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The isolation I have been feeling had led to me becoming slightly depressed and withdrawn.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

I spent a lot of time today talking to a very good friend of mine- a girl who knows me inside out, has been with me through the best and worst days of my life and knows my biggest secrets. She contacted me as she was worried how I was after reading yesterday’s post. I told her my fears, my worries about never finding happiness, my thoughts about my efforts not being good enough. 
She is a girl that is always straight with me. She will never tell me something because it’s what I want to hear, she will give me the stark honest truth whether I like it or not. She told me to listen to the Baz Lurhman ‘Sunscreen’ song, and take from it what I could. The lyrics are extremely powerful for a song that was a novelty hit 20 years ago. 
“Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth, oh, never mind
. You will never understand the power
 and the beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. 
But trust me, in twenty years
, you will look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now, 
how much possibility lay before you
 and how fabulous you really looked
. You are not as fat as you imagine.
Don’t worry about the future or worry that know that worrying is as affective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum
. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things
 that never crossed your worried mind
. The kind that blindsides you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday

Do one thing every day that scares you, sing
Don’t be reckless with other peoples’ hearts
Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours, floss
. Don’t waste your time on jealousy
. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind
. The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself

Remember compliments you receive, forget the insults
. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how
. Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements, stretch. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what to do with your life
The most interesting people 
I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives
. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t
. Get plenty of calcium
. Be kind to knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t
Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t
. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the “Funky Chicken”
 on your 75th wedding anniversary
. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much
 or berate yourself either
. Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body, use it every way you can
Don’t be afraid of it or what other people think of it
. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own, dance. 
Even if you have nowhere to do it but your own living room
. Read the directions even if you don’t follow them
. Do not read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.

Brother and sister together will make it through
. Someday a spirit will take you and guide you there. 
I know you’ve been hurting, but I’ve been waiting to be there for you
. And I’ll be there just helping you out, whenever I can.

Get to know your parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for good. 
Be nice to your siblings, they are your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. 
Understand that friends come and go
, but a precious few, who should hold on.

Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle
, for as the older you get, the more you need the people
 you knew when you were young
. Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.
Live in northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel, accept certain inalienable truths. Prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old
. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young
prices were reasonable, politicians were noble
 and children respected their elders

Respect your elders, don’t expect anyone else to support you
. Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse, but you’ll never know when either one will run out
. Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re forty
, it will look eighty-five
. Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.

Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of
 wishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off
, painting over the ugly parts and recycling for more than it’s worth. 
But trust me on the sunscreen.

Brother and sister together will make it through, oh yeah
. Someday a spirit will take you and guide you there. 
I know you’ve been hurting, but I’ve been waiting to be there for you
. And I’ll be there just helping you out, whenever I can.”

I think we can all take something from those lyrics. One day, for all of us, it will be far too late. Too late for anything anymore. To have that one last dance, that one last chat, that one last chance to tell someone what they mean to you. Don’t live in regret, don’t live a life of ‘what ifs’. Be thankful for every breath you take, because every breath is one more closer to being your last. 

Still in one piece 

Today has been one of those days to top last year when instead of putting my car key in the ignition, I put my seat belt buckle in instead. I’m surprised I’ve made it to this time of day, but somehow I’m still standing (actually sitting).
I had a heavy feeling in my heart from the moment I woke up. I struggled to eat anything substantial for sahur last night and I have really paid the price for it today. My day started unfortunately with a few disagreements with regards to progressing with the divorce and as much as I have tried to avoid any conflict, I realised that I could not go a whole month without trying to make some move forward. Needless to say, I felt upset and run down afterwards, and that more or less shaped my whole afternoon.
With every window down in the car, I drove my girls to spend a few hours with their friends and then headed with my son to find party supplies for my youngest daughters birthday. He thought it was amusing that I couldn’t even answer the most basic of his questions without feeling like I had steam coming out of my ears. Of course I had a lot on my mind, and along with the fact that I’ve had a liquid dinner for the past two evenings out of three, it hasn’t done much for my energy levels. 
Ever the efficient driver, I somehow managed to misjudge the metal barrier in front of my parking spot and clipped the front of the car as I parked. It took me a good 5 minutes to pluck up the courage to get out and check the damage, but luck was on my side when I got away with just a tiny little scuff. I then wandered aimlessly looking for invitations and other bits, buying stuff I didn’t even need and drove straight past the large Asda at the same time as suggesting to my son we go to an Asda to look for tropical themed party props. I had started to lose the will to live.
A successful shop later and as a treat, I offered to buy my son his favourite take away for tea. Whilst sitting in the car park struggling to read what was in front of me, I logged into the Just Eat app, ready to spend the next ten minutes trying to navigate my way around ordering a chicken wrap. He looked at me and asked why I just didn’t phone them when the number was starting me in the face. Smart child. 
At this point is was peak time traffic. Not the best of times to be stuck in a car with a child who is reading the lamest of jokes out of his new book, whilst I can feel my insides shrinking by the second. A good thirty minutes and a bit of road rage later, we arrive at the take away. No sooner do I step foot out of the car and I feel it rolling backwards. Yes, I had forgotten to put on the hand brake. As if my pride hadn’t been dented enough, it was witnessed by around eight youths loitering, and tried to redeem myself by complaining in a loud voice that I had been sold a dodgy car. The stench of eight teens smoking cannabis doesn’t do wonders on an empty stomach, and I stopped just short of flying back home.
I have now safely returned home with no further injury to any person or vehicle. I’m sure that as I am blonde by default, I will manage to break or damage something before iftar. Seriously though, I have realised today just how important it is to make the most of sahur. I would not want to have to break my fast earlier than needed because I hadn’t taken care of myself properly. I am proud that I am managing as well as I have and that we are already on day four. There is still a long way to go, but compared to this time last year, I am in a better place emotionally and able to appreciate the holy month much more. 
The events of today have been another reminder to be thankful. Even when it feels like the day will be a disaster, our attitudes can change the whole outlook. Be positive, and you will get it in return. Smile, and you will receive a smile back. Do something silly? Laugh it off. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff. If you have a roof over your head, your health and friends and family who care for you, then you’re already one of the richest people in the world.

