The Ramadhan Diaries

Fasting in London and beyond

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

Trying not to argue when the computor says no

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LIfe and other weird ideas

So the soggy defrosted food (because my freezer has broken) that got cooked and eaten in phases through the night has meant that I felt bloated and stuffed until about half an hour ago after 12 hours of fasting so far. Now I want a coffee sitting there on the side of my desk – maybe only a few sips of it drunk – but nonetheless sitting there as my work companion to help me through the pile of paperwork that needs doing. My poor accountants keep sending me hopeful emails for me to do essential bits of admin that I just can’t make myself do. I feel guilty because I know they are fasting too.

No hospital shift today so I am enjoying a lazy day. But it does go slower that’s for sure. I made up for it by watching two episodes of Scrubs back to back and will hold out for the Simpsons at 6.

But no coffee until 21.01 hours.

There are clouds in the sky but it’s still baking. How about a little thunder storm? I love a good storm – it feels rather refreshing afterwards. And rather crazy exciting during it too.

Man it’s so hard to focus and do work when you feel so rubbish and just want to crawl into bed and watch tv for the rest of the day. But that’s not the point of Ramadhan. You have somehow got to ‘dig deep’ and keep going. A voice echoes in my head from Sandhurst days agin ‘Work hard ladies’…yes it’s my colour sergeant again shouting encouragement from somewhere deep in my memory. This fasting stuff is undoubtedly great for stamina building and good for a reminder about the important things. And I tell you I won’t be doing this for just anyone – so it reminds me of who I am, what I believe in and how faith is such a significant part of me. I suppose sometimes we all need a central grounding to bring us back to who we are in amongst the crazy busy lives we lead. I mean today I have been pondering my career, my life and how I need to move forward. I have also been having my own pangs of insecurity, self-doubt and how much has been procrastinated about and yet left unfulfilled. I mean have I learnt French yet? No. Have I learnt Arabic yet? er no! Have I sorted out my manky ankle that has stopped me doing the one sport I love – running? No – even though I am a bloody doctor myself! And yes prospective patients – do as I say and not as I do! And time is just trickling past. So in this period of forced slowing down I am having a detox of my body and brain – a time to use the F word – FOCUS! There I said it  and instead of trying to do six million things at once it’s time to break it all into man-sized chunks. The other weird thing that has recently happened is that I have become a bit more serious about my medical career – about working out how to be a really good EM doctor and climb the ranks to consultant. Yes I have admitted it – I want to complete my training and staying a middle grade is not enough. How did I get all these thoughts so far in Ramadhan – and we are not even half way through yet! What am I going to come out with by the end? Maybe it’s the sugar deprivation playing weird tricks with my brain.

I know I have plenty of reserves on board that could do with being used up so I am hardly wasting away shall we say! No weight loss so far.

Defrosting freezer equals eating frenzy

Ok so what is about the most inconvenient thing that can happen when you are a single girl, fasting in London. It’s discovering your freezer has decided to defrost itself and all your food is about to go off unless you cook it RIGHT NOW. That means trying to eat about six things – because you won’t be able to eat them tomorrow as you’ll be fasting. So I have a strange concoction of food to cook – it’s  going to be a meat fest.

I made shorba!

Oh my goodness it was amazing. Maybe it was because I was starving that it tasted so good!  Aha – an instant way to gain a reputation as a good cook – make sure everyone has fasted for at least 12 hours – devoid of water, tea, coffee and any food. Then present your attempt of cooking and I am sure you will be deemed a success. 

So my shorba was made with lamb, some onions, some paprika  which caused a bit of a dilemma. I was not entirely sure if it was paprika or red chilli powder – it had the potential to go horribly wrong. It was a bit like have to decide whether to cut the red or the blue wire when you are the on-shift bomb disposal person. If you get it wrong – boom! well my red chilli versus paprika mix up had the potential to do the same. And the added anguish was that I was fasting so couldn’t pop a sprinkle on the tongue for that 5 second test where if you get it wrong you know about it and can douce the flames with water. 

My favourite spice ras -al hanout was thrown in as was some rather old looking garlic – then some of that grain stuff – foreek I think it’s called in Algerian and that heavenly freshly chopped coriander and there we were. Delish! 

Now it’s about that time again when I can break my fast. No such extravagance tonight – it’s tuna pasta!

Yep it was a tough one today

Today – what a day. Thought it would never end. As I ploughed through the list of patients I just wanted a coffee – the way I normally have it – hidden discretely in the stationary cupboard in Minors within A&E so matron doesn’t see it when she does her walk around. We may be the doctors but matron still rules and we still scamper like naughty school kids caught out when she comes onto the shop floor.

I realised that although I wasn’t particularly thirsty or hungry – it was more the habit of ‘going for a coffee’ or taking a sip in between patients to signify the end of one case and starting a new one. Thank goodness I don’t smoke. How on earth do they cope – Ramadhan is as much about fasting as it is about habit breaking. Nearly half way through – and I am flagging. But on the positive side – I am being forced to slow down. It is difficult and I am getting rather vexed by not being able to do about three things at once but I suppose one month a year to ease the pace a bit is no bad thing!

