceed to not eat all day to my 11- and 15- and 17-year old self. I didn’t know then that, in retrospect, the thought of those moments would fill me with a deep pang of longing, for that quiet and still house, for the taste of reheated pancakes or paratha and egg from my aunties, for the whispers of my parents.
But I have to remind myself that someday I will almost certainly look back on these days of my incredibly dedicated, incredibly insane husband, his bustling around our too-bright kitchen, his bagel-egg-and-cheese-sandwiches that fill my stomach like a brick, and think nostalgically too. When Andy and I are older, and he’s not writing a dissertation, and the fasts are not 16 hours long anymore, our sehris will almost certainly change again, shift into some other pattern, as things tend to do. And I will look back and miss this time, this pattern, this stage, as we tend to do.