“Siama?” the little girl asked me, quite shyly asking a question of the foreign teacher. So far the Jordanian children had tried to touch my blond hair on the bus, or asked other parents why I wasn’t wearing a head scarf while the parents tried to shush them, or even thrown rocks at me, but this was the first time a child had acted like I was just another Jordanian. I had graduated. They say if you live with a people and eat their bread for 40 days you will be become one of them. The child had spoken a deeper truth. I gave her the only possible answer, “Iowa.” Yes, I was fasting.
When I was picking up pita bread in the Arab neighborhood the other day, I saw the guidief and dates and realized it was Ramadan already. Today I have no responsibilities or anyone who will question what I do or don’t eat. Today I will remember that a part of me is still Jordanian and I will fast.
Why fast? “To remind us that Allah asks us to do difficult things,” the religion teacher at my Jordanian girls’ school told me. After bumping into a catholic friend who invited me to church, I listened to a Jordanian priest with different advice, “A lot of you will be fasting along with your neighbors” he said, “If you fast, do it for your own reasons.”
I have watched the fasting traditions of Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox and Ethiopian friends. They might fast from all food and water, only certain types of meat, or only on certain days. My own religion does not follow any fasting tradition now, but John Wesley once belonged to a devout university group that fasted on certain days. Unfortunately I don’t know anything more about that tradition. So the fast I am following today is from all food starting at sunrise–okay, I cheated by a half hour–and okay, I had pork on my breakfast sandwich, but wahada u wahada (one thing at a time). I will limit water, but not absolutely. I no longer smoke, so that part won’t be as difficult today. I am unlikely to come in contact with a male I might have to shake hands with or touch in the course of social interaction, so no danger there. And then I will think about my reasons for fasting.
Reasons for fasting.
1. Tradition. None of us is born is a vacuum. We inherit traditions and religious beliefs from the generations that preceded us. At first we follow blindly, then we keep the useful traditions. Tradition gives us a link to the past and a link with other cultures.
2. Awareness. How much of what we do is by routine? Ramadan breaks the routine, yes, but we also go back to follow a different routine we already know from previous Ramadans. Are you used to having coffee or tea available next to your laptop? Now you become aware of what you have been putting in your mouth. Do you accidentally brush against strangers on the street when it’s crowded? Now be aware of who you bump into and what gender they are, as Jordanians are constantly aware of who is next to them on the street. Do you lose track of whether it is light or dark outside? If you can’t eat until the sun goes down, now you will have reason to ask for the time of sunrise (Fajr) and the adhan or call to prayer a half hour before, and the time of sunset (Magreb) and to be aware of the sun’s transit. As I think about fasting in other years, I wonder if the reason I was finally able to break the smoking habit was because of the Ramadan fasts. We will see how many of the temporary Ramadan habit changes will carry over.
3. Iftar. Yes, the food. Iftar (breakfast at sunset) after a day of fasting is one big party in Jordan. It’s not a party that happens in sleazy clubs either, it’s a family party. And Christian Arabs have absolutely no problem eating the guidief and other Ramadan sweets that come out at this time. I have my dates (Tunisian and not the premium Saudi dates) ready to break the fast, and I have my guidief pancakes ready for tonight’s meal. Today I will stuff them with the walnut/coconut/ cinnamon mixture or the sweet cheese–yes I have soft cheese (Danish!) in a can. Oh, and I have to boil the syrup made from water, sugar, lemon, and orange flower water. Yum.