Patience 

Guilty as charged. Bang went my promise of a blog post every night, the plans of cooking nutritional meals for me to regain my strength and the pep talk I gave myself about not being crabby when hungry. It has all flown straight out of the window.
We’re now on day 18 and I cannot begin to describe how proud I am for getting this far. At the start of Ramadan, day 18 seemed a million miles away, and here we are, with less that two weeks to go until Eid, and I’ve managed every single day.
The one thing I have noticed more than anything this year is the isolation. That has played the biggest part in why I haven’t blogged for so long. It is difficult enough living in a community which isn’t predominantly Muslim, as going about your everyday business, you could be forgiven for thinking that the days of Ramadan are just like any other. The isolation goes deeper though when you find yourself breaking your fast alone every night. For me there has been no extravagant meals. It seems pointless to make that extra effort when I cannot manage more than a plateful of food. The children have eaten a good few hours prior by that point, and I don’t want to cook more than necessary and have it go to waste.
Last year’s diet was mainly a small bowl of soup followed by some fried eggs. This year, I seem to be surviving on noodles. Quick and easy to make, just the right portion size and satisfyingly filling. I went one step further last night and followed it up with an egg sandwich, but by 9.30pm I am honestly past the point of hunger and just want to quench my thirst.
The isolation I have been feeling had led to me becoming slightly depressed and withdrawn. I would leave it until the last minute to leave home each morning to take the kids to school, and upon my return, shut myself off from the world until it was time to drag myself back out again in the afternoon. I wanted to interact with my friends, but realised my energy levels were sapping because I’d not had a decent meal for sahur. I was aware my breath wasn’t the most fragrant, and I found myself avoiding contact because I couldn’t be bothered to make the effort.
I missed the atmosphere of the holy month that I had been so used to in Istanbul in previous years. I missed the bustling conversation over the iftar meal on an evening. I missed listening to the drummer walking the streets in the early hours waking people up before sunrise. I felt resentful at my situation and I felt very alone.
The biggest lesson I have been taught over the past month is patience. Nothing in this life lasts forever. Every emotion we feel, every event we anticipate and every step we take is temporary. I constantly looked for a purpose, for an answer as to what I was doing with my life. I wondered when I would get my break, my good news and my focus. I had prayed so much to Allah knowing that prayers were so much more important in the holy month, and yet each day I woke with the same heavy heart and tired mind.
Today was the day I was to receive my good news and indeed, my prayers and patience had paid off. I received news that I had been accepted onto the undergraduate university course of my dreams. So many things had previously hindered me from studying for the career path I’d had in my mind since childhood. There in front of me was the email confirming my acceptance and I cried. I had done it. Despite the odds being stacked high of being a single mum to three children, going through a messy divorce and learning to stand on her own two feet again, I had done it. I had achieved what I’d set my heart on.
The first person I wanted to call was my mum. I wanted to scream down the phone and tell her my good news. I wanted to tell my Dad and show him that I was going to make him proud. I sat and looked around me and realised that the two people who would know just how much this meant to me, weren’t even there anymore and that hurt. 
I couldn’t get to school quickly enough this afternoon to tell my children. My girls were so happy for me, but their biggest worry was who would look after them when I would be studying. It was an understandable reaction after the upheaval of the past year. I then went to collect my son from his school, and his reaction was the best I could have ever wished for. He shouted for joy and gave me the biggest cuddle ever, with a smile beaming across his face. He knew just how much I wanted this, and what I didn’t have in terms of my parents celebrating with me, he certainly more than made up for it.
Today I got my purpose, something for myself. Today I learnt the lesson to never give up. So many days I felt I didn’t have the strength or determination any more. So many times I questioned when I would reap my rewards. Today my faith and beliefs were reconfirmed because I believe that this is my reward for never giving up.
I have my focus back, my motivation and more importantly, my smile. 

Throwing It Out There

Hello, it’s me. Fear not, I am still alive and kicking. I am 3kg lighter, a dress size smaller and probably a couple of shades paler but I am very much alive! I have been humbled by the amount of people who have asked why I haven’t blogged for almost a week now. It really means so much to know that I am not just talking to a laptop- that are people who take a genuine interest in my ramblings. I was told today that my blog is the kind of thing we need in this current climate, and to throw it out there- so this guys, is for you!

