The Ramadhan Diaries

Fasting in London and beyond

Archive for the month “July, 2014”

Ana Ayana – I am Tired

Ana Ayana – I am tired.

This is why.

Ten hour shift in A&E turned into a twelve hour shift.

12 hours of standing on my feet and chasing patients who don’t want to me to look after them.

3 hours of chasing a patient around the hospital, trying to get him to take his meds and persuade him not to go outside for a cigarette because he can barely breath and his oxygen levels are low.

3 hours of being abused by said patient for trying to stop him from getting so hypoxic and hypercapnic that he needs ITU. He was young but his judgement was so off, it was questionable if he had intact capacity. His hypercapnia (retaining carbon dioxide) was just over normal so I wasn’t thinking confusion at this stage.

2.5 hours over the time when I should have left to go home so that I could rest up ahead of my shift tomorrow morning.

But then I turned to the sister in charge and she saved the day. All is well. The patient is safe for now. Until he tries to get out of the ward again for another fag.

A long time since I have had such abuse for doing my job or experienced such disdain for my presence by a patient. In fact I think today was a first.

It was bizarre this morning – I bought a packet of chewing gum to get some change for the hospital car park but at the time had dismissed ever even opening the packet as it’s Ramadan and I am fasting. I had put them in my scrubs top pocket and forgotten about them. It was only as I was walking to my car, realising that the sun was setting and the fast was breaking did I realise that the small rectangular thing I was touching in my pocket was the packet of gum I thought I would never need. I thought to myself in that moment of fatigue and thankfulness that God knows the plan ahead of us, better than we do. I used the gum to break my fast as I had nothing else on me. I was not expecting to be so late getting home.

I had to go an sit in a coffee shop to decompress my brain before going home.

Home now and kind of floored. At least I know that I can fast a full day, be on my feet for most of it and deal with challenging patients – I have more of it for the rest of Ramadhan so it’s kind of confidence building.



Did My Son Eat A Mouse and Other Shop Floor Tales

I am working today in A&E and am having a little breather. Started at 8am and it’s now 14.28 to be precise.
It’s not been bad at all from a fasting perspective as the day has flown and it feels good to be awake and alert working.
Getting up at 7 am to be here for 8 am was hard as the normal wake up coffee had to be left out. When I work in A&E it’s the tea and coffee that keeps me going and copious amounts of it too.

ThWe have had some wonderful cases this morning including the mum who has a mouse phobia and panicked because she thought her son had eaten a dead mouse. He hadn’t. But is so lovely to reassure.

I have been in paediatric A&E today and it’s actually been fine – speaking to our smaller cuter clientele. There have been quite a lot of them though. But rewarding nonetheless. We have managed to get vomiting children to stop and take fluids  – always great when you can revive them back to their chirpy selves with some diarolyte. Other children who have not eaten and drunk for well over week because of painful mouth sores and ulcers have been treated and are now consuming vast packs of sandwiches.

I don’t feel hungry or thirsty – maybe it’s because I’m busy or maybe it’s because I’m getting used to fasting as it’s the 8th day.

I slept late last night so the one thing I am looking forward to is crashing out when I get home this evening. But the working pattern of starting early and finishing around 6pm would probably be the most sensible. Shame I have booked my shifts as lates starting at midday and going on until midnight. Doh!

Excuse typos as writing on my phone during my break.

Independence Day – Algeria

Me by the golden Lotus Flower monument, Setif. Algerian Ministry of Tourism SITEV 2013

Me by the golden Lotus Flower monument, Setif. Algerian Ministry of Tourism SITEV 2013

July 5th is Independence Day for Algeria. What an eventful Ramadhan it has been for Algeria. An amazing performance at the World cup that brought them respect and high accolades of praise from all over the world and then today – a time to remember, reflect and honour those who sacrificed so much.

