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The isolation I have been feeling had led to me becoming slightly depressed and withdrawn.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

Until Next Year

It’s 9am and a balmy 16C. The skies are a lovely shade of blue and the sun is lighting up the streets. It’s a far cry from the usual cold and stoney weather that greets us in the lead to the festive season, but today were not celebrating Christmas Eve, it’s Eid Eve!
Today is the 29th and last day of fasting in this holy month, and we must give thanks to Allah for letting us experience another beautiful, gracious and rewarding Ramadan. Homes of Muslims across the world are being prepared for the festivities of the next three days for Eid. To a certain extent, most of Eid will be like any other days for me as we are still opening up our coffee shop, but once we close mid afternoon, we will take the time to visit close friends and spend some quality time together as a family.
The children will be absent from school for the first two days of Eid. This year in Turkey, it is a nine day national holiday and the schools have already closed for summer vacation. After having celebrated this special time in Turkey for the past few years, this year will certainly be on the quieter side! We easily spent two whole days visiting the homes of family and friends, often splitting up into groups and finding each other later on in the day congregating in the living room of an Aunty or Uncle! 
This year, my son will go to early morning prayers with my husband, and then there will be a lovely spread for breakfast mid-morning (the first breakfast as whole family in a month!). It is tradition to buy new outfits for Eid, so the children have been treated to new clothes and shoes. In Turkey, it is known as the ‘sugar festival’ as sweet treats are given to the children as they knock on the doors of their neighbours to wish them a happy Eid. Trays of fresh baklava and other desserts are prepared and given to guests. The weight lost throughout Ramadan is very easily put back on in the first 48 hours! Money is given to the younger children in the family if they kiss the hand of their elders. They can then treat themselves with the money and usually buy toys or games. Unlike Christmas, presents are not pre-bought. The emphasis on Eid is a time to be with family and friends, to reflect on all achieved in the previous month and to enjoy each other’s company.
It has been a testing month worldwide. Hundreds of people have needlessly lost their lives at the hands of terrorism. In a period when terrorist activity rises, further confirming that terrorism knows no religion, we have been stunned, shocked and silenced. We have seen political unrest, financial instability and social outbursts. Individually we have been tested on a physical and spiritual level. I have cried and laughed, felt pride yet also felt failure. At times I have questioned my own beliefs, then experienced things that have cemented what I based my life on. 
My appetite has dwindled to now only being able to manage half a bowl of soup and a small plate of food. I only eat dessert in order to keep my sugar levels up. Final weigh in is 62.4kg and dress size 8. My husband has really struggled the past two days with terrible stomach acid but refused medication so he wouldn’t break his fast. He has lost a whopping 8kg (not bad considering he has slept through more of it than I!). Out of the past 696 hours, fasting has been for 536 of those!
So until next year, I would like to say thank you for reading my blog, for your kind wishes and comments. In comparison to last year, my blogging has been somewhat patchy and even non-existent for most days, but I am sure you can appreciate the tough mental and physical challenge we have just completed. I wish you all peace, love and happiness, and remember, we don’t need to believe in the same God, we don’t need to perform the same acts of worship, we just need to learn to love and respect one another- let’s help to stop this division in society because as a unity, we can achieve incredible things.
Eid Mubarek 

Thank You Molly

What happened to my every good intention of blogging every day for a whole month? I don’t know either. 
This year has tested my strength to the max. Going 18.5 hours without food or drink is no mean feat. We are now in the home stretch and with less than a week to go, I have to admit I feel weak, dry, tired and lazy. Going for nearly three weeks without caffeine has certainly had its effects- drinking orange flavoured sugar (Lucozade), after iftar to bring my sugar levels up means my face currently resembles a dot to dot. If I eat one more egg, I fear I may wake up with feathers, and if my daughter tells me one more time that my breath stinks, I may actually cry.
I have failed miserably in the goals I set myself at the start of the month. Sleeping for what works out at 3 full days throughout the 29 is a cop out to say the least. However, I have tried, and whilst I believe I could have been better and stronger, I haven’t lost faith. 
There has been so much unrest and uncertainty over the past few weeks. With the murder of politician Jo Cox, to the surprising vote for the UK to leave the EU, our lives, or certainly mine at least, feels like it is passenger on a ship in stormy seas, with no sense of direction, and no captain to man the wheel. We are living in a society where we cannot even trust those in power to have B plans and C plans, they lie for their own political gain, and the country is now filled with hatred and discrimination. 
One thing that will remain however, and what should never be tampered with, is the innocence of our children, and strong foundations upon which friendships are built. My daughter was invited for dinner to the house of her best friend this evening. She has been counting down the sleeps since she was invited, and at times when in the past she may have been fearful and reserved, thanks to her friend, she has blossomed into a confident and outspoken little girl. She looks up to her friend, as with being 9 months younger, my daughter is one of the babies in the class. However, children know no borders or rules when it comes to choosing friends- they trust their heart. My daughter once told me that her and her friend will sometimes have ‘days off’ from one another, where they choose to play with other children, and there are no hard feelings or jealousy. A lot can be learnt from the perspective and outlook of a six year old. That way, they value each other more, and know that although there are others, they will always have a special bond between themselves.
We worry far too much about what impression other people have of us as individuals. Long gone are my days of posting photos on Instagram to see how many likes I could get. I have even deleted the Pages app from my mobile so I am not constantly checking to see if my craft page Moon & Sixpence has any new followers. I am not a model or an entrepreneur. I am not an academic or multi millionaire. I am beyond trying to be anybody I am not. I am Rachel, a 31 year old Mum of three and a wife. I have my flaws. My roots are currently longer than those in my back garden. I start work pristine clean and am wearing half of the menu by lunch. I don’t buy designer clothes and am not ashamed to say I shop at Primark. My children are heathy, my fridge has food, I have a loving husband and I have a roof over my head. Those factors alone mean I am one of the richest people in the world. 
If I have to clean up spills after dinner, it means my family have eaten that night. If I have a washing basket full to bursting, it means my family are clothed. If my children shout ‘Mummy’ it means that have someone they trust. If I set my alarm clock for the morning, it means I have a reason to get up. I am happy being Rachel.
Tonight I was lucky enough to be able to read the tale of Molly’s Marvellous Moustache written by a lovely friend of mine. It is a story of girl and her dreams and imaginations of what she can do with her marvellous moustache. The tale really struck a chord with me when Molly realised that actually being just Molly can be marvellous too. So, thank you ‘Molly’ and thank you Andrea for helping me realise that I can have hopes and dreams, but being just Rachel can be fantastic too.
Molly’s Marvellous Moustache is available to buy from http://www.andreaheaton.com

