Last week, I made it through the first five days of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, whereby Muslims reaffirm their values and commitment to Allah. For 30 days, Muslims fast (no food or drink) from dawn until sunset, and they are also not allowed to engage in any immoral behaviours (smoking, sex, etc) during this time.
As Ramadan falls in line with the cycle of the moon, it shifts backwards approximately 11 days per year. This year, it happened to fall during June. In Morocco, they pushed the clocks back to reduce the length of the days, meaning we fasted from 3.30am until almost 8pm. I am thankful I didn’t try it in a European country – for example, in London, Muslims have to fast until 9.30pm. However, I knew participating wasn’t going to be easy as I was in a hot African country, averaging between 4 and 6 litres of water a day.
Funnily enough, no one in Morocco questioned why I was joining in, but many of my non-Muslim friends were confused.
Firstly, it was partly out of necessity. 97 per cent of the Moroccan population is Muslim, which means every shop, restaurant and business is typically closed until the afternoon and instead remain open until 1 or 2am (but usually also close between 7 and 9pm). I couldn’t eat lunch in a restaurant even if I wanted to, and I would have felt disrespectful preparing my own food in a household full of fasting people.
The second main reason was curiosity. 1.6 billion people participate in Ramadan every year. If they could survive the whole month, surely I could survive a few days. Even if I did not partake in the prayers, I wanted to show support and solidarity to my host family.
Besides, I’ve made it through a couple of weight cuts for comps, so how hard it could it be? Ha. Hahahahaha.
I documented my third day of fasting, so I can remember just how it went down. Enjoy!
3am: My alarm wakes me but it feels like my head only just hit the pillow. At least I managed to sleep a little – some nights, due to the heat and outside noise, I don’t sleep at all until after the pre-dawn meal, Suhur. I stumble bleary-eyed out of my bedroom and take my spot in the dining room, along with the rest of the family.
I’m not even hungry as I only finished eating a few hours earlier, but I know that if I don’t eat breakfast I will regret it in about 12 hours’ time. I eat a couple of pieces of fried bread and two Nutella and almond crepes. That brown stuff is a mix of sugar and nuts and I don’t know what else, but it’s like crack. Sugar-topped, fried bread is the healthiest kind of breakfast, right?
There is coffee, but I decline in favour of mint tea, as I don’t want to risk messing up my sleep pattern any more than necessary. This means that, as I’m only ever eating right before I attempt to sleep, I didn’t have coffee for five whole days – an impressive feat considering I usually have four or five cups a day!
Even though it’s closing in on 3.30am, the streets are still noisy and filled with people finishing up their nightly celebration. Finally, I hear the prayers ring out from the nearby mosque and my family completes their final prayer for the night – their first of five scheduled prayers for the day.
I cherish my final sips of water and go back to bed but I’m now wide awake, nursing a stomach ache. I play on my phone for a while and then read, before finally falling back to sleep at 5am.
8am: My alarm goes off again and I feel even more tired than when I woke in the middle of the night. Nevertheless, I have school in an hour so I drag my ass up.
8.30am: It’s already 30 degrees (86 F) but it feels much hotter. I walk to school as slowly as possible to conserve energy, but wonder if that might not be the best strategy as it means I will be in the searing sun for 30 minutes. At the half-way mark, I take off my cardigan and hope that the men will be on their best behaviour.
9am: I finally arrive at school and it takes all of my willpower not to drink from the emergency bottle of water in my handbag.
12pm: I finish school and brace myself for the walk home, now in the blistering heat. For the week of Ramadan, I had one-on-one French tutoring. In a three-hour class, we typically spent half the time speaking and half the time working on grammar.
I quickly became aware of the impact food and water have on my brain function. I found myself making the same mistakes over and over and longed for a boost of energy. My only comfort was knowing my teacher was in the same boat as me and, unlike most practising Muslims, he had to start work early, too.
12.30pm: I make it home and collapse on to my bed while checking my emails. My hunger typically reared its head at around 10am and grew in intensity until about 1pm, when it would become a dull ache overtaken by my desperate need for water.
3pm: I manage to work for a couple of hours before my body tells me that I need to take a nap immediately. I have always struggled to nap even in the best conditions, but I fall asleep almost instantly despite my bedroom being about 40 degrees (104 F).
4.30pm: I wake up and do my French homework and a little more work. By this point, I would give my left arm for a glass of water.
6pm: I head to the gym. I managed to work out every day except on. My gym was not air-conditioned and it was about 10 degrees hotter in there than outside.
Prior to the week of Ramadan I was usually the only person in there but, during Ramadan, it was packed. Most people wanted to work out right before they broke the fast, even though it was also probably the most dangerous time to do so given we had not had water for 15 hours by this point.
I obviously didn’t lift anything super heavy, but still sweat a lot.
6.45pm: I keep my workout short and head back home, where my host mama has already started laying out all of the food. I shower and then head to my room and kill the hour before dinner working and enjoying the anticipation of the meal ahead.
7.45pm: We all head to the dining room and wait for the mosques to signal the end of the fast, Iftar. We all consume three dates and a glass of milk, and then the rest of the family heads into the next room to pray. The tradition of the dates and milk is so that they can still complete their rather vigorous prayers immediately afterwards.
I try to pace myself while the others pray, but I fail and pound a litre of water in about three minutes as my thirst is unquenchable.
I start with another staple of Ramadan, harira soup. I load it up with salt to help with rehydration and again try and fail to pace myself. (Sometimes we had this creamy white soup that reminded me of oatmeal, that was equally delicious).
Typically, there was one protein dish such as tajine, kafta, chicken, eggs or a tortilla on the table, along with fresh tarts, croissants, cakes and, of course, bread. My favourite thing was the Moroccan biscuits in the top left of the picture below, which were stuffed with meat/fish and vegetables.
In general, there were not a lot of vegetables on offer, which is probably the only reason I couldn’t have kept this up for an entire month. They are big on hydrating with orange juice and banana smoothies, so at least I got some vitamins in.
For a little over an hour, I eat something small, wait a few minutes, and then eat again, repeating the pattern until I feel absolutely stuffed. As my stomach has well and truly shrunk, this doesn’t take long.
9pm: I peel myself up off the couch. Well and truly in a food coma, I retreat to my bedroom and finish up some work while I have the energy.
10.30pm: I keep drinking, totalling about four litres since breaking the fast. Funnily enough, I’ve only peed twice. I start winding down for bed but it’s difficult when I can hear everyone – both in and outside my house – celebrating.
12am: I still have a stomach ache but force myself to get a few uncomfortable hours of sleep, thinking of school the next morning.
Overall, I really enjoyed the experience. Ramadan takes over the entire country, and it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. It gave me a greater appreciation for basic necessities such as food, water and sleep, and it was also fascinating for me to see the devotion Muslims have.
In general, I had to cut back on my work hours as I just didn’t have the energy to do a full work day alongside 3+ hours of study. I am lucky that I have a flexible work schedule that allows me to sleep at all hours of the night and day.
I am glad that I did it. For anyone curious, no, I didn’t lose any weight. Interestingly, most Muslims end up gaining weight and spending more money on food during Ramadan.
Have you ever tried fasting? Would you try Ramadan?