Me in Setif, 2013. Algeria Ministry of Tourism trip, SITEV

Me in Setif, 2013. Algeria Ministry of Tourism trip, SITEV

Independence was gained from France in 1962 after many years of a bitter struggle against it’s colonial rule. Them path since has not been entirely smooth but it’s getting there.

How can you not love this place - it's beautiful. SITEV 2013

How can you not love this place – it’s beautiful. SITEV 2013


I have a particular soft spot for Algeria – for it’s culture, it’s fighting spirit, it’s strength and it’s beauty. I have only been there four times and if I could stay longer I would. Last year I was lucky enough to be invited to go on the Ministry of Tourism SITEV trip around Algeria. Never have I felt the pulse of a country under my skin in the way I have with Algeria. I was thrilled to learn that my name – one that I hardly heard of anyone else having – was actually quite common in Algeria. Each time I have arrived at Algiers airport I have a rush of adrenalin and a buzz with excitement in way that I don;t have anywhere else. I am not sure where this comes from but I have always felt drawn to the country since I first learnt of it’s story when I was 18 years old, living with two Algerian students in Manchester. The two girls used to talk me through the marches and stories of the civil war of the 1990s as we watched the news together. The more I learnt about Algeria’s struggles and it’s victories the more I loved it. And that love has continued all these years.

Me and Amel from Algerian Ministry of Tourism  as part of SITEV 2013, in Constantine - the city of bridges.

Me and Amel from Algerian Ministry of Tourism as part of SITEV 2013, in Constantine – the city of bridges.

Me with other SITEV 2013 delegates. Having fun in Constantine. Was a lovely day.

Me with other SITEV 2013 delegates. Having fun in Constantine. Was a lovely day.

Me in Setif at the famous fountain monument with friends made on SITEV 2013.

Me in Setif at the famous fountain monument with friends made on SITEV 2013.

That's what you call a six pack! Roman ruins in Algeria are phenomenal.

That’s what you call a six pack! Roman ruins in Algeria are phenomenal.

Happy Independence Day Algeria.




CAGE The ReSisters Event – Day 7

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One week down already. I feel relatively acclimatised now. It’s amazing how the body adjusts to new routines and it’s good to give yourself a shake out from the norm. Just been chilling and watching the Women’s Wimbledon Final and pondering this evening.

I am speaking at a CAGE event called the Resisters. It’s focused on the subject of the impact of women living through the War on Terror. It’s my first time of talking at a CAGE event. The subject matter of my 15 min talk will be on Women in War. I don’t normally prepare for talks – I just go and speak with what emerges in those moments of slight anxiety but with a passion for the subject matter.

But today I am pondering my words because there just is so much to say after the many years of heading to conflict zones or post conflict transitional zones. The first time was back in 1997 in Bosnia, my first time into of working in a country emerging from war and then bringing me up to date to the tragedy of what is going on in Syria with what I witnessed last year in 2013. The women I have met along the way, living through all the horror of war with the associated loss and the ongoing risks, have always left me astounded by their strength. It is quite an honour to be able to tell some of their stories today in tribute to them and their strength and courage.

For more information

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Iftar East London style – Maedah Grill

Shakeel and the team with me, my niece, nephew and sister.

Shakeel and the team with me, my niece, nephew and sister.


My last post said I was bored, but being a creature that is easily distracted, my periods of boredom are short-lived.

This evening the plan was to film with the BBC team I have been working with all week. We were going to film an iftar – the breaking of the fast – and the venue was a favourite of mine – Maedah Grill in Whitechapel. It’s really beautifully decorated Turkish restaurant just opposite the Islamic Cultural Centre in Whitechapel. As the taxi driver dropped me off, he asked me what it was like. He also asked if I had been to the restaurant on the opposite side of the road – Tayyubs. I have and the food is great but today it was a Maedah Grill day. The vibe inside is great and it has the room to accommodate everyone comfortably. Even when it is at full capacity, diners can sit without feeling as if they are knocking elbows with the next table.

