Day 29. Until Next Year…

Wow. A whole 29 days that has just flown past, although I can remember the days I have sat and watched the clock slowly ticking. Waking up in a morning and counting how many hours left until Iftar, and staring at the clock on my phones home screen waiting for our cue to eat- no call to prayer in the UK, remember.

I can safely say each day is getting hotter in Istanbul. Today is known as ‘Arefe Gunu’ meaning the eve of Bayram- sort of like Xmas Eve. People are busy preparing their homes for the expected visitors, streets are bustling with last minute shopping for clothes, and especially for sweets and chocolates. This holiday is also know in Turkey as ‘şeker bayramı’, which translates as ‘sugar festival’. It is common for young children to knock on doors and wish the occupants a happy holiday, and in return they are given sweets- usually the small hard boiled fruit variety. Visitors are offered the finest chocolates which usually come decorated in luxury boxes, trimmed with ribbon. A splash of lemon cologne is offered in their hands, then usually the youngest of the family, or the daughter of the house offers the chocolates. As the daughter in law, this was my job for many Bayram, but I have since retired and let my daughters steal the limelight instead.

Today I helped my mother in law clean the house ready for the guests arriving tomorrow. Almost in unison, the women living on the streets were hanging out of windows wafting rugs and cleaning windows. The heat was intense. We hung washing out and it was completely dry less than 30 minutes later. Trying to hover rugs that are deeper than the Atlantic is a feat at the best of times, never mind when it’s 30+ degrees outside without a sniff of a breeze.

I began to feel dizzy. I didn’t want to break my fast on the last day, but I didn’t want to end up in A&E either. Once again, I found myself with my head stuck in the freezer, only for my mother in law to panic that it would break as it would need to work twice as hard in the heat. It didn’t matter that I was about to pass out, as long as her peas didn’t defrost.

As with every day this week, the kids were getting to each other. I could feel the sweat seeing out of my pores and imagined hell to be something along those lines. I imagine they don’t let children into hell, so it would be a lot less quieter anyway. I made a split second decision to take the kids to the inlaws summer house in a small resort a couple of hours away from Istanbul. I had no chance of getting a ticket the day before Bayram, but as soon as I knew we would be going tomorrow, my spirits lifted and I was back on track again.

I treated myself to a hair do early evening. It is tradition to dress up on Bayram, with children getting new clothes, and people generally making an extra effort. By the time I had finished in the hairdressers and met up with a friend, there was less than one hour remaining. That last hour of Ramadan was quite possibly the hardest 60 minutes of the past month.

I made it home with not long to spare. We gathered at the table and the prayers that filled the room from the TV were mind blowing. The month had reached its climax. We were praying for others to accept our good deeds and to keep the promise until judgment day. We asked for forgiveness for all we had done wrong, we prayed that our fast would be accepted and that we would love to see another Ramadan.

The call to pray began. That was it. Ramadan was over for another year and I couldn’t help but cry. I couldn’t believe the inner strength I had found from nowhere. On the days I was so ready to give up, Allah guided me through. I have never felt so connected to my faith as much as I have this past month, and I was proud. I lasted through the long days in England, and the hot days in Turkey. I resisted temptation and I have completed another Ramadan. It isn’t anything that I shouldn’t be doing as a Muslim anyway, but I was happy that say that I had done it nonetheless.

We ate our meal and my Grandmother-in-law recited prayers as we listened intently. We prayed for the souls of those we had lost and that our fasting may be offered up to them. We prayed for health, peace and happiness. I particularly emphasised the Amen on the peace part. A mother of three kids can never have too much peace.

It is tradition for the children to have a shower on the eve of Bayram as it is believed they are cleansed, and it helps them to grow. The kids were showered one by one and dressed in fresh pyjamas. Tomorrow when we wake, we will have a breakfast together as a family, then we will get dressed in our best attire and wait for visitors. The children kiss the hands of the elders and place them on their foreheads, and in return they are usually given money from close family members. My father in law will still give me money every year when I kiss his hand ☺️. The day will be filled with love and laughter, and the festival lasts for three days, with the next Ramadan taking place on 6th June 2016.