The world has been shaken by the tragic death of politician Jo Cox. The evening of her death was the very evening I posted an update on Facebook stating that I wouldn’t be blogging because I had run out of anything remotely positive to say. Her death has hit a nerve with so many people, not only in the UK but across the globe too. I live not a million miles away from her constituency where her murder occurred. When my husband arrived in the UK ten years ago, his first job was at a restaurant just around the corner. More than anything, I was touched because she was a wife and a mother. To have a life so brutally snatched from you whilst doing the job you love so passionately is beyond comprehension. This goes back to my point about life becoming so cheap and worthless. This was a woman who balanced her family life and career, who stood up for all she believed in and tried to make a difference in the world. She wasn’t a bad person, far from it and this is apparent in the legacy she has left. Over £1 million has been pledged by the public in less than a week and is to be split between three of the charities that she was connected to. Why do we fail to recognize the good in people when they are still with us? Why are we so quick to criticize  and pick up on other people’s faults, but once they are gone, be full of hurt and regret for things that were never said or done?

I found myself watching the news updates and following the story over the next few days. My head could not process the tragedy. The high street of a quiet village had become the focus of the global press. People all over the country were attending vigils. Bouquets of flowers were being laid in their thousands from those wanting to show some sort of compassion and sympathy. I felt angry and sorrowful, but most of all, I felt exposed and vulnerable. We have three local MPs who visit our coffee shop on a frequent basis. What would it take for another tragic incident like this to happen, so easily as the first? The odds are low, but not impossible. From the terrorist threat overseas, to a different threat in our home land, we are entering a period of high risk, uncertainty, and hate. “We have more in common than that which divides us” are the powerful and touching words of the late Jo Cox. Imagine the love and power if the world united in love and peace. Instead, the only certain thing in our lives can be our faith.

We are now on day 17 and well over half way through. The nights are continuing to get longer and peak this evening at 21.48 for the next few days until from Sunday onwards they gradually shorten by a minute over the following week. I suffered with a few dizzy spells this afternoon. When work is busy, I tend to go with the flow and find myself on this artificial high because of the buzz of work. In our quieter periods though, I find myself clock watching, and more aware of how weak I start to feel. The temperatures are continuing to rise, and with little breeze, the kitchen at work is becoming difficult to work in. Its nothing that a wash of my hands and arms in cold water can’t fix, but my energy levels are beyond repair. I spend most of my day feeling weak and feeble, to then eat at iftar and then feel full and sluggish- I am my own worst enemy at the moment!

The Small Things In Life

Lastnight I asked my husband to check the time by which I needed to set my alarm to have a last drink of water before sunrise. When he told me 3.15am, I asked him to check again. Indeed it was true. This is the longest Ramadan for 33 years in terms of daylight hours. We must fast for over 18 hours a day, and whilst Im asleep for around four or five of those hours, it is still a mean feat. The weather today in the UK has been hotter than Istanbul. We pray for a warm and bright summer, for it to arrive on the first day of Ramadan. Think the Wifi connection to Allah must have been weak when wishing for that one.

It was 16C by 8.30am this morning. The children didn’t have school today due to teacher training, which meant I snook one extra hour of sleep in. As soon as I woke, having something to drink was all I could think of. It was all subconscious of course, as on a normal day, I can go a while before having a drink, and certainly a good few hours before I need breakfast. The problem wasn’t that I was genuinely thirsty, it was because I wanted something I couldn’t have. I guess its a similar experience to me constantly thinking about  buying a yacht and traveling the world- very tempting, but it just ain’t happening.

A whiff off freshly cooked scrambled eggs caught me off guard around 10am, but other than that, I am so surprised at how well I have coped considering today is the first day of fasting. Even with 26C heat, I haven’t been particularly thirsty. My weakest moment of the day was after work at 3pm when I sat down and nearly fell asleep upright holding a sweeping brush. I was no longer able to concentrate on anything that anybody said, and started to see stars. The hardest part of the day was over with. Relaxing at home would be a doddle compared to running a coffee shop and cooking for 7 hours a day, 6 days a week. People ask me if cooking for others whilst fasting bothers me. It doesn’t really. Hypocritically, 80% of what we sell is pork.

I enjoyed a shower to freshen up, and cooked dinner for the children. I am writing this blog at 7pm, and with just less than three hours to go, lack of energy finally got the better of me, and I have just woken from a short nap. Today has been so much easier than I imagined it would, but having said that, I’m not sure where I am going to find the energy from to shower three children before bedtime. I read an interesting article today about the rapid increase of sales of the drink Vimto throughout Ramadan as it is an excellent source of energy. I know myself from previous fasts though, that come Iftar, a glass of water and the smallest of meals is sufficient. In Turkey, the dinner table is set with an array of food in order to break the fast, but my husband and I have already agreed on sucuk (a garlic sausage from Turkey) and eggs for our evening meal.