I arrived twenty minutes before the fast was due to break but people were already seated around tables. In front of them were dates, grapes and watermelons laid out on plates. Each table was set with this selection of fast breaking food. People sat together waiting for the moment when the fast would be open. It was such a beautiful thing to see. The togetherness and the discipline. We didn’t know each other but we were all bonded in that moment – in obedience to Allah, in unity as Muslims and in our desire to appreciate the plight of those who have far less than we do so we can be better in giving to help others. Waiters from all sorts of backgrounds but mainly Turkish were attentively hovering around tables, making sure everyone had what they needed to break their fast. They themselves were all fasting. The chefs behind the hot grills had been cooking and preparing since midday. They were fasting too. I have no idea how they do it – but they do. I am in awe.


The Maedah Grill team hard at work but still smiling

The Maedah Grill team hard at work but still smiling

As my family arrived to break their fast with me, they were so wonderfully greeted by the owner of Maedah Grill, British born Indian Muslim, Shakeel. His manner and hospitality was just superb and each group of people arriving were greeted and made welcome in the same way. For those that might find themselves standing in a queue waiting for a table, a large platter of dates and fruit lay in the restaurants reception area. No attention to detail is left out in respect of the fasters.

We wondered how we would know when the fast would be broken, other than clock watching. But being right across the East London Cultural centre, the adhan – call to prayer – is audible and a waiter stands at the door waiting to hear it then goes around the tables letting people know. It was a lovely touch, having someone come to tell you in a way that is almost congratulatory that we had succeeded on another fasting day. I am not sure if I can even put into words the way Muslims who fast feel about Ramadan and the what the actual act of fasting means to us. It is just so much more than the actual abstinence of food and water. It means something other worldly. And when we are together fasting the meaning and feelings are magnified. It is hard to explain and maybe to those who are watching us from the outside won’t truly understand why being hungry and thirsty is something we love going through to this degree of 30 days in the height of summer but we do.

After having our dates and starters, with drinks brought to our tables by energetic and attentive waiters, we left the table to hop across the road to the mosque to pray the Maghreb or sunset prayer. Most of the restaurant had done the same. So the orders are put on hold until we are all back at the tables. It gives enough time for the first hit of food and drink taken into our tummies to move around and digest a bit, before coming back for more. The time to pray is also a time to reflect and worship. The practical and the spiritual working together in harmony.

A waiter talked to us about his daily routine. After finishing at the restaurant he would be making it to a local London mosque for the late night Taraweh prayers and then he would eat breakfast and get ready for the next day’s fast. Three days a week he studies for his degree in business management and the rest of the week he works in Maedah Grill . I asked him if it was hard whilst he was fasting. He looked at me surprised.

‘No, I love it.’

‘But it’s hard in this weather and it’s so long?’ I continued

‘No I really look forward to Ramadan – when I pray it gives me power. We are so lucky to have this month.’ On that I felt ashamed that I had even asked that question. It is true, I do love it too but I get distracted from the higher gains promised through Ramadan when I’m dwelling on myself.

The food was absolutely amazing. The restaurant had 300 people tonight. The atmosphere was buzzing. My sisters and niece and nephew could not make up their minds over the alcohol-free cocktails but when the mojito and mango snow arrived they were thrilled. The sweets arrived after the mains and the tiramisu was just out of this world. Highly recommended. We thought that was us and then they wheeled in the hot cookie dough and ice cream desert. Yet again on another level.

Shakeel had a vision for this restaurant – a place for the community, for customers to come and enjoy a comfortable meal and share an experience. Muslims and those of other faiths or no faith dine here within the heart of Whitechapel with freshly cooked Turkish cuisine. My sister, a vegetarian was over-joyed with her heartening stew of tomatoes and potatoes. It really was delicious.