I would like to thank every single person who has taken the time to comment, to write, to stop me in the school playground and tell me how much they have enjoyed reading my posts. People from as far as USA and New Zealand have read my blog, with it having been read by over 2000 people at the last count. I hope I have managed to keep you entertained over the past month, but more than anything, I hope that I have changed some people’s perceptions of not only Ramadan, but of Islam too.

Until next year….

The blonde Brit at Ramadan

Day 28. The Last Breakfast

It was another tough day today. I felt broken- this time both mentally and physically. The kids argued from the moment we woke, and it was far too hot to head out with them. It felt like the longest day ever.

The first argument came when my 6 year old daughter was adamant she was going to fast. This came after me preparing breakfast for the three of them. Whilst it was nice that she was taking an active interest, not only had she not woken up for sahur, it’s just not permissible for them to fast at that age. Cue a long and drawn out argument which ended in me giving in and telling her she could fast, just for the sake of keeping the peace. The eldest then decided he too would be fasting. The day would only get worse.

The house was baking. We closed the curtains to keep out the sun and keep the living room shady. The front door was left wide open so that the coolness from the apartment could drift in, but to be honest, it didn’t make much difference. I haven’t been particularly thirsty whilst fasting in Turkey, and I certainly haven’t been rushed off my feet with work, but the kids have mentally challenged me to the max. My sister in law is due to get married in two weeks, and the stress of the final plans is having an affect on us all. I sat and completed the favours for her henna party, and I have to admit, it was just to keep me sane and away from listening to the kids tearing shreds out of each other.

By early evening I felt weak. I stood in front of  the mirror and all I saw was a very different looking me. I looked physically different in that I have lost a lot of weight. I don’t look particularly healthy. I’ve lost my curves and if I had had the strength to work out, I would probably be proud of the weight loss and toning. Considering I have slept for half of Ramadan, I now just look, for want of a better word, flat. However, although it has been mentally challenging, I do feel as though I am in a much better place. I feel proud of my achievements. There have been times when I have wanted to give up. Times when I even questioned the reasoning behind it all, and how this can be a way to show dedication to my faith. I didn’t give up though, and almost a month on, I can proudly say ‘I did it’.

I laid down on the bed in the hope I could catch some sleep for an hour or so. I felt too weak to relax. I felt tense. My head was trying to process the needs of three children, my heart was telling me that there was only one day to go, and my stomach was telling me that it felt like a dried prune. 

There was a memory today on my Facebook page that I posted last year. It read ‘please forgive me for what I said when I was hungry’. It made me chuckle- there have been times when I’ve been a cow when I’ve been hungry, but throughout Ramadan, I’ve just stayed quiet. Quite possibly because I don’t have the energy to hold a decent conversation by evening, but even my mother in law has noticed that I stop talking in the last hour leading up to Iftar. 

It only takes a single glass of water for me to feel human again. I hadn’t felt thirsty all day, but as I mentioned before, it certainly is a case of mind over matter. That one glass of water brings me back to earth, and turns me back into a normal human being again.

Tonight is the last time we will sit and have sahur. I will miss it. It’s such a pleasant feeling to prepare the last meal before fasting and to wake everyone up. I can now hear the drummer for what will be the last time for probably over a year. I will be in the UK for the duration of next years Ramadan. I may need to invest in my own toy drum kit. 

Oh, and the children managed to break their fasts mid-afternoon with a fruit yogurt which apparently ‘doesn’t count’.

Until tomorrow… 

  

Day 27. Patience 

Today has been a challenging day. The temperature reached 33 degrees in the shade, but I don’t think it was just the heat alone that got to. Today I was mentally challenged and it was a struggle. 