I am back in A&E tomorrow and hope that my mind is stronger than my distracting cravings. They are really annoying.

Out of sync – but something I wrote about day 1.

Day One Done and Dusted

Day one has happened. Cold turkey with the caffeine is complete and so tomorrow won’t be that bad! Make sure that you are taking on plenty of fluids during the non-fasting hours. Take on some good solid carbohydrates to give you slow energy release tomorrow – pasta, rice, bread. 

Every year I do really feel that time moves so quick. Ramadhan is over as soon as it has begun – it does it every year. Being in this period is a short opportunity to reflect, to detox and to start fresh. Not sure if during our own hunger pangs we are really thinking about those that really don’t have food. I can’t help but say ‘thank God’ when I am allowed to eat. It’s because for some people even when the allotted hours of ‘allowed eating’ come around they don’t have anything and make do with water. So I suppose this is really about understanding why it’s important to give. 

And just to make sure we remember one of the reasons behind it all here is the feel good factor bit. Ramadhan is the month when various campaigns are launched or run in order to tackle poverty and social issues. One example is the End Poverty, Educate Now Ramadhan campaign running in Dubai.

In a recent article the significance of this campaign was stressed by Tariq Al Gurg, Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Cares.

“In a knowledge-based world, investment in education is key for countries to build a healthy and equitable society. As a result, the inherent potential of people can be fulfilled, leading to an increase in income levels and a reduction in educational and social disparities caused by poverty. Our “End Poverty. Educate Now.” campaign aims to garner the support of the UAE community in order to improve the lives of underprivileged children globally and help further reduce the number of out of school children which according to UNESCO currently stands at 57 million.”

The rest of the article can be read here from the AlBawaba business website.

So how do we work out Ramadhan has started? We do a bit of sky gazing! It’s about looking for the new moon to mark the start of the new month. Muslims have always worked off the lunar calendar – which has sometimes resulted in strange interpretations. No we don’t worship the moon. We just use the moon to identify the start of a new month.  The thing with Islam is that even times have changed and the centuries have moved on we do tend to stick to tradition. It’s how they worked out the calendar right from the beginning. But Muslims are not the only ones, Jews also use a lunar calendar. 

Here is a link to a useful site which gives the lunar calendar.

And here is a cute little film about a father and his sons trying to locate the new slither of the Ramadhan moon as part of the 4Ramadhan series.



So I remember a frequent call from my colour sergeant when I was a cadet at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. It was ‘Shut the f*** up ladies’. Nearly always deserved because we would break out into chatter whenever we could and I will admit with 25 women all talking together at a unified higher pitch the sound is a bit like the most annoying nails across a blackboard ever.

I think the imaam at the mosque at last night’s prayers would have felt the same pain as my colour sergeant at Sandhurst. I was at the night prayers – called taraweer- that are held during Ramadhan, which take place after the usual last prayer of the night Isha. Am I making sense? Basically it’s an add on extra set of prayers at the end of the day. More blessing/ brownie points. It’s actually a way to recite the entire 30 chapters of the Qu’ran through the month, whilst in prayer. Quite impressive to witness as it’s physically demanding and someone has learnt all that off by heart. Standing in those prayers takes some stamina! But it’s nice and spiritual. It also helps with digesting all the food just eaten after the day of fasting so I think it all works well together. Food for the body and then more food for the soul. Anyway because everything is done in blocks – we pray the ishaa prayer together and then there’s a little gap whilst everyone takes some slugs of water, shuffles along to fill gaps in the lines and prepares for the next set. And guess what – the ladies up in their section start TALKING! In mosques men and women are segregated. I for one would not feel comfortable with some of the moves we do in prayer, like bending over or kneeling in prostration if there was a bloke behind me. It’s practical. Anyway at the prayer interlude there goes that high pitched chatter that pierces the eardrums of all not involved and the ladies will not be quiet!! The imaam tried twice to shut the ladies up – but he gave up in the end. He just started with ‘Allah-u-Akbar’ to mark the start of the taraweer – indicating that we are starting without you ladies – and then thankfully they did stop talking about what they had cooked for breaking the fast or complaining about women not standing where they should be. Oh yes – that is a whole blog piece of it’s own. The little dictators that emerge every year to pull and push you around mid-prayer. Grrr.

No wonder women get a rough deal in getting access to mosques – Muslim blokes can be rather fixed in their ideas and women being women and having a good old gossip and chatter kind of plays into their hands. Especially when the blokes are being like the good kids at school, sitting there in quiet contemplation like butter wouldn’t melt….oh yeah right!