I often get asked why Ramadan lasts one month, and what the significance is of eating between the hours of sunset and sunrise when this varies from country to country. The month signifies the time in which the Quran was revealed by Allah to the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) on Kadir Gecesi (The Night of Power). The Prophet Mohammed reportedly said that when the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened, the gates of hell closed, and the devils are chained. It is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. In the northernmost parts of Europe, where the sun does not rise or set for many weeks in peak summer, Muslims observe Ramadan according to the daylight hours of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, or nearby Muslim countries. Muslims follow a lunar calendar- based on the phases of the moon, which is 11 days shorter than the 365 days of the Gregorian calendar. Therefore the Islamic lunar calendar moves back 11 days each year, hence when Ramadan starts on a different date each year. I am yet to observe a fast in the winter months, and have a good few years to wait before I do!

The practise of fasting serves a spiritual purpose, to remind you of your dependence on God for sustenance, but also as a way for our bodies to rest and be cleansed. The idea is that you should also refrain from bad thoughts including anger, jealousy and gossip. You may wonder why terrorist groups tend to spike throughout Ramadan, and the answer to that one is easy. At the risk of breaking my fast, terrorists are a***holes.

I am a little emotional at the thought of breaking my first fast. I am proud at my willpower today considering the heat, length of day and how hard I expected it to be. Every day around this time I have the same thoughts on over indulging at Iftar on treats and snacks, but it is an amazing act, in that my body will refuse anything more than a small plate of food- a reminder that we can actually survive on the minimum in life, and quite often be better people for it.

Hos Geldin Ramazan- Welcome Ramadan

Im still struggling to comprehend the fact that it has been just over a year since I created the ‘Blonde Brit At Ramadan’ blog, which was made to give a little insight in to how it is for a Muslim throughout the month of Ramadan. The thing that made it a little different is that I am not your ‘typical’ Muslim. With blonde hair and blue eyes, I don’t really fit the stereotype, and my intention was for my blog to help people realize that not matter the skin, hair or eye colour, most Muslims are just normal people going about their everyday business.

I say normal, because unfortunately since last years posts, there has been a large increase in extreme terrorism by people who call themselves Muslim and who believe they are conforming to the will of Allah. This isn’t the place for me to go into a debate about terrorist activity, but needless to say, events in the past 12 months mean Muslims are further more frowned upon than ever before.

I am grateful that this year I will be completing the whole of my fast in the UK. I spent some time this afternoon reflecting upon last years blog and it made me very emotional. Remembering the 30C heat of Istanbul, bickering children and a range of emotions did bring a tear to my eye. Although I am very excited about the month ahead, I know it will be a struggle. The days are becoming longer and the weather forecast is showing sunny and mid 20s for the next few days. We will not break the fast until around 9.45pm and the first day is always immensely trying.

We have had guests staying with us from Turkey for the past 7 weeks. My in-laws arrived first, and 6 weeks later this was followed by some family friends. The house has had a buzzing atmosphere for almost two months, and especially the past week whilst it has been school holidays and we were taking our friends to different places each day. They were the last to leave just two days ago, and I don’t think it could have been timed better. Whilst I miss the company and the laughs, I am able to appreciate the calm and quiet, and it has put me in a serene mood- the perfect set up for the month ahead. I have also put my craft business on hold which means other than getting through the work day, I have no other distractions or things to worry about whilst fasting.

I also feel more prepared this year. We moved into our new home in October, but as we still have our old flat above our coffee shop, we have decided to temporarily move back throughout Ramadan. It will save a commute each morning and evening, and whilst my argument was that it would be nicer having our home comforts at hand, I also remembered that after last year’s first day, I slept for three hours after work- I think home comforts will be the least of my worries this time tomorrow. In order to cover all bases, I have prepared enough luggage that would rival the Kardashian family holiday.

The kids are very excited that it is Ramadan. Although they don’t fast, they know it is a special time for Mum and Dad and for the family in Turkey too. Unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of listening to the call to prayer to break our fast, and the ‘iftar’ programs on Turkish TV will be out of sync with our timings. We don’t have the davulcu or the ‘drummer’ to wake us each morning to prepare breakfast for the day ahead. My husband and I have been planning meals and ideas, but we know that a simple bowl of soup and a small breakfast will be enough for us. That first drink of water after going without for almost 20 hours is a luxury on its own.

