This piece is all in good fun. For a slightly more serious look at how Muslims around the world observe Ramadan, check out my piece at Travel + Leisure.
Inside My Hungry Head
On Saturday, August 22, Muslims across the U.S. stopped eating.
That’s the day we began celebrating the month of Ramadan. For 30 days we fast from dawn to sunset, participate in special prayers, and perform acts of charity, with the goal of increasing our spirituality as well as commiserating with those less fortunate than us and appreciating what we have.
But what’s it really like to abstain from eating, drinking, swearing, smoking, sex, and popsicle-slurping for 15 hours a day in 90-degree weather?
4:20 a.m. Alarm goes off. Suhoor, the meal before the start of the fast, has to be finished by the break of dawn. I drag myself into the kitchen and proceed to shovel a smorgasbord of random edible items into my mouth with my eyes still plastered shut. Bagel with cream cheese, check. Cheetos, check. Grapes, check. Four glasses of water, check. Vitamins, check. This eclectic feast should last me to sunset just fine. I go back to my room, read the morning prayer of Fajr, and pass out.
8:30 a.m. Alarm goes off again. I hit snooze. Am instantly jolted awake by my growling tummy. This is going to be a long day.
9:45 a.m. Walk to work. Restaurants I’d never noticed before seem to materialize out of nowhere to accost my senses. Crepes. Cheesesteaks. Frozen yogurt. Noodles. I want it all. And it’s not even 10 yet.
9:58 a.m. Stroll into work a few minutes ahead of schedule. Note to self: skipping my daily egg-and-cheese run makes me more punctual. And richer. And, hopefully, skinnier. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all?
10:15 a.m. Go through my e-mail. My tummy serenades me throughout. I hope my neighbors don’t hear me.
10:43 a.m. Give coworkers the requisite annual Ramadan Rundown: Fasting is supposed to increase our spirituality and our connection with God. It also helps us relate to the plight of the poor and remind ourselves that there are many less fortunate than us, so we appreciate what we do have. No, I really can’t eat anything all day. Nope, no water either. Ummm, definitely no booze—anytime of year.
11:03 a.m. Get back to my desk after an edit meeting, only to be greeted by blown-up posters of donuts, burgers, and ice cream adorning my cube, courtesy of my not-so-politically-correct prankster of a boss. Very funny. Not.
11:18 a.m. My stomach seems to have acquired a mind of its own: “Oh, so you’re not going to feed me today, are you? Who cares if I’m not even really hungry yet? I am belly, hear me roar!”
11:45 a.m. Walk to the kitchen for a water run. Catch myself just in time. Boomerang right back out.
12:09 p.m. Hammering out a story on deadline. Type “French fries” instead of “French doors.” Sigh.
12:30 p.m. Office manager sends out e-mail. “In honor of all your hard work this week, free lunch for everyone in the conference room!” Naturally.
1:03 p.m. Sneak off to an empty office to pray Zuhr. Ask God to make it sunset already.
1:17 p.m. Decide to take a walk during my lunch hour. Big mistake. Not only is it 93 degrees and muggy, but there are free samples at the deli, the fragrant street meat trucks make my mouth water, and I swear Wendy’s has never smelled so good.
1:33 p.m. Back to my desk. Office buddy offers me a homemade chocolate chip cookie. Thank her and politely decline, explaining about Ramadan. “You mean you don’t eat a thing for a whole month? Is that why you’re so skinny?” Oh boy, here we go again.
1:58 p.m. You know that dry, ooky, cottonmouth feeling you get when you haven’t had water in awhile? Try having that for 15 hours. Ramadan breath is no joke. Head to the bathroom to rinse out my mouth. What I wouldn’t give for a curiously strong Altoid right about now…
2:43 p.m. Coworker comes by to discuss some edits. Please don’t lean in.
3:11 p.m. Absentmindedly reach for a piece of gum from my snack drawer. Unwrap it, stick it in my mouth. Spit it out. Agh, slipped already.
3:49 p.m. Server crashes, taking with it all the painstaking corrections I’d made to a particularly inarticulate story. I rarely swear to begin with, but this type of circumstance could merit a choice invective or two. But we’re supposed to be on our best behavior. A whole month without gossip, swearing, or fighting. Sugar!!!
4:28 p.m. Letters blur together on my Word document. All I want right now are Sweet Tarts and Lay’s potato chips. Preferably together. My Ramadan cravings rival those of a pregnant woman.
5:00 p.m. I retreat to the deserted office to pray Asr. Connecting with God five times a day brings me much-needed peace of mind whenever I find myself cracking.
5:25 p.m. Sweet Tarts. Lay’s. Sweet Tarts. Lays. Come to think of it, under normal circumstances I don’t even like Lay’s. But mmm, with a little ranch dip… and Sweet Tarts on the side…
5:59 p.m. Shut down my computer and race out the door. Sunset isn’t till 7:45. Now what?
6:33 p.m. Back at home in front of the TV, beginning to sense a Ramadan conspiracy. Every channel has joined forces to play nonstop food-related content. Hot Pockets look delectable. Top Chef is on. I’m lured to commuté for a McCafé. For the first time in years I’m tempted to eat at Olive Garden. Turn off the TV and read some Qur’an instead.
7:00 p.m. Leave to head to a friend’s apartment, where she’s hosting a party on her rooftop for iftar.
7:28 p.m. Ramadan is probably the only time a big group of brown people will be punctual for an event. Normally most of us would roll in for a 7:30 dinner around 9. But when there’s a fast to be broken, timeliness is Godliness. Iftar parties are the big social events of the season. I navigate the terrace, hugging all my friends, complimenting new haircuts and hijabs along the way, and taking in the twinkling New York skyline as the sun begins to dip. Everyone is chatting away, worn out by a long day but excited that sustenance is just minutes away…
7:44 p.m. Let me at the food!!!
7:45 p.m. Recite a short prayer, bite into a date, and gulp down water. Instant relief.
7:54 p.m. Pray Maghrib en masse on the roof, then hit up the buffet.
8:55 p.m. Platefuls of hummus, samosas, and kababs later, food coma begins. But now it’s time to head uptown to the 96th Street mosque for Isha, followed by taraweeh. Just because the fast is over doesn’t mean debauchery can begin. My mind wanders a bit here and there, but I snap back to attention.
10:30 p.m. Hop on the downtown 6 train. Pit stop at CVS on the way back to my apartment.
11:30 p.m. Mmmm, Sweet Tarts and Lay’s.
Note: Fajr, Zuhr, Asr, Maghrib, and Isha are the five daily prayers (at dawn, afternoon, late afternoon, sunset, and night), which make up one of the five pillars of Islam. Taraweeh prayers are the special late-night services that take place during Ramadan.