“I bet I couldn’t do it”, my friend M said to me in one of our many Whatsapp group chats. “But you could”, I responded. Because when it comes to these things, you just plow through.
We were talking about these marathon Ramadhan fasts I am facing this year – and to be fair, have been facing for the past 4-5 years. When daybreak comes at 3am and the sun sets at well past 9pm.. well, you’re in for a treat of sorts. But it is do-able, if you hold on to two things: a) you need to strategise; and b) if you fall ill you can break your fast – just remember to make it up!
One of the most tricky things to manage is that very small window between Maghrib and Imsak. You literally have 6 hours to eat, drink and do terawih, as well as catch a nap if you’re wanting to do the night prayers. And if you ‘overnap’, the downside of missing your sahur at 3am is potentially.. painful, to say the least.
So during the summer fasts I change tack a bit from what I would usually do if I were fasting in Malaysia. Instead of breaking my fast with plate upon plate of food, I pace myself, starting with soup and bread, and then maybe a small portion of rice or meats. A small portion because as much as you want to eat for the world and then some, your stomach does not really want to cooperate on that count.
Plus, if you have a heavy meal when breaking your fast, chances are you may not want to eat as much when it comes to sahur. And anyone who has done these summer fasts know that getting it right at sahur goes a long way into making the next day a bit more bearable.
At sahur time I hold fast to the belief that oats, or any other long-release breakfast foods, are best. Whether in porridge form or blended as part of a smoothie concoction, I make sure I get my fair share before going back to bed. I know we’ve all been taught not to go back to bed after Subuh prayers; but with Subuh being at 3.10am and a 6-hour gap between then and when I am meant to be at work.. I succumb.
During the day, I often do well until about 4 or 5pm. This is when fatigue starts to kick in, and energy levels dissipate. It’s a good thing this is also often the time I am off home from work anyway; so subtly I hope there is no noticeable impact on my normal productivity at work. This is something I feel quite strongly about – that fasting or not, it should not impair the quality of work that I put in day in day out. I don’t make a big show of telling people at work I am fasting – unless they ask, or I am offered food or a drink. I don’t know why I do this – I just think it’s a personal thing so I get on with it, rather than trying to find shortcuts.
These 18-hour fasts remind me of my first attempt at fasting. The year was 1986, I was 8 years old and Ramadhan that year came during May and June: so the hours then were comparable to what they are now. (I lived in the UK from 1984-1988 while my dad was pursuing his doctorate). If memory serves I managed 6 days that year – even while continuously being tempted by my 1 year old brother waddling in his nappy eating Spring Onion flavoured crisps. Although times have changed – he is now a strapping dad with the world’s cheekiest two year old son who survived his first tarawih!