Ramadan is all about sacrifice. It is a time to reflect on all we have, all we have to be grateful for and to think of those less fortunate. We learn to focus on the minimalist things in life and to make do with as little as possible. I have already realized how much I rely on everyday junk by considering whether to have a McDonald’s as my ‘last supper’. I savoured every last drop of a can of Red Bull today knowing that the caffeine withdrawal symptoms are going to be nasty, but going 30 days without that and other luxuries isn’t going to kill me.

As well as on a spiritual level, I am looking forward to the detox. I have over indulged far too much the past few weeks and whilst most people agree that it isn’t the best way to cleanse and lose weight, at least I will have the self control to not pick and snack on anything unnecessary. My weigh-in this afternoon showed 65.2kg. 3kg of that has been the mix of Indian, Thai and Turkish cuisine this past week alone.

Throughout Ramadan, I hope to complete a full reading the Quran. The Quran can be split into 30 cuz (juz), and so by reading one cuz per day, by the end of the month, the whole of the holy book has been read. This can be offered to something in particular if wished, for example the soul of a dead person, or for someone who is poorly or in difficulty. In the hope that I complete my reading, I will be offering it to the souls of my Mum and Dad.

It is now 6pm. My husband has gone shopping and to see friends before the fast starts. Out of his wide group of Muslim friends, we are the only ones who fast. We respect other people’s decisions not to, and they respect our decision just as much, if not more. Lack of energy means other than work, we are very much home bound for 30 days. I will prepare dinner for the children and I, then give the house a good clean whilst I still have the enthusiasm to do so. Once the children are in bed, I will take a shower, cleanse in the way as taught by the Quran (I will write more on this in a later post), make my intention to fast tomorrow, then have a late meal before bed. My husband doesn’t wake for sahur (the meal before sunrise) and I too struggle to eat first thing after waking. I will set my alarm and drink some water whilst I can and set myself for the day ahead.

So this is the start of my 30 day journey again, something which I am looking forward to sharing with you all. There is no magical atmosphere as I am used to experiencing when in Turkey, no family with whom we can open our fast, just my husband, our children and our faith.

I sincerely wish you all a happy and peaceful month ahead.

Day 14. Planting A Seed

I honestly can’t believe that we’re now at the half way stage. Well, this Ramadan lasts 29 days, and as you can’t divide that equally, I’d say we’re pretty close to the half mark.

I am proud of what I have achieved this year. I knew it would be a struggle, and I doubted myself before day one. I knew the days would be long, but with working, looking after three children and juggling a home too, I didn’t anticipate just how hard it would be. The recent spell of hot weather hasn’t helped, and although the UK appeared to be hotter than Istanbul today, I do believe I am in store for much of the same temperatures as today when I fly there next week. 

I am immensely looking forward to spending the last week of Ramadan in Turkey. I hope to visit Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque) one evening, where they film a live program every evening in the build up to Iftar. It is hosted by a gentleman called Nihat Hatipoğlu, who covers the program every year, and I am not ashamed to say that seeing him live is on my bucket list. It is held outdoors where members of the public sit opposite him in a large crowd, and can ask for his knowledge on questions relating to Islam. It is very informative, very calming, and is brilliantly presented. I was fortunate enough to listen to the call to prayer (ezan), when I visited Sultanahmet in April. The bellows from the minarets gave me goosepimples. It was amazing. To be present at such an historical beauty, recognised worldwide for being one of two mosques in Turkey with six minarets, can only be described as a once in a lifetime opportunity. I have been fortunate to visit Sultanahmet now on several occasions, but the highlight was definitely being present for the call to prayer, which is echoed all around the old part of the city.

Families fill the vicinity of the grand mosque in time for Iftar, bringing a picnic style banquet, but not forgetting a flask of the infamous Turkish tea (çay). Once the Iftar has finished, the sides of th rmosque become alight with parades of stalls selling authentic Turkish goods such as roasted coffee, textiles and silver. Not forgetting the children, there are souvenirs a plenty, parades showcasing the Ottoman era, and the crowds stay until the early hours. It is also a popular place for sahur- the breakfast before sunrise. What better place to gather with loved ones, share a meal and then pray your intention of fasting to Allah for the day ahead. The experience is truly magical. İnşallah, I will visit for Iftar one evening this year, and who knows, maybe the blonde Brit will be featured on Turkish television! 

For now though, and to whichever faith you believe in, take a moment to say a short prayer tonight. It doesn’t have to be long,  it doesn’t even need to be a recital, but for whatever, or whoever you would like to pray for, please try it. By planting a seed in our garden, we have a hope that there will be a tomorrow, and by praying to God, we strengthen both that hope and our faith.