Diari Ramadhan Idlan – Episod 2: Hari Kerja

It is day 2 of Ramadhan, and arguably, it is the first few days that throw you off balance. Today is no different. My body and my system is adjusting to the new food-intake regime, and it typically reacts by throwing a few aches and pains in different places. A tantrum, if you will.

It will calm down, I know so, because it always has. You just got to get through the first few days.

Last year was a bit of a bonus for me, because Ramadhan happened on a weekend so by the time I came in to work on the following Monday, my body had processed a lot of its adjustments. No such luck this year – Awal Ramadhan fell midweek.

What typically throws me a bit out of orbit is not so much the (lack of) food, as the sleep pattern. First of all, my bedtime has to be that bit later (I usually am in bed by 9.30pm) because sunset itself is about 9.30pm! Then I need to get up again at about 2.30am for sahur, and then try and get back to sleep a little after 3.30am. Which is all good if I don’t have an 8.30am or a 9am meeting; but life goes on when you’re fasting, you know?

So yeah, I end up going to work a bit tired, without the added perk that coffee offers first thing in the morning.

The only way to get around this, for me, is afternoon naps. I’ve never been much of a napper, especially in the afternoon. Is it just me, or when you get up from naps in the afternoon, you tend to feel quite out of sorts? I hate that feeling, so I’d rather soldier on (or grab a cup of strong black coffee) than face it.

It’s a challenge to make sure that your productivity levels stay approximately the same, despite changes to schedules. There are, of course, two ways to do this:

a) power on regardless

b) set a precedent of sub-optimal productivity during non-fasting months, so that productivity during the fasting month does not seem anomalous.

Guess which on I opted for? 😉

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Diari Ramadhan Idlan – Episod 1: Sahur

Aku obses dengan sahur.

Sebab kalau tempoh berpuasa lebih kurang 18 jam, lepas tu kau terlepas sahur, maka menempa nahas lah esok nak kerja.

Ini begitu terbalik dengan suasana aku berpuasa kalau di Malaysia. Kalau di Malaysia, aku sekadar bangun dalam masa 15 minit terakhir, minum beberapa gelas air dan secawan nestum sebelum tunggu subuh. Sekadar ambil berkat sahur, kiranya. Memang tak berapa nak boleh makan nasi atau benda berat jam 5.30 pagi.

Dalam beberapa tahun kebelakangan ini, imsak lebih kurang jam 3 pagi. Ini bermakna aku bangkit bersiap untuk sahur lebih kurang 90 minit sebelum imsak. Kenapa? Sebab biasanya aku Isya’ dan terawih masa tu. Aku sebenarnya manusia yang tidur awal: tak cecah jam 9.30 dah away with the fairies. Suatu penyeksaan juga tahan mengantuk bila 9.30 tu kadang-kadang baru nak berbuka!

Biasanya Isya’ masuk jam 11 malam jadi aku masuk tido selalu belum Isya’.

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Aku ada kawan-kawan yang jenis bersengkang mata sampai subuh; maknanya dari Maghrib ke lebih kurang jam 3 pagi tu mereka tak tido. Aku tak mampu: pernah cuba dan masuk jam 12 tengah malam dah pening-pening lalat lantas terlelap. Sikiiiit lagi nak terlepas sahur. Tak buat dah sekarang.

Berbalik kepada sahur: setelah bertahun-tahun membaca dan mengkaji tentang slow-release foods, aku memang bersahur dengan ‘power shake’. Idea ini dicetuskan oleh seorang kawan, Jordan Macvay, di Twitter (atau mungkin Facebook) beberapa tahun dulu. Konsepnya mudah: blend oats, susu dan apa juga yang berkenan menjadi satu ‘milkshake’ lepas tu minum. Kadang-kadang aku letak kurma, kadang-kadang pisang, kadang-kadang avocado, kadang-kadang peanut butter. Kadang-kadang semua di atas.

Nak buat tu senang.