It may seem that being on holiday in Istanbul makes life a walk in the park. Unfortunately it isn’t all rosy. There are currently 8 of us staying in a two bedroomed apartment in a built up area of the city. The house is like an oven. The children are hot and irritable. Although we are on holiday, technically we’ve just come to our second home. We have been lucky enough to come to Istanbul so many times that we’ve probably seen every sight there is to see twice, maybe three times over. I have run out of things to do and places to see with the kids. I don’t want them to be stuck in a house when the weather is glorious outside, yet it’s 33 degrees and the family are fasting. 

My mother in law became ill overnight, and so she could have some peace and quiet, I took the three children to Sultanahmet Mosque. We visited the grounds when we last came in April, but I wanted to visit during Ramadan, and especially for the children to see inside the mosque. 

My patience was wearing thin today, and I didn’t like my attitude from the moment I woke. It has been hard trying to keep the kids happy, the inlaws happy, and myself sane. Bedtime is now 4am after sahur has been eaten, and we are not waking until midday. My body is out of sync, and my mind is paying the price. I’m not sure if dragging a 7, 6 and 5 year old onto the hot, bustling streets of Istanbul is one of the best ideas I’ve ever had, but I did. 

I am lucky in that my children have learnt to respect their religion from a young age. The girls were eager to wear their headscarves as we enter the grounds. My son asked if I had brought his prayer cap too. They knew we needed to remove our shoes before we could enter, and the girls were worried that their bright pink headbands and accessories would offend (of course they wouldn’t, but it was nice that they knew they should dress suitably).

We filed into the mosque with the rest of the tourists. We chose a quiet spot to sit together and watched as people floated in and out, many dressed in the robes given out in order to conform with the dress code. There were people from all nationalities who were in awe of the interior architecture. It was a sign of modern times when people were taking out their selfie sticks and posing against the intricate mosaic tiled domes. 

I suspected the children would be bored, but they asked if we could sit a little longer. My daughters were fiddling with their prayer beads and my son was just enjoying the peaceful environment. I knew it wouldn’t be long until the afternoon call to prayer, and the tourists were asked by security to leave so that those who were there to pray namaz could do so without distraction.

We were lucky enough to catch the call to prayer whilst we made our way out of the grounds. It was mesmerising. Sultanahmet Mosque and Ayasofia were calling in rhythm with each other, and the sound of the call echoing across the area gave me goose pimples. There were people of all ages who were sheltering under trees away from the heat, counting down the remaining hours until Iftar. There is probably not a place as special as Sultanahmet for people to break their fast.

The children were getting restless. It was now rush hour traffic time, and we had a good 15 minute walk before we reached the bus. It is nice that the children are aware of Ramadan and its importance, but at this age, there is only so much interest they will take. I would have loved to have spent all afternoon there, but I had to admit that they were right to want to go home to the shade.

There is only two days left of Ramadan. This month has been such an amazing experience. It has certainly tested me at times, and today I asked Allah for help. I cried, because when I make the intention to fast, I do it with the promise that I won’t be a bad person with it- I won’t be angry or impatient, yet I will be happy and at peace. Today I struggled with that promise. Tomorrow I will try my best. It is nobody’s fault that it is hot. My children are right to feel restless, and I should be grateful that I am fortunate enough to be spending time in such a beautiful country with my family. May Allah forgive. 

     
 

Day 25/26. Night of the Qadr

Unfortunately there was no blog last night due to having no internet connection at home. Now I am used to the electricity and water cuts every time I come to Istanbul, and I have learnt to cope with those. The Internet however, is another story. If only we were as connected to our religion as we are to the World Wide Web. I think the world would be such a different place. 

Today is known as Night of the Qadr (Kadir Gecesi). This is the most important night of the Islam calendar as it the night when the Quran began its revelation to the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him). It is known to be a night holier than a thousand nights, and the time from Iftar onwards through to sunrise is filled with prayers and worship.