The hospitality was one of the best I have ever encountered and tonight I was reminded of the beauty of my Muslim community. I saw it and experienced it at it’s finest. It has given me the right perspective as I say goodbye to the first week of Ramadan 2014. We are approaching day 7 already. A week has gone and soon the rest will fly by too. So it’s time to really embrace it and to make the most of every moment.

 More more info on Maedah Grill click here

Warm welcome in the Reception area in Maedah Grill

Warm welcome in the Reception area in Maedah Grill


Hannah watching the BBC team film me speaking to Maedah Grill boss, Shakeel

Hannah watching the BBC team film me speaking to Maedah Grill boss, Shakeel


Me doing my piece to camera about Ramadan and Iftar with the BBC team

Me doing my piece to camera about Ramadan and Iftar with the BBC team


The BBC team with Shakeel from Maedah grill plus my little helpers!

The BBC team with Shakeel from Maedah grill plus my little helpers!


Maedah Grill - definitely worth a visit.

Maedah Grill – definitely worth a visit.



Ok because this is an honest blog I have to say how it is. Today I am bored. Fasting slows you down and that’s not something I can normally do. I am not used to just focusing on one thing at a time. Normally I’m working on three different things at the same time. Sometimes it gets a bit stressful but generally that’s how I roll. It’s how things work for me and it deals with my short attention span. Never hanging around on one thing for too long for me to get bored with it.

But at the moment, fasting during these long hot days I am slowing right down – thinking through one task, one project or one commitment per day. I know its good for me but it is boring. I like being pushed and on the edge. I don’t normally realise that about myself until I get to Ramadan because I slow down and see things much clearer about myself. I know more about ‘me’ from the process of fasting than when I am full throttle into normal life. But today as I realise this I am bored.

Exercising fasters

Today was a bit different. The plan was to film with Muslims who are fasting and exercising. I had got permission to film with a gym in East London, dedicated to training wrestlers but runs classes in other disciplines. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.

The gym is called the Legion gym, named after the infamous French fighting force, known for it’s sheer toughness. The gym is run by Dr Amir Islami, a half Iranian half Uzbek origin British GP. His father was in the 1970s the national wrestling champion for Britain and Iran. Those were the golden days of wrestling in the UK. It was not just all about Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy. The amateur circuit was a different bag.

So today I went to this Rocky-style gym – it had opened up this evening to allow for an extra training session in the evening before fast opening. People came for a wrestling training session one hour before Maghreb – the sunset prayer and the time for opening the fast. Today was also the hottest I believe all year. It was certainly very warm. One of the wrestlers was a British man of Chechen origin, who also had won a Bronze medal in the Olympic pre-trials – but sadly had not been selected for paperwork reasons to be allowed to represent the UK at the Olympics. He took the warm-up. I was astounded by what I saw. At least 7 of the 10 men were Muslims who were fasting – but by the effort they were using in their warm up of amazing acrobatics and contortionist neck exercises you would never have been able to guess who the fasters and non-fasters were. Even the father Dr Amir was there – now 75 years old, fasting and still thrashing himself around the gym, training and wrestling with young men – some 3/4 his age. At a break in between training, the coach suggested those that could drink, go for a sip of water, but I noticed no-one left the room. Some default abstinence there I believe. It’s that respect thing again.

I went off and ran on a treadmill for about 15 minutes, did some weights and then cycled on an exercise bike. I was exhausted and very hot. More than a drink I wanted to just jump into an ice cold swimming pool. At the end of the training session, it was time to break the fast. Fasters and non-fasters alike shared dates and water bottles. One the guys training, another son of the now 75 year old wrestler is a personal trainer – he had been doing his job of personal training today and had then come for the training session. It was immense. I have no idea how. When he broke his fast, he spoke about the blessings of being to have water to drink when other’s out there don’t have any.

Then the fasters gathered next to the boxing ring on the mats for the sunset prayer of Maghreb and those that were not Muslim hung around chilling out on the mats, drinking water.

