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The isolation I have been feeling had led to me becoming slightly depressed and withdrawn.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. 

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Enough Is Enough

Millions of people worldwide are going about their business today as usual. Early morning alarms, rushed breakfast, school runs and commutes to work. At least 200 people are not as fortunate. The lives of 36 innocent citizens have been cruelly snatched away in another act of terror, with 150 being seriously injured. The one question on everybody’s lips- why?
It was moments after publishing last night’s blog that articles started to appear on my news feed. If I’m being honest, I skimmed past them as certain pages on Facebook are well known for their scandalous headlines and I presumed this was another one. It was only after my husband had told me that there had been an explosion in Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport that I knew it wasn’t a hoax. He started frantically tapping away at the keyboard looking for updates and clicking on any relevant videos to see the full extent. It was grim. Images of bloodied children being carried, bodies laying lifeless outside the terminal building and a constant rise in the number reported dead.
We tried to hide the news from our children who were also in the living room at that time, but when I saw an image of a child who must have only been the age of my youngest daughter, covered from head to foot in blood, her head having being blurred out because of the graphic extent of her injuries, I couldn’t keep myself composed any more. My husband began silently praying for patience and protection. I have travelled through that airport at least once, if not twice every year since 2007. In just three weeks time, I am due to arrive there again with my children. The airport is a mere ten minute drive from the home of my in-laws. Never before has the reality been so closer to home.
One by one, friends and family started to mark themselves as ‘safe’ on Facebook, letting loved ones know they hadn’t been caught up in the terror. My mother and father in law are currently in central Turkey visiting relatives so we knew they were safe, but we phoned my sister in law who was in a state of shock and disbelief. She fears for her daughter- a young and innocent 9 month old, she fears for her family and friends, and she fears for her own life. My other sister in law is a regular user of public transport in Istanbul as she commutes every day from the European to the Asian side. She depends on her job to run her household, and so runs a daily risk of being caught up in the terror run by the scum of the earth that is Isis. 
We all face risks in our daily lives. Whilst living in a city in the middle of the UK, we feel a certain sense of ‘protection’, being away from the evil that is being projected on major cities and areas worldwide. The truth is, we are no longer safe anywhere. Terror knows no boundaries. Terror knows of no faith. 
How do I feel about travelling to Istanbul in less than a month? Scared. I have ran scenario after scenario in my head but nobody can ever prepare for such a tragedy. I asked a friend this morning what I would do if I saw someone acting suspicious as I was due to get on my flight. Would I alert authorities at the risk of causing uproar, chaos and embarrassment, or would I bite my tongue, pray to God and hope for the best? Being a slight 5’4, how would I be able to shield all three of my children from firing bullets? Would I run for my life or lay on the floor and play dead? 
This is no longer an exaggerated way of thinking. This is a possibility. Of course security will be heightened at Ataturk and across airports worldwide, but the three terrorists didn’t even get past security controls before they starting spraying bullets. Had they not entered the terminal, just as much destruction could have been done in the car parks and drop off points. 
Only Allah knows when my time will be up. By not going to Turkey, I am robbing my children of spending time with their only grandparents and aunties. I am teaching them that evil rules over good. I am letting them think that I cannot protect them under my wing. 
What should have been an amazing holiday with my children as we finally visit the southern coastal area of Fethiye will be marred with an anxiety. My children are entitled to a care free six weeks in the sun where their only worry is how long they have left to play in the swimming pool. I will not take that away from them, but this year I need to be vigilant. I will have at the most, a week in Istanbul, and even then, I will not be planning my usual trips to Sultanahmet and the Grand Bazaar. My husband has advised me to stay away from the local bazaars and shopping centres. I pray I will be safe in Yalova- a small city just a ferry boat ride away from Istanbul, away from the chaos. I will spend three weeks with my children and father in law in Fethiye and pray that we are safe in a small apartment complex. 
As a retired police chief, I have always felt protected by my father in law. His ‘authority’ and respect from other officials meant that at times, he could slightly bend the rules. The drop off area outside the departures terminal at Ataturk is exactly that- a drop-off point where taxis and coaches would offload their passengers and drive away. My father in law would park just a few metres back from the entrance next to a small police shelter and display his ‘police’ card whilst we unloaded the car, and he would wait there until he knew our flight had departed. Seeing the images of the carnage, I can picture his Renault Clio there now, just a few footsteps away from where 36 people had their lives so brutally taken away. I am not mentally strong enough for this kind of torment. 
Yet again, we pray for Istanbul. We pray for strength, patience and peace. Nobody in this world deserves to die at the hands of terrorism, but when you find yourself praying for the lives of yourself and your children, then you know that ‘enough is enough’.