I visited the mosque this afternoon with my mother in law. Today was the last day of her Quran recital, meaning she had completed reading the whole of the Quran over the past month, and for the first time, she had done it by reading Arabic. The ladies in the mosque were full of hope, a sense of achievement and thanks to Allah that they had lived to complete their worship. My children visited the mosque and listened intently to the Imam reading the last few passages, and joined in with the prayers they knew. The Imam then led general prayers in which he prayed for those who have left this world, those who are ill, those in debt, and for us all, that our prayers may be accepted and our sins forgiven. It was an emotional time, and I only wish the I could have visited the mosque every day throughout Ramadan to worship. 

It was a very hot day in Istanbul, with the temperature reaching at least 30 degrees. Considering there was probably a 10 degree difference between the UK, thankfully I didn’t struggle with fasting today. I expected my mouth to be dry and my brain to have melted, but as usual, Allah helped and guided me through the hours. Of course it helped that I wasn’t working, and so my energy was preserved, but trying to tackle three arguing children in that heat is a job worthy of an MBE.

There was 11 of us for Iftar this evening. It felt magical. There was lots of laughter and chat. The table was filled with freshly baked bread, different types of fruit juice, three different types of food, and a large box of chocolates for when we had finished. You are rewarded if you accept guests for Iftar and so lots of people take turns to play host and prepare Iftar for family and friends throughout Ramadan. More than anything, it is a good excuse for family to get together at times when they may be too busy with other commitments.

Not long after Iftar, I rushed out to meet a friend. We had agreed to go to the local mosque to pray this evening because it was a special night. My two girls came with me. My son could have come, but he is at an age now where he should really pray with males rather than females, and so he agreed to go with grandad to the mosque. At least 200 women gathered in a small courtyard outside the local mosque. From the elderly to the very young, every one had gathered with one intention- to worship Allah on the most important night of the year. There is an extra set of prayers that are completed throughout Ramadan, and these are completed after the usual last set of prayers of the day. It was now 10.45pm and everyone had gathered in lines, women trying to find a space where they could in the hope that praying by the mosque would be more rewarding than praying at home. Of course, Allah accepts our worship wherever it may be- the most important part is that you have the intention of praying.

At the entrance to the mosque, people were giving out water, and some people were giving out desserts, usually as a mark for a loved one who has passed away, in the hope that their good intention would give peace to those people they didn’t have in their lives anymore. They hoped that by doing a good deed, the sins of their loved ones who had passed would be forgiven, and on what better night than Qadr.

We followed the lead of the Imam whose voice was echoed from the megaphones places around the mosque. In uniform, packed all together tightly liked sardines, we started to pray. It didn’t matter that we were nudging and bumping into each other as we knelt down and rose again. We were all there with the hope that Allah would hear and accept our prayers. 
One hour later, the prayers were complete. Slowly, the 200 women filed out of the mosque, many meeting with their husbands, some with children and some on their own, and they would be heading onto other mosques to continue their prayers. Tonight is the one night that we are asked to prayer continually until sunrise. The local town was filled with masses of people who hoped to spend the early hours offering their prayers at the numerous mosques in the area, and considering there is a mosque on nearly every other street, that counts for a lot of prayers.

Some males choose to stay in their local mosque from Iftar right through until sahur everyday in order to be strict with their worship. A friend of ours is staying in the mosque every night until Eid, with the exception of going to work. He returns to the mosque straight after he has finished work, and stays there until it is time to leave again the next morning. This is particularly common over the last ten days of Ramadan.

It is now 1.30am and I am sitting listening to more prayers on the television. I have goose pimples, and I have become quite emotional at times today. Muslims display such a strong connection to their faith. There is a certain sense of fear against doing wrong, and the consequences that may follow. The Quran states that Allah is a forgiver, and asks us to prayer for when we want to be forgiven. Allah is there when we are alone, when we need guidance and help. Islam isn’t a faith that should be feared. I believe it should be used as an example, that when those who sin, know they can ask for fogiveness. It is a faith that is so strong, it brings together hundreds of people at a single time to pray in unison to their creator, to give thanks for all that is and all that is to come.