If you want to know more about the Legion Gym – grab a look here:

I left the gym to attend the taraweh prayer – but as I left it I read the quote on it’s walls:

‘Champions are not born but carved from stone.’


Default fasters

Thing is when you are fasting and other’s around you are not, they end up fasting by proxy. That’s because in general people are considerate to those around them and on an individual basis have respect for one another. Take the fourth day of Ramadan for instance. I was filming with two crew from the BBC – neither are Muslim. Our filming day was quite long and just a little challenging because we were filming in a hospital. Filming in hospitals is always difficult because the parameters of what you can get and what you can’t are quite narrow – practically nothing or no-one can get into shot unless they have signed two pieces of consent. Even the shoes of patients. So yes a challenging day but nonetheless good for the perspectives we got. After trawling through the camera shy staff, we found some doctors who were fasting to tell us about what working in A&E and fasting is like. They smiled and said it was fine and that actually it makes the day go quicker. I can relate to that. Although I dread the thought of a busy A&E shift, when I am in the middle of one I have to admit that it does make the day go quicker and I can forget myself in amongst it. Sometimes the anticipation is worse than than the fasting day itself. It’s the fear element within it – no-one wants to fail at their work and no-one wants to crumble under the fast. It’s all about fighting the urge to give in on both accounts. It’s mind over matter.

What was interesting to get was the consideration other members of staff gave to their colleagues who were fasting. One nurse said that her team were trying to avoid eating and drinking in front of their fasting nursing colleague. A group of male doctors said that they felt as if they were pseudo-fasting with their Muslim colleague because whilst they were around him they didn’t eat or drink and then they would find themselves too busy to eat when away from him.

In fact the two BBC crew who were with me all day ended up not stopping for lunch or coffee because time was against us. There were things they needed and we had to keep shooting. It was a busy day and quite intense. For me, I was prepared mentally and physically. I had begun to acclimatise to the fasting day and had anticipated it before the day had even begun. The BBC crew hadn’t envisaged that they would not be stopping for food – we were so rushed with the filming that I think they had managed breakfast and a hobbit style- small second breakfast before the shoot began but that was it for them until 7pm that evening. They looked like they were flagging. Filming is an intense experience.

I was fine as my adrenalin of presenting was keeping me going. It was only when I climbed into the taxi home after the end of the shoot and instantly fell into the blissful sleep of the exhausted that I realised that fasting and presenting can be a challenge. I was that exhausted I couldn’t even write this blog piece yesterday. I also naughtily ordered take away protein and salad of lamb cutlets and a mediterranean salad. Then I fell asleep.


Michael says

So for day 4 of the fast I am going to try Dr Michael Mosley’s suggestion for food I should eat for breakfast.

He suggested protein and lots of water – so I have gone for eggs a couple of pieces of toast and a lots of water. I didn’t do that last night and felt a bit useless today so I am trying this for my next fast. I am filming for a BBC program so need to be upright, awake and coherent whilst fasting!

Let’s see if the ‘Michael’ method works!!! Right now I am swishing with water.

The optional extras you can’t resist – Taraweh prayers

When I was younger and first getting to grips with Islam and Ramadan I remember thinking how challenging the month long fast was. Not just the fasting itself but everything else that went with it. The thing that got me was the extra prayer after the last prayer of the day. There is a lot of praying going on. So not only do you not eat all day, but in the hours when you are allowed to eat, you then have an optional extra of set of prayers – called taraweh – to think about doing. Now these prayers are not compulsory, like the five times a day obligatory one but they are popular and people do flock to the mosques after eating to pray them.

