A Ramadan Reflection (originally written for the Kabobfest blog): I felt sorry for myself all day yesterday-sorry that the pounding of Oakland’s unseasonably warm sun further parched dehydrated skin, sorry for myself watching my co-presenters inhale an all-you-can-eat hotel breakfast buffet consisting of custom-made omelets and waffles, Thai food, and guzzling down free water given to session presenters. I felt sorry for my ailing body that endured these sights and for it to be weakened by the onset of disease and the thrashing of psyche by melodramatic internal organizational in-fighting. How could I consider creating a salvation strategy for some self-serving, opportunistic member of the group who burned almost every other member important in the scheme of things when I was so pre-occupied by basic human needs like food and water? After linner at the aforementioned Thai restaurant in Oakland with group members, at which I took notes to avoid thinking about the praised sticky rice and spicy shrimp in front of me, the rest of the group decided to go back to the hotel and participate in a “group writing cipher.” It was 6-ish at this point, less than a half hour/forty-five minutes till iftar. This was the point I should have formally cued and vocalized my stage right exit, to get back to Berkeley to try to break the fast with my brother. But I foolishly followed the herd. In doing so, I refused to recognize that I was on emotional “E” at this point. All my fuel had been used up from the past two full days of hashing and re-hashing organizational drama. Right before the cipher started, I realized that it was time to break my fast. I was irritated that no one in the whole group understood the significance of the dark velvet draping of the night’s sky. I finally mustered up enough energy to speak up, excusing myself for my low-energy as a result of the fast, and my body’s desire to take part in the nourishment it was entitled to at this point. A big “ohhhh”rounded the circle like a moving current of electricity. In the place of a hoped for excused exit, a different kind of suggestion came in: “Well, why don’t you get something from the hotel market over there.” In disappointment over the result of my passive-aggressive approach towards leaving the scene, I followed orders like a Syrian soldier-one of performing an assigned task with loathing compliance and dragged feet. Scouring the selection available to me-condensed Campbell’s soup, Nutri-grain bars, and expired yogurt-I settled on water and pretzels (and was suddenly reminded of the cliff bar in my purse). I came back and the group had already started the writing assignment. Feeling obligated to participate, I downed all of my water, vacuumed up a handful of pretzels (an anathema to the Arab Muslim’s conception of an iftar meal), and joined in. The timed writing exercise came to a close and now was the time we all shared our products. During the time four of the five other group members shared their work, I tried hard to concoct a good excuse that would exempt me from reading my exceptionally negative response to the writing topic of “A gang of gypsies.” Time was up. All I could come up with was the truth: “I don’t feel like sharing.” So-finally, with that the 24 plus hours of group interaction had come to a close. I swept up all my belongings, said my salaams, and fled. As I walked out in a huff, I ripped off a piece of the cliff bar in dissatisfaction. Before I turned the corner to where my car was parked, I noticed a man huddled under the awning of a storefront door. It was hard to make out the black shirt he was wearing from the black soot all over his body. Sitting down next to his trashbag, he made chewing off every ounce of protein from an already sparse chicken wing sport. As I passed him by, he didn’t ask me for one thing: not to “spare some change” or “provide a meal”-nothing. What struck me was that I saw this sight and walked on. Because I was so engulfed in my self-pity trance, I failed to recognize the great disparity of our lots in life as i begrudgingly bit off another piece of chocolate almond crunch-ness. Finally it hit me 10 paces past him: “What the hell is wrong with me? Why am I feeling sorry for myself? I actually have food in my hands and in my mouth! Who am I to feel sorry for myself?” So I walked back to the man, gave him my cliff bar, to which he said “bless your heart” and headed back to my car. My self-pity and complaining stopped there because, 27 days in, I was reminded the point of Ramadan on a visceral level-something we were constantly taught on an intellectual one. This was the point of Ramadan. No matter how hungry I am during the day, I will always have food at the end of the day. There are many people out there who cannot be eased by such a guarantee. Even my meagre dinner that night-water, a handful of pretzels and two bites of a cliff bar-pales in comparison to the struggle by 852 million people worldwide(13 % of the population), who suffer from malnourishment and starvation, to find even a morsel of that on a daily basis.
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