Before the start of Ramadan, I searched the internet for tips on fasting. I downloaded an app to my smartphone that uses GPS to alert you when the fast begins and ends each day based on the precise rise and set of the sun where you are.
Two things I hadn’t thoroughly considered worried me. This Ramadan was falling smack in the middle of summer and I happen to live far north of the equator. The day light hours at this time of year are extremely long. They may not be as intense as summer days in Canada or Alaska, but they are much longer than places where day and night stay more evenly divided throughout the year. Here, we can have about 18 hours of light during the peak of summer. That this particular Ramadan would be my first was a bit like deciding to start my mountain-climbing with Everest. How would I make it so long without even a sip of water, especially as the sun blazed and temps climbed well into the 90s?
I set those concerns on the backburner to focus on the logistics of my coffee consumption. Normally, I drink two large mugs of coffee when I wake up in the morning. I usually sip them slowly, over the course of a few hours, as I’m working. With my new schedule, I had a couple options. Online, I learned that many Muslims change their days to wake up early during Ramadan and go about their morning routine before the sun comes up. I could see how this might be a nice alternative even if the sun rises as early as 5 in the morning. According to my app, my first day of fasting was to begin at 3:01 am. This meant I would have to start my day at about 2:30. I set my alarm to see how I felt at that hour. When I heard the beep, I turned on my light and sat up in bed. I guzzled a tall glass of water and downed a container of yogurt I had left on my nightstand. I snapped off the light. No way was I getting up at that hour and starting my day. For me, the only possibility was going cold turkey.
I suppose I have the raging headache to thank for distracting me from thirst and hunger on the first day of Ramadan. The morning started okay. I was able to work for a few hours at my laptop, though my thinking felt muddled. The pain set in at about noon and built over the next several hours. By 7 that evening, I was horizontal on the sofa, eyes shut and a hand at each temple, wondering if my brain was actually pulsating or if it just felt that way.
I had read that if one’s health is threatened, Muslims are permitted to relax the standards of fasting. Allah wants us challenged, not packed like sardines into local emergency rooms. After seeing that, I determined I must listen to my body throughout this experience and respond accordingly even if it meant bending the rules. I felt my headache was bad enough to do something about, so I choked down two aspirin with a tiny sip of water.
All day I had been focused on the exact moment my app said the fast could be broken: 8:43. I had fantasized about the foods I would consume when the time came. I was planning on making at least two grilled cheese sandwiches and letting my heart’s desire guide me in scooping out my ice cream. I’d chase it all with big bowl of granola before bed. Instead, 8:43 came and went with me sprawled on the bathroom floor, intermittently dry-heaving into the toilet. The situation I had created by taking aspirin on an empty stomach was worse than the original pain. As the waves of nausea reached a sickening crescendo, I moaned pathetically and wondered what purpose, if any, my suffering was serving and if this was anywhere near a typical Ramadan experience. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude as the queasiness subsided enough that I could eat a piece of toast. I was content to simply crawl into bed and say goodnight to day one.