It was whilst I was living in Edinburgh and immersing myself in the Ramadan experience fully – not just the detached ritual of not eating during daylight hours – that I began to partake in the extra night prayers. During this time, mosques scour the land and overseas for their favourite reciters, people who can recite huge chunks of the Qu’ran by heart and say it with the conviction, the stamina and the beauty that captivates the listener. In Edinburgh, two reciters from Saudi Arabia were annually brought in and they filled the mosque. I kid you not, it really was standing room only on any tiny spot of mosque ground you could find. I was amazed and then a bit embarrassed by how much of a light weight I had been in previous years of never making it to these extra prayers. During these thrifty days, the entire Qu’ran – all 30 chapters of it will be recited during these taraweh prayers. It’s quite a feat and becomes immensely moving.

Now I am going to a local little mosque near to where I am currently staying just outside east London. The mosque itself is in a house, which has expanded and is growing. It has become a hub. The men prayer outside in what would be the garden, under tarpaulin and some sort of temporary overhead cover. The women have the little semi-detached house, with an extra overspill outside under more tarpaulin. But praying outside is lovely – it’s refreshing. It reminds me of being out in Sarajevo, when I went to pray in the cutest little mosque I had ever seen. It dated back to Ottoman times and had a little balcony outside that we prayed on, with a gentle thunder storm rolling behind us. It was one of those moments imprinted and that I would love to repeat.

Praying under my little tarpaulin overhead cover in Essex is not quite Sarajevo but if I close my eyes, focus on the prayer being recited and feel the cool breeze in the night air on my skin, I could be anywhere.

If I am painting a very spiritually idyllic picture, let me bring in some realities. The crowd control can be a problem, the stampede for a space can result in the most unholiest of exchanges and in the years gone by this mosque also used to have it’s share of ‘hijabis in hoodies kind of groupies’ – the young ones that used to come for the chat and the hanging around. Used to annoy me beyond belief especially after having convinced my lazier self to drag myself there. I often ended up me telling them to shut up so that the women could focus on the prayers and not their chat about their day or their latest crush. One evening I stopped my prayer to stand with them, glowering over them to keep their voices down, as the other’s prayed. This year it’s quiet on the chat front but the space issue still exists. My mum, who is a little unsteady on her feet, uses a chair to prayer instead of standing all the way through and yet women around her kept hustling her to move over, even though it’s quite visibly obvious she is unsteady. Things like this make me wonder at the compassion, the charity and the peace that Ramadan is supposed to invoke. I then get angry and don’t engage with the community – live in my self imposed exile from it. A collection of these experiences has traditionally kept me away from group gatherings in prayer congregations, but for some reason this year I am embracing it again. I am trying a new approach to Ramadan and the night prayers are part of this. I always come back with a bit more of an appetite and a little less sluggish. So it is working for me.

It seems to be working. There are things I love about the taraweh prayer. I love when I am driving to the mosque, I can see individuals or small groups of people either walking to the mosques or leaving, in the surrounding streets leading. Men in white long robes called thobes and little caps. They don’t only wear just this, but when you see this outfit you kind of know where they are going or have been. For me it’s a peaceful image – someone who has just spent an hour in spiritual contemplation and prayer after a day of fasting and yet for many in the UK, the image of a Muslim ‘dressed as a Muslim’ has invoked fear and suspicion.

The mosque is heaving, and when the prayers are over people stream out. It seems bizarre to see such a large group of people coming out of a building, heading for their cars around midnight when the rest of the street are indoors and all the shops are closed. There is a quiet buzz – people are too tired to be boisterous and it’s not that kind of vibe. There is also a lovely smell of musk hanging in the air – people tend to use musk as a perfume including men. It smells so clean, so soft and just reminds me of taraweh prayers every time.

The other night when I was trying to find a place to park – I was late getting in to taraweh – a man who had just left the pub around the corner was weaving across the pavement and then decided to get into the road in front of my car. It was an awkward moment – the mosque with groups of men leaving, a drunk man staggering in the road wondering what on earth the crowds of people were all about. Was it a rave?  And who on earth where those people bowing and kneeling inside? Then there was me driving at 2 mph behind him – giving it some road rage. I am not sure who the men in white thobes were most amused by – me being angry or the staggering man.



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