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!

Day 9- First Impressions

I found myself posting an update on Facebook last night, light heartedly joking about my ability to nap for three hours after work, every day of the week and it be acceptable because it’s Ramadan. At the start of the month, I had set goals and plans that I wanted to achieve throughout the 29 days, and I hate to say I have let myself down. I am not doing anywhere near as much praying as I had hoped to do. I wanted to embrace the time I had each evening and sit with my children to teach them more about our religion. I certainly didn’t want to sleep for what works out to be more than three solid days out of the whole month.
Who is it though that decides what is acceptable and what isn’t? I would give nothing more than to devote my time to prayer and worship throughout Ramadan, but for various reasons, even though I shouldn’t have an excuse, I am unable to do so. My intentions are good and I am trying my upmost best, so why should we feel that we need to conform to certain standards and perfections? 
As a society, we are far too judgmental of others. Many of my friends comment on how ‘I’m a better person than they could ever be’ because I am fasting. Whilst those words are an absolute privelidge to hear, other people may feel that what I am doing is a cop-out because I am not following it with extra namaz (act of worship). What gives us the right to pass judgment on others as soon as someone shows a lack of conformity? 
I used to be very guilty of being presumptuous. Before I even spoke to someone, I would have an ‘idea’ in my head of how I expected them to be. In my job, I serve hundreds of people each week and so I see people from all walks of life. I am friends with people who I never imagined I would click with, but that is because I let down the ridiculous and unnecessary guard I used to have, and learnt to love people for who they really are. 
This realisation came at a low point in my life. My marriage was in a state of what then, I thought was beyond repair. Facing the prospect of a life alone with three children and no other family, inside 8 felt probably ten times worse than what I looked. I had no tears left in me and certainly no strength either. One day, I found myself in the local supermarket with my children wandering aimlessly. I had no idea what I needed to buy, I just knew that I now had three young people dependant upon my choices and decisions, but I couldn’t see from one hour to the next, never mind the days ahead.
A friendly face greeted me as a lady was giving out food samples. She fussed over the children so much, that for a split second, I had forgotten my troubles and found a smile upon my face. That lady had seen past my miserable face and mascara stained eyes. She could see that all wasn’t as it should be and tried her best, without being intrusive, to help. Most importantly, she taught me a valuable life lesson that you should never pass judgement, as you have no idea as to what a person is going through in their private lives at any given time.  
The child that is hyperactive and unable to listen to instructions may have a medical issue. The man that is loading his trolley in the supermarket with junk for may have an eating disorder. The lady that forgot to thank the cashier for her coffee may have been awake all night with an unsettled baby. 
We never know anybody’s story and we certainly do not have the right to judge. We need to learn to see the world not how we expect it to be, but to realise that we are only human and there there is no such thing as perfect. 

