It’s 22.57 and I’m just after scoffing a delicious meal of lamb curry after fasting since three this morning. Day one of Ramadan is over. I made it.
I chomped through a cheese burger and bag of chips from the Italian chipper around the corner circa 10 pm last night – the last supper. Shared chips with the husband, being careful to load his plate – not for generous reasons but so I wouldn’t eat too much salt – for thirst reasons today. Programmed my brain to wake pre-three for a final food fix and some glasses of water. I woke at 3.30. The fast had already begun. The unopened bottle of water stood watching me from my bedside locker.
Morning dawned and the sun was already blasting at 7.30. Internet postings were saying that Met Eireann had issued its first ever ‘orange’ alert. I was thirsty already. Stevie (my almost-three-year-old boy) put some crusts of bread to my lips – ‘eat this mammy, eat this’.
Although I had been geared up for no food or drink it was only yesterday after speaking to a Dublin Muslim guy that I remembered it also involved good thoughts and good words – ‘fasting during Ramadan also means no cursing’ he told me. I texted my husband to tell him. He said ‘you’ll never do it’. By ten this morning I had used the ‘f’ variant five times and the ‘c’ word once. I debated with myself ‘well if I’ve already broken the no cursing rule maybe I should just break the no water rule too’.
My biggest concern, being mid-heatwave, was thirst. I updated myself with internet advice on fasting during the summer months – ‘stay indoors’, ‘avoid direct sunlight’, ‘pull the curtains and blinds’. So we went to the beach. Got there with a welcome surprise of fog hanging around the edge of the coast. For once I was happy to have fog.
By two I had a slight headache and had included the ‘sh’ word to my list of broken curses and probably a few more too. But I felt fine. So I visited the local mosque in Clonskeagh.
The usually buzzing restaurant was almost empty save for one man wearing an apron behind a stall of tiny desert sweet offerings and one man sitting at a table. I spoke to the aproned man and explained to him that I was interested in Ramadan. His eyes opened wide when I said I was non-Muslim but fasting. He sat down at a table and invited me to join him. He disappeared for a minute and came back to give me a Ramadan calendar. He told me as he beat his hand gently against his chest ‘Ramadan is great for the heart. And for the health’.
‘In Algeria’ he said ‘it’s 42 degrees and people work during Ramadan’. That put things into perspective. ‘Even manual labour?’ I asked. ‘Yes, even manual labour’. He told me his name was Benarab Boualem.
Then I met his brother, also a chef in the Clonskeagh restaurant. ‘On Friday I will start cooking at two in the afternoon’ Smail told me. This is to cater for up to 450 people who arrive at the mosque to break the fast together. He told me Irish people are welcome too. And that the meal is free. My turn to have eyes opened wide.
The restaurant at the Clonskeagh mosque stays open until midnight during Ramadan and serves people the Iftar meal (breaking-the-fast-meal) which is on special offer for 8.99. They do take-away so I said I’d like to have one to take away. Smail said ‘I’m paying for you today because you are fasting’. And so he filled up cartons with lamb curry and rice and a big carton of beautiful fresh salads. This is the food I’ve just eaten. I bought some of the beautiful little deserts before I left.
Another man at the mosque – Ali Selim explained that Ramadan is also about giving to others. That it is normal to offer one meal to someone in need each day of the month and that at the end of Ramadan the man of the family gives money to charity or to someone in need on behalf of each person in the family.
I had covered up with just a long skirt and long-sleeved cardigan for visiting the mosque buildings but on the way out there was a young woman with a pair of fashionable shorts up to her ass and a short-sleeved top. I was still glad I covered – but I hadn’t covered my hair.
Driving home I bit my nails absent mindedly and then wondered ‘can I eat nails?’ – I think not but I didn’t swallow them so it was okay.
Five and the energy lull hit hard. Felt like a dead dodo duck and flopped to lying down with a leaflet about Ramadan in my hand and fell asleep. Woke a short time later to a busy evening and a long drive and then the time to break the fast came upon me and I was in the car on a motorway in County Kildare and thirty minutes from home and the lovely food that Smail had given me. We stopped at a shop and I bought a pear and a bottle of water and how sweet that pear was. Every mouthful I savoured.
Then home and I heated up the food and ate the salad and I was almost ecstatic. To actually appreciate the food I’m eating? Too rarely done. To even be conscious of, or grateful for, the food I eat? Probably never done. And I sit here at the table after eating, kettle on the boil for the cuppa tae and I imagine families of Muslims all over Ireland meeting and gathering to share the breaking of the fast and celebrating the food they have and I think ‘ah Ramadan, what a great idea’. Benarab Boualem standing behind the counter at the restaurant at the mosque in ClonskeaghPoster advertising the Iftar meal – available at the Clonskeagh mosque restaurant (yummy)The Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland – featuring the Clonskeagh mosque The Ramadan sweet counter at the Clonskeagh mosque restaurant