Fasting in the midday sun

I had some filming to do today in London. I needed to be there for about 2pm but just quivered at the thought of getting onto the underground in the heat of today – something over 30 degrees I think. I got a taxi instead and fell asleep learning my lines in the back.

The rest of the team did a pseudo fast with me – I think people find it difficult to eat and drink in front of fasters. It was immensely hot and Rob was not only producing and directing the shoot he was also filming it too. So I disappeared for little periods of time and hoped he was gulping water during my absences. No point in everyone getting dehydrated. And anyway I have been doing this for most of my life and am used to it. And I am getting acclimatised to it for this year now.

I stumbled, coughed and spluttered my way through the pieces to camera. But it’s all in the mind – because as soon as Rob said ‘Action’ I imagined  a switch turning on and sparkly me was there. It really did work.

It flowed so well that the shoot finished earlier than anticipated and I piled into the back of a taxi once more to get home. I fell into blissful sleep again and let someone else worry about the traffic. When I got home I had about 7 minutes to the break of fast time and I just appreciated the cool evening air like I was experiencing it for the first time. I think when you fast all the things you go through and are denied are reinforced in their wonderfulness and you appreciate them that much more. A cool evening breeze and a glass of cold water really do feel like the most precious things when you have not been able to enjoy them all day. Being reminded of that – of their simplicity and yet their importance – is surely a good thing.

When to fast and when not

So I might have slipped in my blogging obligations but to be fair I was exempt from fasting in the first week. I was on the lady’s holiday. So I am now a week behind in acclimatisation. But whilst we are at it I thought I would go through what the rules are for who can fast and who is exempt and what they can do to feel part of the gang.

Essentially fasting during Ramadan is compulsory for Muslim adults who are in good mental and physical health. The age of when Muslims are supposed to fast is when they have past the age of puberty. Those who have a chronic health condition which would result in a deterioration of their condition are of course exempt. A good idea for those in doubt is to check things out with your doctor first. The aim is not to make yourself unwell by pushing your body to do something it is not able to do because of ill-health. So be sensible people and don’t try to be a hero! There are other things you can do to make up for the missed days.

If you’re travelling and on a journey you are also exempt. but this is a case of do as I say and not what I do. I went to Libya in 2011 and my journey came towards the end of Ramadhan. I thought about not fasting during the journey – it was going to be a bit of a crazy one from a sleepy little village in Essex to Gatwick onto Tunis and then Tataouine near the Libyan-Tunisian border. Yes it was a hike and a half. But my flight was in the late afternoon and so I thought I’d tough it out and fasted. I am pretty glad I did. On the flight with Tunis Air I found that fellow travellers were also fasting and when it came to the iftar – breaking the fast  – I have never seen an inflight meal like it. We all got min-banquets on a tray. It was such a lovely sight and I felt really humbled by the respect given to us as travellers and Muslims observing Ramadhan. We even got an announcement from the pilot on the time when the fast was open. And that sealed my thoughts on whether I was going to fast for the rest of the days spent travelling even though I was exempt. Fasting in a Muslim country is a far different experience than fasting here in the UK and I wanted to embrace it.

The Muslim Council of Britain website suggests the following list of exemptions but acknowledges that some of them are optional:

• People who are mentally incapacitated or not responsible for their actions
• The elderly
• The sick
• Travellers who are on journeys of more than about fifty miles
• Pregnant women and nursing mothers
• Women who are menstruating

It is kind of widely appreciated that if you miss fasts you make them up later. And if you can’t do that then you feed those who can’t afford food.

Channel 4’s Ramadhan Stuff

Channel 4’s Ramadhan Stuff

So this year Channel 4 are having a bit of a Ramadhan love in. They are going to be broadcasting calls to prayer – the adhan – at strategic fasting times of the day – like when you have to stop eating and when you can eat again. 

The channel are broadcasting films, having online ongoing content and asking for mass participation. It’s quite a new concept and I wonder what has brought on this extravaganza. So until I can ask Ralph Lee in person I have done a bit of google search to get some answers…

He wrote exclusively for the Radio Times, defending his reasoning for broadcasting the adhan.  “No doubt Channel 4 will be criticised for focusing attention on a ‘minority’ religion but that’s what we’re here to do – provide space for the alternative and a voice to the under-represented.

“And let’s not forget that Islam is one of the few religions that’s flourishing, actually increasing in the UK. Like Channel 4’s target audience, its followers are young. It’s recently been reported that half of British Muslims are under 25.”

Now I have heard the adhan from some rather remote and extreme places . In the pre 9/11 years I heard it from a Kashmiri mujahideen group’s camp, whilst making a Channel 4 documentary. I have heard it in the middle of a Libyan frontline hospital as we simultaneously received patients flooding in from the Bani Walid frontline. And now I am about to be able to tune in to hear it in my room fresh from Channel 4! I am not sure which one I am going to find the most bizarre.Lee describes it as “a nationwide tannoy system, a deliberate ‘provocation’ to all our viewers in the very real sense of the word”.


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