Searching for the strength 

I am writing this with just 40 minutes to go until I break my fast. I’d be lying if I said today hasn’t been difficult. I woke at midnight and again at 2am but the only thing I could muster to eat was a slice of Battenberg cake. To be honest, over the past few days I have been reducing the amount I’ve been eating in order to prepare my body for fasting. The feelings of hunger haven’t bothered me too much today, but the lack of energy has been a big struggle.
I have been lucky to enjoy a quiet day at home, not needing too much energy or effort. However, as I expected, the mental and emotional challenge has been tough. I have questioned endlessly the situation my children are in now, having parents who are separated, with a father who currently isn’t around. I know that I’m not the only single mum, that they’re not the only children with divorcing parents, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I question whether what I’m doing is enough, whether they would benefit from studying abroad for a year so they’re closer to their paternal family. I blame myself for having my head in the clouds and only hope one day they realise how much I love them, because lately I struggle to be the mum they need.
They have been brilliant today, showing patience and understanding whilst I’ve been fasting. They were happy enough to watch films and my eldest daughter even helped out with chores. It’s not the right thing to spend the day without making an effort to go about your everyday tasks, but as I’m not emotionally well at the moment, I used today to reflect, to think and to relax. 
I would be lying if it said I didn’t miss the vibe around Ramadan in Turkey. The whole atmosphere during the month there is something spectacular. The queues at the bakers each evening of people buying fresh bread, the queues at the markets of people buying refreshing drinks and desserts, and most importantly, the mesmerising sound of the call to prayer from the mosques that fill the streets. Instead, I’ve made the most of what I have available to me here, and made a trip to the local Turkish supermarket late afternoon. I bought packet soup, fruit juice, Turkish bread and a great juicy watermelon to eat after I’ve broken my fast this evening.
I don’t think I will manage more than a bowl of soup. The children have eaten hours ago, and they’re almost ready to go to bed. I will keep them up so I can pray with someone before I begin to eat. I will then use the rest of the night to pray, drink plenty, and to try eat something before sunrise at 2.50am.
I always get emotional at this time of the day. To go 18 hours without food or drink is a huge feat. On top of all I am battling at the moment, I sometimes fail to recognise my strength. That strength of course comes from Allah and I hope that my fast is recognised and accepted. To think that this is my daily routine until 24th June seems overwhelming. Each day will get longer, and I only hope that my strength will increase with each day. 
As I have done with each year, and again, this journey isn’t about weight loss or appearance, I am making a note that I am starting the month at 63.3kgs. 