I hope Allah accepts my prayers and my fast today. For my Mum and Dad, my grandparents and my husbands relatives who have all passed away, for my husband and my children whom I wish health and happiness, for my husbands family and for our friends for whom I wish the same, for myself and the hope that my wrongdoings may be forgiven, and my good deeds accepted, and for all those in the world who may need a helping hand for whatever be the reason- I wish my worship tonight for you all.

Day 24. Midnight Feast

Sahur finishes here in Istanbul at 3.40am, and my son waited up Lastnight until the very end. It is his favourite part of Ramadan. He loves nothing more than to watch the drummer walking the streets, playing his familiar rhythm as an alarm clock to wake people up, ready for the last meal before the fast. My son watched intently lastnight ready for his appearance, and the drummer played even louder when he saw him peering from the window. 
In contrast to the steady pace of Iftar, where there is no rush to finish the meal, sahur is a little more fast paced as of course, there is a time limit on how long you can eat. It is just as special however, as with the daily Iftar program, there is also an accompanying sahur broadcast which is also filled with prayers and worship. As the clock counts down, water is drunk is quickly as possible, with one of the last jobs being to brush your teeth. The very last job is of course, to make your intention to fast during the day ahead.
The strength and determination of the Muslim population here in Turkey is remarkable. In the 30 degree heat today, I witnessed hundreds, possibly thousands of Turks in the bustling Grand Bazaar area of the city. I knew that most of these people would be fasting. The women with their headscarves and men with their prayer beads made them easy to spot. The look on their faces of tiredness, yet peace made me wonder in amazement. They didn’t let the heat or the crowds faze them. Their minds were quite obviously one with Allah, with their focus being on the good deed they were undertaking, and the hope of their good reward.
My eldest two children, aged 7 and 6, announced in the afternoon that they were fasting. They wanted to be a part of what the family was doing, but of course, at this age are too young to do so. I told them that it was just as important for them to pray as it was to fast. They listened intently as their great-grandma recited a prayer for them to follow, and then as she read her daily part of the Quran. A lot of Muslims read a part of the Quran every day, and this is called a ‘cuz’ (juz). When split over the duration of Ramadan, this usually means the whole of the Quran is finished by the time the month has finished, and to complete this brings such a huge reward.
My father in law attends the mosque every night for prayers called ‘teravi’. This is a special set of prayers said every night after Iftar for the duration of Ramadan. May Allah accept his prayers. He then comes home at 11.30pm and takes the grandchildren to the park. It is a routine that I will miss once Ramadan ends on Thursday.
It is now 2.12am in Istanbul, and the drummer has started to do his rounds again. I will be putting the Turkish tea on, and laying the table full of nourishing breakfast treats. The rest of the house is currently asleep, and they are usually woken up once the food is ready. I always try to help as much as I can when I’m here, as this is also a way for me to earn good rewards, by helping the elders of the house. 
Considering my son has been eating a full breakfast at sahur, and then again when he wakes up, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that we only see 6 days of Ramadan in Turkey. Grandma’s cooking is filling at the best of times without him sneaking in extra meals ‘because Allah wants him to’ ☺️

