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The isolation I have been feeling had led to me becoming slightly depressed and withdrawn.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

It was 6pm this evening by the time I realised I’d not eaten anything all day. My appetite hasn’t been great as of late, and as I hadn’t had my children with me today, I guess I forgot to make myself a priority and went all that time without eating. 

Since we entered the holy ‘three months’ I have been ever more aware that the time is ticking down until the start of Ramadan. It was my first thought today when I realised I hadn’t eaten for so long, that in just over a month’s time, it will be a sensation that I get used to throughout the whole of the holy month.

Today hasn’t been an easy day, but despite that, it feels very poignant to write my first blog post in what must be 10 months or so. My last post in July of last year was one of hope, happiness and celebration for the first day of Eid with my family. In less than a year, the picture couldn’t be any more different.

My then husband and I split up the following month after nearly 12 years of marriage and we are now mid-divorce. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions. I find myself being full of strength and motivation, to having days when I just don’t see the point in anything. I have to remind myself that I have the beautiful gift from Allah of three children who are my world. They are too young to know of the sacrifices I have made, of the sleepless nights I’ve had wondering and worrying about them and their future. They are too young to know that I am physically and mentally worn down. The passing of both my parents means that I have no surviving family at hand to help. I lost my Dad when I was 16, and my Mum when I was 23, just three months after the traumatic premature birth of my son.

My children stayed with their father yesterday, which meant I had a lot of time to think and reflect. I let my whole guard down and spent most of today just weeping. Weeping and questioning, ‘why me?’. I have been through every possible heartache there is to have. Where had I gone so wrong in life to be subject to all this hurt? An unhappy childhood, the death of both parents, a disabled son as a result of his early birth and now a failed marriage. How much more hurt could a person take?

I looked through the contacts in my phone book and contacted the one person who I knew would listen to me and find reason. It was my ex husband’s sister. A girl just two years younger than me who knows me inside out. Someone who has shared every emotion with me, both good and bad. I cried more and she cried with me. 

She immediately gave me a list of prayers that she advised me to read to find comfort and calm. She told me that she had started to pray her daily namaz and that she always remembered me in her prayers. I told her of my worries and troubles and she told me that Allah knows, that Allah will take away that heavy feeling in my heart and that I must not forget to be thankful for all the good I have in my life.

I told her that whilst I was out earlier, I saw a young teenage girl cuddle her mum from behind whilst they were out shopping, and that it hurt because I wanted to be that girl. She told me to think of it in the way that I have three perfect children who feel like that towards me, the way the girl did to her Mum, that one day they will become more than my children, and be my friends and companions too.

Talking to her was calming. It felt like I had my own guardian angel who was showing me the way. She had asked me if I had eaten, and it was her very words that reminded me that I hadn’t eaten since 8pm yesterday. For that moment, it felt like I had a piece of my Mum back. She told me to eat, to go shower and to enjoy the peace before the kids came back. She prayed for me, and for that moment, all seemed to be ok with the world again.

I have spent a lot of time wondering over the past months and I am still looking for my answer. Why? Why does life pan out the way it does? Why do I have to pretend to be strong when deep inside I am crumbling? How can I possibly be strong enough to be the best for my children? When will I get my happy ending?

Maybe the answers lie in what we already have. Maybe we need to stop thinking we have to compete with society and instead take a step back and focus on what is already ours. 

Fasting alone this year will be tough. Last year I was physically pushed to the limits when working every day in the coffee shop we ran. This year however, I think it will be mentally tough as I try and find the answers to all of my unanswered questions. If I have overcome all I have in life so far, then I know that I certainly don’t shy away from a challenge and like the past two years, I am looking forward to sharing the journey with you all.

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.