Stripping It Back 

The dictionary definition for lonely is as follows:A lonely situation or period of time is one in which you feel unhappy because you are alone or do not have anyone to talk to. It’s quite ironic that whilst I am blessed with my beautiful children and amazing friends, that ultimately, I am lonely.
Ramadan has fallen at a perfect time for me this year. In a year in which my marriage has ended and I have had to learn to discover myself again, I need this period of peace and serenity in order to strip everything back and find my reassess my values.
This time last year, things were so much different. I was going through a very unhappy period in my life. I knew deep down that my marriage was over, and again, ironically, it was certain events which happened during the month the concreted my decision that I needed out. Working 8 hours days in a busy coffee shop on top of 18 hours of fasting actually gave me more strength to stand up and make the step to leave than any other period in my life.
Fast forward to the present day and I am so lucky to have some fantastic people in my life who have helped me up when I’ve been kicked down and who have listened to my problems. My children are my purpose- they are the reason I strive to do my best, so that they can look back in years to come and remember that I was always there for them and never gave up.
The biggest problem lies deep inside. I don’t know who I am anymore. Whilst in theory, I am a 32 year old woman with her whole life ahead of her to choose what she wants to do, and who she wants to be with, I am lacking guidance. I have been kicked back so many times in my life, lost everything that I ever cared for and was told that I was never good enough- to overcome the fear of that happening again is mentally and emotionally challenging.
Friends have asked me if I really need to fast this year. It’s simply not as easy at that. Whilst I am divorcing my husband, I am not divorcing my religion. I didn’t become a Muslim for him, I became a Muslim because it felt right for me. I simply cannot turn my back on something I have believed in for the past ten years at a time when I feel like the only person who has ‘got my back’ is Allah.
This year will be physically and mentally hard. The first week of Ramadan falls on the half term school holidays, and we are currently experiencing 25C heat. Whilst my children know about Ramadan and what I am expected to do, they deserve to live their childhood and I will be spending many hours trying to entertain them single handedly. By the time they are in bed, I will still have around a hour before I can break my fast, and this will be emotionally difficult because I will be doing it alone. There is nobody to sit and pray with me, nobody for who I can prepare the iftar meal and nobody to encourage me and tell me that I am doing well. Likewise, I will be waking along for sahur to eat and drink before sunrise whilst my children sleep peacefully. I will turn to Turkish television to listen to the prayers from the hoca and set my alarm to listen to the sound of the call to prayer from a recording I will find online.
Tonight when my children are in bed, I will remove my make up and nail polish, remove my jewellery and wash in order to pray. I will cover myself and take the time to read from the Quran in order to prepare for the month ahead. I will pray for strength, hope, health and without a doubt happiness. Allah works in mysterious way and there is a reason that things happen in our lives, whether it be to test us or not. So many times I have been guilty of questioning that reason. So many days I have wondered how much more strength I have inside me to carry on fighting. I am hoping to find those answers over the next 30 days. 
I do believe though, the happiness lies in our own hands. If we see an opportunity then we need to grab it. We cannot expect love and luck to knock on our door, just in the same way we cannot expect to win the lottery if we don’t buy a ticket. If we should buy a ticket and not win then at least we tried, but we need to make more of an effort to expose ourselves to opportunities. If we fall down on our path to happiness that we need to stand up, brush ourselves down and try again. We meet the people we do in our lives for a reason and those people shape us. Those people may change our way of thinking, may question our morals or may teach us valuable lessons. The moral is, is that there are many hidden messages in our everyday lives.
So on a beautifully sunny and holy day of Friday, tonight we look forward to welcoming the holy month of Ramadan, and for the third yet, I am also looking forward to sharing my journey with you all, wherever you may be across the world. Wishing you all a happy and peaceful Ramadan. 

Day 8- Prayers For Orlando

Another mass killing. Another unnecessary and tragic loss of so many lives. Another crazed terrorist who believes his actions were the will of Allah.
The world we live in is becoming one huge trap. An American nightclub where innocent people were going about their lives, socialising and having fun, in which those attending each had their own life story, their own contribution to the world. Each of those innocent people who have lost their lives had their own hopes and dreams for the future, to have everything so brutally snatched away from them. Nobody in this world has any right to take another persons aspirations, let alone their life.
We are living in a world full of hate. Hate against foreigners who dare to enter our country. Hate against same sex marriage. Hate against politicians and leaders. Hate against people who dare to speak out for what the believe in, and what for? People are not born with hate- this is what develops in a society where it is easier to tarnish everybody with the same brush than realise that most citizens are just regular people going about their everyday lives with no intention to cause hurt or drama. 
I fear for the world in which my children are growing up in. I am developing a fear for my own life and those of my family. I would be lying if the thought hadn’t crossed my mind about another terrorist attack when I travel to Turkey this summer. If it’s going to happen, then it will happen, but when did life become so cheap?  
I have no idea of which translation of the Quran these morons are reading when they think they are following the will of Allah. Where is their fear of the one God who breathed life into them? Where is their fear of the Quran and its teachings about harming others? I just cannot comprehend.
There are so many fine detailed teachings in the Quran, that I panic about sinning if I as so much as dare to look at someone in the wrong way. From it being frowned upon to pick up dropped money on the street because someone who is less unfortunate should take it, to not singing or dancing whilst at the dining table, to it being a sin to drop bread intentionally- I cannot get my head around how these crazed, possessed fanatics think they will enter the kingdom of heaven by unlawfully and brutally robbing people of their lives and tarnishing the name of Islam.
I fear in the years to come that my children will find themselves secluded as society becomes increasingly opposed to Islam. I do not want them to hide their religion, but already in conversations I have had, I find myself having to explain my lifestyle choices and trying to reassure people that we are not all crazed lunatics. I am lucky that my friends see through that prejudice, but I may not always be so fortunate.
Anybody and anywhere is a target. That is the sickening state of the world we now live in. Don’t give up on your hopes and dreams because without them, the world would be a very monotone place to be. Be the person you want to be. Don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd and stand up for what you believe in. Just remember, be thankful for every moment you live and breathe. 

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.