By far the hardest part for me of Ramadan’s guidelines of no eating and drinking during daylight hours was abstaining from fluids. Even in my normal life, I’m preoccupied with the importance of proper hydration. We live in an era of constant media reports that our bodies need at least eight glasses of water daily. I don’t know if all this sensationalism has made me more in tune with my thirst or if I’m just a particularly thirsty person but I like to keep a glass of water nearby. Even on a day that I’ve had free access to water, I wake up in the middle of the night for a few extra sips and then reach for my glass first thing in the morning.
I increased my middle-of the night fluid intake from two tall glasses to a container that holds 32 ounces. I used a jug given to me by my mom printed with the slogan “Life is Good.” I thought it might make the task more cheerful. A sip of water on a parched throat at 2 am can be a beautiful thing. Forcing 100 times that amount down your already satiated gullet is less so. I would lay back down, my belly like a balloon stretched to its limits. I shifted carefully, my gut sloshing its swollen girth. A series of trips to the bathroom fragmented the night’s remaining sleep.
As my Ramadan experience progressed, I found my decisions increasingly governed by physical need. I drank all that water at night not because I wanted it but because it was my hope to make it through the next day. I felt a little like a contestant on some survival-based reality show. I grew calculating. I avoided sun exposure and strenuous physical activity. I stopped going to the gym; my weekly yoga class was out of the question with no water. When the sun went down, I focused on the bare essentials: walking the dogs and replenishing my body.
Even with all the effort I put in, I struggled—especially with thirst. Each day was a test to see how long I could go with no water. The first few hours were never too difficult. At about noon, the dry spot at the back of my throat would begin to creep down my esophagus and I imagined cracks forming in its walls like a defunct pipe running through the desert. The saliva in my mouth would evaporate; my tongue was a rough seabed with no ocean. I became obsessed with the texture of my naked taste buds, wooly against my upper lip. At some point, my thirst would morph into a low-grade anxiety.
Still, I held tight as the first signs of panic prickled up my legs. But when the alarm bells in my chest caused my heart to race and my breathing to quicken, I drank. It was usually late afternoon or evening: 5 or 6 or 7. By then, I didn’t see water as a source of rehydration, but as an elixir to calm my nerves. Of all the days of Ramadan, I made it only one to the official end without a single sip of water—helped, I think, by a light summer rain that dampened the air.