It’s 4:30 am. I scramble to find the small plastic bowl containing my hard boiled egg, a corn on the cob, and 2 pieces of toast. After swiftly preparing an egg sandwich, I finish all the contents of the bowl and and top off the meal with a small date. Making a quick dash to the water tank outside our room, I fill my bottle and gulp down the water right before the sound of the adhan fills the corridors of the hostel.
As most of you may know, Muslims in India (and around the world) began fasting last week for the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is essentially a time for Muslims to re-examine their lives and re-charge spiritually for the rest of the year. While fasting involves refraining from water and food during the daylight hours, it stands for much more than the physical restraints. Besides increasing self-control, fasting has always allowed me to develop a greater appreciation for the things we take for granted: food and water (especially now), a place to sleep at night, and love from our family and friends. It’s a 30 day reminder—sunrise to sundown— of those who are less fortunate and less privileged than we are.
One of my favorite aspects of Ramadan is the overall sense of community. From waking up to the smell of Turkish sujuk and chai for suhoor (predawn meal) to breaking fast (iftar) at different friends’ homes each night to eating an abundance of dates, Ramadan has always brought a time of excitement and much anticipation in my family. To be completely honest, I feared that I would not find the sense of community or feel that excitement in India—9,000 miles away from home.
But thankfully, I was mistaken.
Inspiration—the hostel we’re currently staying at—has truly leaved up to its name this past week. Needless to say, eating at 4am isn’t the most convenient time to ask for a meal. However, the women working in the kitchen have been very kind and generous; each night, they prepare a small to-go container after dinner and hand it to me with big smiles. I am (and will continue to be) truly grateful for their extra efforts and their hospitality.
Aravind—a hospital with a diverse mixture of doctors, sisters, fellows, staff members, and interns from all over the world, be it from Nigeria, Cambodia, UAE, Pune, Bangalore, or Philadelphia. I have recently started working with the medical records department in new patient registration, medical records processing, and record retrieval about 2-3 times a week. Since coffee/chai breaks are common and much anticipated throughout the workday, the sisters were at first intrigued by the fact that I was fasting. Within a few days, it seemed like most of the hospital had heard. Doctors and staff members personally came and greeted me with “Ramadan Mubarak.” The support and encouragement of the workers, not only for me but also for each other, profoundly effects the atmosphere in the workplace. The sense of community I was hoping for was here.
Over the past few weeks, Olivia, Vivek, and I have been quite adventurous. We took a weekend trip (about a 4 hour car ride) to see the beauty of Thekkady through elephant rides, a nature walk, and a boat ride. This was our first trip to another part of India and it definitely will be a memorable one. The first half of our nature walk was hands-down the scariest thing I’ve gone through. As someone with a severe phobia of spiders and most small critters, the sight of leeches attacking our brightly colored shoes and legs was horrifying. (Special shout-out to our guide and Vivek for helping Olivia and I pull off leeches every 2 minutes).
Last Sunday we decided to take a day trip to the sacred town of Rameswaram (~3 hrs from Madurai) with some people from Inspiration. Rameswaram, located on Pamban Island, is at the end point of the Indian isthmus. Before crossing over to the island, we stopped on the bridge to admire how the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean came together. It was a remarkable sight and, unfortunately, no picture could capture the drastic change in the color where the 2 bodies of water merged. By the end of the day, we saw/held photoshoots/jumped into 3 beaches, each one more beautiful and different than the last. After a long exhausting day, I broke my fast at none other than Dominos with pizza and chocolate molten cake. Although traveling while fasting is not as difficult as I thought it would be, the smell of street food and heat was overwhelming at times. I’m thankful for Olivia and Vivek’s support as they are constantly faced with my food cravings and need to find shade. Our trips and adventures are making this Ramadan all the more special.
With each passing day, the meaning of Ramadan is taking on new forms and interpretations for me in India. The people, my surroundings, and the culture all provide a large canvas for self-reflection. But in the meantime…it’s time for another date…