Ramadan Away from Home
Whether it is in terms of the general festive spirit, dawaats at your favourite cousin's place, people brushing up on their cooking skills at home, office goers rushing out of work to go have iftar with their families, or lights being on in homes at 3 AM, Ramadan is one of the busiest months of the year in our country.
However, how is the experience for young people who have moved abroad?
The experience can best be stated by those who have gone through it; a detailed account comes from Mohammed Mehedi Hassan, 28, studying at the University of Dusseldorf, Germany, "The first few days were tough as it was in the summer and the sun goes down pretty late here. I had to fast for about 19 or more hours per day, attend classes, prepare for my exams, and assignments; you can't really focus well when you are hungry and after you break your fast at 9:30 PM in the night, you're tired."
Mehedi goes on to describe how he managed to do food prep. "I cooked right after coming home from a lecture. I would eat a small portion to break my fast, pray Maghrib, and then eat the rest. Leftovers were for both dinner and sehri, because the time between iftar and sehri is not that much." As for prayers? He stated he prayed regularly, adding, "The only time it was a bit troublesome was during the praying time of Isha and Fajr. Isha starts from midnight and Fajr is around 3 AM, so it was difficult to get enough sleep but was still manageable."
Comparing his still-fresh memories of Ramadan back home to the present days, Mehedi said, "For sure, coming over here changed the scenario for me in Ramadan. Back at home, you fry different food, cut different fruits and some days there are special dishes like biriyani, grilled chicken or kabab. Most importantly you have your family beside you to break your fast with, no matter what is on the menu. After coming here, you just break your fast alone. My mother is not here to pamper me with different dishes, my sister doesn't remind me every minute that I shouldn't sleep right before breaking my fast. You don't get to eat peyaju or beguni. It's not like you can't make them, it's just you are alone and after you have a long tiring day, you don't feel like making different types of food."
Mehedi also describes his hopes for changes in the pandemic, "In the pandemic everyone has limited work and some have to do home office, so this might buy us some free time when we can cook, but on the other hand, I might not get to pray the Eid namaaz in a jamaat, because of restrictions."
Studying at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, *Rifat Zaman, 21, compared his experiences, "Living abroad brought with it changes to my lifestyle, but I never quite expected Ramadan to be close to the epicentre of it. Back home, Ramadan meant three things to me: good food, having an excuse to get out of bed late, and whining about how hungry I was to my family. But in Hong Kong the situation was different. Office staff would regularly have meals together, which ramped up the difficulty of fasting, but the sudden respect and admiration I would receive from my co-workers for being able to fast for so long did make the experience worthwhile."
*Rifat continues his comparison but this time adds how his praying habits changed, "Back home, I would only go to mosques for taraweeh prayers, but in Hong Kong, I had more reasons to go. The mosque became a symbol of community, of being around people similar to me, so I'd often hop on the train to the nearest mosque after work. Iftar was served and the whole communal experience was something I appreciated very much."
He explained what he felt was the most noticeable difference. "The biggest difference was really just the lack of 'people' for the experience. Back home, I had my family, but with how small and sparsely populated the Muslim community in Hong Kong is, I'd rarely, if ever, meet another Muslim outside the mosque."
*Sabah Shabab, 22, recalls how it felt spending Ramadan without family in Malaysia as a student, "Living without family as a student is tough. I either save my money to order in sehri or make sure I cook beforehand. I order homemade food from a Bengali aunty in my building when I crave Bengali food. When cooking for myself, it is especially hard due to exams and studies. Overall, this hampers my frequency of fasting. But since Malaysia is a Muslim country, professors let Muslim students out of class early and some restaurants are open during sehri so that was a plus."
It can be a significant change for those who had shifted abroad with their families too, as narrated by Biva Afrida, 23, student of the University of Maryland, USA. She commented, "Honestly, the only reason I even remember it is because I live with my parents. I was very lucky that my mom, even after coming back from work, tries her best to make iftar. However, I do miss the food prep we used to do in Bangladesh. We used to give (and receive) iftar from all the neighbours, something I really miss since I loved the begunis one of my neighbours made. Having said that, I think the biggest change is explaining to people outside why I am not eating for the entire day."
Before moving abroad for educational purposes, people warn you of the need to be completely self-reliant, of homesickness and the sudden strong urges to just wake up and catch the quickest flight home, and if it is Ramadan, of potential difficulties you will face. Whether it was worse, better, or exactly as you expected, here is hoping you persevere against homesickness and find comfort in what you have near you, while patting yourself on the back for adapting to unfamiliar situations.
Wherever you are this month, I wish you all a happy Ramadan.
Names have been changed upon request.
Bushra Zaman likes books, art, and only being contacted by email. Contact her at email@example.com