Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fugitive fasting food deliveries

We're now a few days into Ramadan. I've found myself in primarily Islamic countries for several Ramadans in the past. I am not a member of any institutionalized religion, Islamic or otherwise. However, until this year, my experiences with Ramadan have mostly been positive. For instance, when I was living with my hosts the Bah family in The Gambia back in 2001, I fasted right along with them (except for some quick sneaks of water in my hut or out in the fields in the heat of the day). We broke fast with fresh loaves of bread slathered in butter (ok, it was just margarine, more like industrial strength margarine that could withstand days without refrigeration) and tea. The evening meal was always delicious. Actually, it was the best food we had all year long and about the only time that meat graced the communal food bowls. At the end of Ramadan I participated in their tradition of taking small plates of fresh meat to each of the neighboring village compounds, where at each of which I was invited to sit down and share some food with the family. It was a festive time, a time of communion and I felt very welcomed by everyone to participate in the whole ritual.

This year I decided not to fast. For one thing, I have not been healthy lately and am taking medication. Thus, it would not be a good idea and even within the rules of Islam I would be excused from fasting. For another, my job requires a certain level of alertness from me as I am reading, editing and rewriting text all day. Obviously, the brain does not function so well without nutrition. So, though I myself am not fasting, I still have respect for others beliefs and choices. The majority of my company is made up of conservative Muslims and I would be highly uncomfortable eating in front of them. I don't believe in torturing hungry people! So a few other non-Muslims at the company and I decided to order food over the internet to the front gate. We went outside to wait for the delivery man so even the guard wouldn't have to deal with seeing/handling food. We took our food and went to the park next door. I felt like a bit of a fugitive there eating my pide (Turkish pizza-like dish, see photo) on the park bench and downing some fruit juice. Later, back in the office, a select group of us received an e-mail about having greater sensitivity towards those who are fasting. It specifically cited someone who was seen traipsing through the hallways with a cigarette in one hand and a tea in the other. This was obviously a contrived example since no one smokes in the hallways even when it's not Ramadan. And even if there was someone just drinking tea in the halls, it could've well been a non-fasting or "cheating" Muslim. Later, as we all went down to the cafeteria for iftar (the evening meal ending the fast), I noticed how I and the few other non-Muslims waited with everyone else for the official time (which was determined by watching TV and the Imam at a major Istanbul mosque) before touching the food in front of us. I had to wonder at the e-mail we had received. We are a few among hundreds. We are respectful and sensitive to the differences among us. Perhaps, it's time to show us the same.


Bev said...

Your little blogs are so fascinating! Welcome to the blogosphere. Looking forward to reading about your life in Turkey. Miss you. Btw, that pizza looks yummy!

siobhan said...

Hi, just stumbled on your blog. Am also an expat living in Istanbul. I worked in an office of 15 people (the majority were Turkish)where only 2 people fasted. My husband fasts and it's a personal choice. You shouldn't feel or be made to feel guilty about eating.