Day 6/7- Masallah

Do you remember the can of Red Bull I bought myself Friday morning, but restrained myself enough to not drink it an break my fast? Well drinking it at 10pm Friday night wasn’t the most clever of ideas I have had either. By 2am I was still wide awake. 
It is hard to describe how I have been feeling the past couple of days. I feel as though there is some sort of force or pressure on me. Nothing in the physical sense (quite the opposite with the weight I am losing), but more of a spiritual sense. I feel an amazing sense is achievement every evening when I break my fast, but I feel as though I am not doing nowhere near enough in terms of worship.
Had we have been in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, the aura would have been so different. The atmosphere and vibe in the air is unmissable. Women gathering in the mosque each afternoon for daily prayers, men attending each evening after Iftar for teravi prayers, and more than anything, the bellowing from the minarets which signal the time to break the fast. 
My husband and I feel very much secluded whilst fasting here in the UK. For the majority of our friends, Eid will just be like any other day. We won’t be sending our children to school on the first day of Eid. This year is the first time in years we will be together as a family, and whilst I will more than likely be working, we want them to experience our joy of commemorating fasting for a whole month. We will buy them each a new outfit and go to visit friends. We will more than likely break tradition and have a BBQ depending upon the unpredictable British weather. It isn’t about how you do it, but more like who you do it with, and for us we could not ask for more than our small family and some close family friends.
I think loneliness partly sums up the heavy feeling I have been experiencing. If is difficult not having family next to us at the best of times, but throughout such an important time as Ramadan, we really do miss having people to share our experiences. I am very grateful for the cool weather, the routine of the children being in school and having a loving husband who will take over the chores early evening so I can nap. It is all about making the most out of what we have, and I do have so much to be thankful for.
This month won’t last forever. We are a quarter of the way through already. A lovely friend commented on how fresh my skin looked, and I have learnt again a self control that I didn’t know I had in me. I need to work more at my mood and my patience. I don’t deal with being hungry at the best of times, but now I have a purpose to restrain myself, I need to remind myself that this is about appreciating what we have compared to all those who are less fortunate. I wish I didn’t sleep so much- I almost feel like a fraud for napping as much as I have been doing, but it isn’t frowned upon, in fact quite the opposite. It is about letting our bodies rest and recuperate.  
The Turks believe in an idea called ‘nazar’ and that is why so many homes and places of work are adorned with the ‘nazar boncuk’ or evil eye. It is believed that the eye protects from jealous thoughts and also protects. The eyes are pinned to the clothes of new babies, hung from the mirrors of cars and placed on the walls of homes. Even if is not intentional, a person making the most innocent of comments can be perceived to be jealous or green eyed, and that is why many Turks used the phrase ‘maşallah’ after passing a nice comment about something or someone. That is a way of saying that they don’t want their comments to be perceived as jealousy.
I have been victim to nazar so many times, and usually my Mother in law recites the nazar prayer to rid of any ‘evil’ thoughts. She can tell how heavy the nazar is by how much she yawns when she prays. There have been countless times she has prayed for my children and tears have streamed out of her eyes because they have been troubled so much by the nazar. I was once told I have beautiful eyes and the next morning woke up with an eye infection- if that doesn’t make you believe then I’m not sure what will.
I feel as though the heavy feeling again may be caused by nazar. I’m not sure if it is the amount of people that are commenting on how well I am doing- believe me, those comments mean the world to me. In the way that Turks do best, if you forget to say maşallah, you could always pretend to spit on me and that has the same effect- just remember to not do it to every English person you meet otherwise you may find yourself at the receiving end of a bit more than a thank you!

Day 4- Pushing The Boundaries

My husband and I were joined by three of his friends for Iftar lastnight. Only one of those friends was fasting like us, but it is lovely to be able to break the fast amongst loved ones regardless of whether they are participating or not. It is also a good deed if you prepare the Iftar meal for those fasting. 
For some reason, lastnight I just kept eating and eating. They all remarked about how well I was doing with polishing off most of the table, and I don’t know if it was the good company or good food, or maybe both, but I certainly made up for what I hadn’t been eating! I decided to have a bottle of Lucozade to restore some lost sugar, and whilst I hoped it would give me some much needed fuel, I again found myself fast asleep by 11pm. My husband and his friends were installing a new fridge in our coffee shop, and despite them banging and taking a whole window pane out in order for them to get the fridge inside, I heard nothing. Six burly Turks laughing and gossiping, but no, I was well and truly in the land of nod. I hadn’t had my usual early evening nap, and despite waking at 1.30am to have some more Lucozade to fuel , I was asleep again by 2am. 
I struggled so much this morning. I was already in a hazy fog when I woke up, meaning that the glucose hadn’t really done what I had hoped. I battled with myself thinking that I had another long and hot day ahead and that I just couldn’t do it when I managed to drop a commercial size tin of tomatoes of my little finger- a sure sign that I was being told off and to get myself back on track.
I had a very uncomfortable acid inside my stomach for most of the day. I part expect that it was down to the excess Lucozade and it was painful and hard to shift. I didn’t have any medication to suit even if I felt like I needed to stop, and so with a busy day at work, I kept calm and carried on.
I almost slipped up on a couple of occasions early evening. I am so used to trying bits of food as I cook, and as I put the children’s food on the table, I had to stop myself twice from pinching a chip. I ended up forcing myself out of the room before I really did chomp on one! If when fasting, you accidentally eat or drink something by mistake, the fast isn’t broken. It was done by error and so does not count. My husband managed to do it not once, but twice on an earlier fast, both times with a piece of feta cheese. I have being blonde for an excuse, so I’m not quite sure what his is!
The excitement of booking our tickets to Turkey for this summer meant there has been no evening nap again, but with still 3.5 hours to go I am starting to flag. I received a lovely email from a friend last night saying she was proud of me, and other messages to say that my blog is interesting to read. Whilst I have to do this as part of my religion, it is so nice to know that people are seeing past the typical prejudice and stereotype around Islam, and are taking the time to make positive comments on something that means so much to me. 
Day four is almost at an end. I have lost 1 kilo in weight and I do feel very dry and probably look just as fresh. This isn’t about appearances though, it’s about what is on the inside. Whilst I may not be the model Muslim, I am certainly testing my boundaries and pushing myself, and if just one person now has a more positive opinion on Islam, then I couldn’t wish for more. 

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.