Day 23. Baby On Board

I am writing this blog at my in-laws home in Istanbul. It is 1.15am and currently 24 degrees. I think I’ve lost a couple of pounds in sweat already. 
The journey today was not too stressful Alhamdulillah. The youngest and I managed to sleep for most of the coach journey (the other two children were far too excited). We arrived at the airport with four hours to spare, and I’m not sure if many of you have ever travelled from Luton Airport, but if you want a seat whilst you wait, I suggest you take your own fold up ones, otherwise be prepared to buff the floor with the backs of your trousers.
We almost never made it to Istanbul. My youngest daughter’s passport expires in November and usually the passport has to have six months remaining on the date of return. Having looked at the passports, I was greeted with a scowl and a shake of a head, along with the words ‘I cannot let you fly’. I’d had four hours broken sleep on a smelly bus, but I still had my wits about me. I proceeded to tell her that we held dual nationality and we were also Turkish citizens to which I received a smart reply saying that my passport didn’t state that. Well, it wouldn’t would it. In between gathering all passports and Turkish ID cards, she managed to drop my son’s card down the tiniest of slits in the conveyor belt where the suitcases get distributed. This wasn’t going to be my day.
After a lot of waiting around, and an overexcited son counting down the minutes until the gate opened, probably for the best part of 90 minutes, we finally boarded. All was calm until the moment the two year old boy in front of us was screaming blue murder because, well, I don’t know exactly what for, but it was enough to want me to get off the plane there and then. 
I had to feel empathy for the mother though. I had been in a similar situation before when my son was a baby, and still to this day, I have no idea what he was crying about. She was doing all she could to calm him down, but unfortunately sometimes these things just happen. It did become slightly inconvenient when a second child piped up three-quarters of the way into the flight, right until we landed on the Tarmac. I am not lying when I say that people were standing up and grabbing their bags whilst the plane was still hurtling down the runway after we landed.
As we drove home, the local parks and seasides were bustling with people who had prepared picnics for Iftar. Large rugs filled the grass along with freshly prepared food and flasks filled with rich Turkish tea. There were 10 people for Iftar this evening- a big difference from it just being the husband and I! The TV was on in the living room, with a program that counts down to Iftar. There was such a lovely atmosphere in the house, and I felt the magic of Ramadan that I hadn’t been feeling very much at home.
The call to prayer gave me goose pimples. I had missed the sound so much. It is a time where, especially during Ramadan, the evening prayer usually means thousand of people of praying in unison in order to break their fast. It takes a lot to beat a powerful stance like that.
Once Iftar had been eaten, and the table cleared away, the room was full of chat- something I had been missing so much. It almost feels like Istanbul comes alive from 9pm onwards as people have refreshed themselves, and head out in order to make the most of the time until sahur. Istanbul is well known for its status of being open 24 hours a day, and this tag didn’t disappoint when at midnight, my father in law was out buying freshly cooked bread. Of course, there would be extra supplies anyway because of Ramadan, but it kind of beats your average Asda trip for a loaf of Kingsmill.

Day 21/22. All Remaining Passengers

Im currently day writing this on the 02.50 National Express service from Leeds to Luton Airport.

I am unable to fast today due to travelling. It will take the best part of 14 hours until I arrive in Istanbul. It’s not the most ideal way to get there, but travelling with three children in peak season is expensive at the best of times, so I took a detour via London ☺️

There wasn’t a blog post yesterday as you may have realised. Time got the best of me. With us not finishing until 10.15, and with last minute packing and organising to be done, I unfortunately forgot. To be honest, I didn’t think anybody would notice, so it was a lovely surprise today when a couple of friends had asked me where my blog was!

Prior to leaving home tonight, there had been some breaking news that all Brits had been asked to leave Tunisia, and it was expected that all would be out of the country by Saturday. It was a chilling piece of news. The thought that a terrorist attack is highly likely is frightening enough, but for the alert to be given two weeks after the first attack there seriously gets people asking what is wrong with the world today. There has been a lot of speculation in the news about the risk in Turkey. I have been defiant and tried to look over any news that has been blown out of proportion, however, I was scared by the news headlines this evening.

I asked my husband if he thought anything was likely to happen whilst I was travelling. Quite bluntly, he said that if it was going to happen, it would. It’s true. Only Allah knows when our lives will end and it what circumstances. No amount of precaution we take would change that. I guess the only positive is that it would mean direct entry into heaven as a result of being killed at the hands of a terrorist. To be honest, I’m not ready to leave this earth just yet. 

I will arrive in Turkey just in time for Iftar tomorrow evening. I can’t wait to hear the call to prayer from the mosque echoing around the streets. Ramadan is a special time wherever it is celebrated across the world, but to live the last week in a predominantly Muslim country surrounded by family and friends will be extra special.