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 2- Prayers For Istanbul

Approaching Iftar last night, I started with a terrible headache which I knew was from dehydration. I am lucky that my children are at an age where they have started to fend for themselves, and this includes showering. Other than drying their hair, they didn’t need much help from me which was lucky as I really struggled in the last couple of hours before Iftar.
I had a mad ten minutes where I questioned the reasoning behind fasting, questioned my sanity and then pulled myself back together and asked Allah for forgiveness. I understand the deep and meaningful reason behind Ramadan, but on the hottest day of the year so far, I have to admit towards the end, I was ready to give up. I had a bit of an outburst just before Iftar and cried. I’m still not entirely sure why, but people who know me well know that I change when I’m hungry. I think I need an ‘approach with caution’ sign hung around my neck at times. Taking that kind of attitude though goes against everything you commit to when fasting. The time is supposed to give you the opportunity to reflect, give thanks and feel calm and serene. By 9.30pm lastnight I was far from feeling that. 
I didn’t feel particularly hungry, in fact, I felt sick. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I probably couldn’t have slept because of my headache, I felt weak and dizzy trying to get the table set in time, and tears rolled down my cheeks from the relief of getting through day one. We had chicken soup followed by eggs and garlic sausage. It is tradition to break a fast with a date, but I filled up a tall glass with cold water and savoured every last drop. It felt like the glass was never ending and it was bliss. The soup was too salty, but that’s the risk you take as we were unable to taste it whilst preparing. As usual, we had made far too much and we both agreed that we were full by the time we’d finished our bowls. Whether we felt like it or not, we needed the ‘main course’ for our bodies to regain lost energy. We always make sure we eat helva and a dish of grape molasses to help with sugar, but lastnight I couldn’t possibly face either. 
It took a good 30 minutes for me to start feeling slightly human again. Having gone 18.5 hours with nothing to eat or drink, I’m sure my body went into some sort of shock, unable to process what I was consuming. My stomach was telling me to stop but my mind was reminding me that I had another 29 days to go- to be sensible but to add more fuel to my body for the next day. I didn’t want to go to sleep at that point as I wanted to snack gradually to build up my strength again. I decided on a packet of halal Haribo and a can of cola. Maybe not the most sensible of foods, but my body needed sugar, and a hell of a lot of it at that. 
I decided to have a lay down as my blood pressure felt all over the place. The next thing I knew, it was 1am. I had slept for 2.5 hours and didn’t really feel much better for it. My body was well and truly out of sync. I knew that I needed to eat something else, but physically couldn’t be bothered to prepare anything. Not only that, nothing seemed appealing. Quite ironic considering I had spent most of the day planning in which order I was going to indulge from sweet to savoury in the 5 hours before sahur. That is the beauty of Ramadan. We learn to survive on the bare essentials because we have no choice to. When we are able to indulge, we can’t because our bodies won’t let us. 
It was 2.15am by the time I went back to bed, and so rather than set my alarm for the following hour, I had my last drink of water and made the intention to fast the following day. My husband woke me again at 3am to tell me to have one last drink before sahur, then I woke again at around 4am because of the heat. Coping without food and drink is one thing, but coping without sleep is another. I used to be so lively and energetic in the mornings, but my age must be slowly creeping up on me as I am a nightmare to get out of bed these days. I am trying all I can at the moment to preserve every last bit of energy.
The day was another hot one, but considering work was quiet, it seemed to pass fairly quickly. Mid-afternoon I stopped and asked myself, that if it was Iftar time now, what would I want to eat? The answer was nothing. At that moment, I didn’t feel hungry at all. I didn’t feel very thirsty either. Just tired. The feeling is hard to describe, but it’s like weights have been put on my shoulders and I am struggling to carry them. I feel weighted to the ground and my head feels fuzzy. It’s almost like some force is carrying me along the way of completing my fast. I’m not sure how im getting there, but I know I’m not getting there alone.
I enjoyed a nap after work. I say nap, it was more of a 2.5 hour snooze-athon but I felt so much better once I woke up. No dry mouth or hunger pains. No anger or emotion. Just fresh and relaxed. The kids have been really understanding as normal and let me sleep without interruptions, and I feel much more at peace than I did yesterday. We’re having veg soup and couscous for Iftar. I’ve had no mad cravings today for anything silly and I feel slightly more in-sync today. With just over one hour left until Iftar, day two is almost complete.
Prayers go out to those killed today in a bomb blast in Istanbul, with reports of 11 people losing their lives and many more being injured. Terrorism is a vile act at any time, but as mentioned in yesterday’s blog, those people who believe that they need to hate and hurt as part of their religion choose to spike throughout Ramadan, with talks of attacks being planned over the coming days too. Praying for peace, hope and humanity to be restored and for those left with pain and hurt to be protected and guided by Allah.

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.