“Now I know how it feels like to be a minority”, I thought to myself in the very first days of Ramadan. I was spending Muslims’ holiest month fasting when people are eating and I’ve been eating when everybody else is done.When I first arrived to USA, I was having a hard time running between groceries asking about Halal food (kinda like Kosher for Jews, it means no pork or alcohol and the meat or chicken has to be slaughtered) which was so hard to find where I’m living in Saint Paul (it’s easier in the other twin city Minneapolis), having to rely on salads for a few days till I was able to reach the Global Market and the Somali Mall (Somalis are the largest Muslim community in Minnesota).
“How are the Muslims here adapting to this life?”, I thought as I kept looking at my watch seeing if it’s already sunset.. tracking the sun rays to know if I can break my fast.. in Egypt, we just know when we hear the Adan (Muslim call to prayers), but here… oh God!
Being alone in this must be tough (first time to spend Ramadan outside Egypt) yet I didn’t think it was that hard before arriving here, I was excited to live the different experience but I was sure that I’ll be fine in the end. David (Mr. McDonald or McChicken as I’d love to see him when I’m fasting ) is doing a gr8 job always trying to provide food that I can eat whether Halal food or seafood (or even salads) but of course you can’t always control it, sometimes it slips out of hand which is usually not a big deal on ordinary days as I can cope, but in Ramadan… unfortunately it is.
Sometimes, I feel the hard times are over.. sometimes not.. Ramadan is going up & down with me. What mostly hurts is not seeing people eat and drink infront of me but actually the sense that I cannot join them, I just sit and watch so neither am I “fully integrated” nor do I feel the spirituals of this month of blessings… I’m stuck in-between.
Most people I met till now are always asking me: why are you not eating? do you have to fast during your travel?, what time shall you eat?, can you not even drink water?.. I found most people to be understanding and some even admire my “strength” and many people (whether Christians or even Agnostics) helped me get Halal chicken and meat.
It was Lynnell, my host parent, who drove me to the Council on American Muslim Relations (CAIR)’s Iftaar (dinner- when Muslims break their fast at sunset) from Saint Paul to Mounds View, it was her whole family (a Priest husband and her three handsome sons) who had delayed their 6 o’clock dinner till sunset (around 8:15) so that I can join them… not only that but also she was kind enough to get me Halal chicken at the dinner and pack the leftovers for me to take home (where I was staying) so that I can have some protein in the next days.
It was Christine who linked me up with some Muslim relatives of her to join them for Iftaar on Aug. 28th offering to pick me up from our dormitory to their place and driving me back home.
It was Phil, my second dad whom I asked to drive to Ely (from an outside town) at 8:30 in the evening (I don’t know how it’s considered late but… anyways!) to get a pizza after a long day of fasting and even having him pay for it (we were supposed to have dinner at 6 pm but the only thing I could eat was Shrimps and they didn’t taste good – no offense!). I could’ve just eaten salads, fruits and cheese but I knew I’d be starving the next day and I wouldn’t like that… it was already tiring for me.
That evening in Ely, I felt I was giving people a hard time; first you don’t eat with us and then you want ‘special food’ that we have to go and bring for you.. well, it wouldn’t have been that way if I could just get a cab and go there on my own, I thought ,but there are no cabs in the small coolest town in America .. now I wouldn’t sacrifice my meal coz Ely is a small town and I don’t have transportation that goes to the place I’m staying at, I’m sorry but I won’t do it!
I must have seemed not so nice that evening; when my Hungarian friend knew about my pizza plans, he said “Hanan, you are complicated!” and that’s coz I didn’t like the shrimps nor could I eat chicken (coz it has to be Halal/Kosher).
I also found some people who would give me that sort of look saying “Why are you doing this to yourself?” feeling kinda sorry for me… But, the answer is simple… doing good deeds isn’t always easy and every person has obligations to fulfill, it’s not like your faith is putting a burden on you… but it requires, as other things in life, some duties that have to be carried on… towards family, friends, work and most importantly towards God… for me, I couldn’t just not fast coz I’m in another country (and no one can know I wasn’t fasting back home) or coz I’m not with people who are fasting like me, it helps a lot of course, but it’s not that I wouldn’t do it coz it’s becoming not easy.. as the God I worship in Egypt is the same God I worship in USA and everywhere else, so why would I be fasting in Cairo but not in Minnesota?
16 more days of Ramadan are yet to come.. the month of blessings.. with more ups and downs to be witnessed.. a lifetime experience to be remembered, maybe with a smile?
Ramadan Kareem to all
P.S. watch this song by famous Egyptian Singer Hisham Abbas on Ramadan’s special taste in Egypt, U may not know Arabic but you may still get the meaning from the video clip
This Blog Post was published in the World Press Institute website :