Nak telan, mungkin mencabar sikit, lebih lagi kalau tak biasa.

Bila rasa tak berapa nak lalu, aku kadang-kadang tambah jus buahan sikit kepada mixture yang aku blend, jadi dia agak relatively cair dan tak berapa thick: mudah nak minum.

Aku buat dalam 500ml shake ni, dan sambil terawih sambil aku minum sikit, selang-seli dengan minum air putih. Sebab kalau teguk semua sekali harung nanti kembung pulak. Kalau termuntah kan ke dah rugi sahurnya.

Alhamdulillah, aku dah amalkan sahur begini and so far so good. Takdelah letih sangat di waktu pagi, dan aku hanya mulai penat masuk jam 4 atau 5 petang. Jadi sekurang-kurangnya, dapat menjalankan tugas harian dengan kekangan minima.

Lagi satu yang penting, adalah air. Sepanjang hari ni aku hydrate hydrate hydrate. Aku akan cuba habiskan sekurang-kurangnya 2 liter antara berbuka dan imsak. Kalau aku jenis tak tidur sampai sahur, aku rasa mampu untuk lebih banyak minum. Ada kawan-kawan yang guna kaedah ini: makan secara berdikit-dikit antara berbuka dan imsak. Aku tak boleh. Aku nak tidur, haha.

Sebab aku tahu esok nanti badan akan mengalami sedikit shock to the system, aku cuba tektik baru tahun ini: aku mula latih perut makan sedikit dan lambat dari minggu lepas. Macam orang lari marathon. Perlahan-lahan tambah jarak sebelum race day.

Kita tengok macam mana hasilnya esok hari. Nantikan laporan…

Diari Ramadhan Idlan: Episod 0 – Pilot

The element of surprise.

Kadang-kadang, kita sudah menjangkakan sesuatu akan berlaku. Tetapi dalam pada itu, apabila masih ada ketidakpastian, perasaan pasti bercampur aduk. Rasa berdebar-debar. Hati tidak senang, jam di dinding dirujuk dan sepuluh saat terasa seperti sepuluh minit.

Tidak dapat diingat dengan tepat bila kali terakhir ada apa juga ketidakpastian di ambang Ramadhan di Malaysia. Biasanya, tarikh yang tercatat di kalendar kuda sudah tepat menentukan bila berakhirnya Syaaban. Dan dengan itu, sedikit keseronokan dalam ketidakpastian juga hilang.

Tapi di sini, masih ada sedikit elemen misteri yang menyeringai di balik anak bulan. Kebiasaannya kami menjenguk laman web Islamic Cultural Centre London seusai Maghrib, bila mana pengumuman tarikh 1 Ramadhan dibuat. Dalam tahun-tahun lewat ini, penantian ini berakhir agak lewat malam, kerana Maghrib pun tidak menjenguk sebelum jam 9pm.

Dalam hampir 18 tahun di sini, baru sekali rasanya Ramadhan di UK jatuh pada hari yang lebih awal dari dua kemungkinan. Masih aku ingat lagi malam itu, kelam kabut pergi ke Tesco (nasib baik 24 jam) mencari makanan dan sedikit bahan mentah untuk sahur dan berbuka esoknya. Bukan aku seorang yang terkejut malam itu – selang seorang dijumpai di lorong-lorong supermarket itu warga Muslim: tersengih-sengih melihat masing-masing terkocoh-kocoh.

Tahun ini Ramadhan di hemisfera utara jatuh pada musim panas; dimana matahari terbit jam 4 pagi dan hanya menghilangkan diri jam 9 malam. Sudah masuk tahun ke-lima atau ke-enam aku berpuasa lebih dari 16 jam. Sudah faham rentak badan pada hari-hari panjang ini. Sudah masuk zon alah bisa tegal biasa.

Sahlah, tahun ini 1 Ramadhan bermula lusa – Khamis 17 Mei, 2018. Hari di mana imsaknya sekitar 3.30 pagi; dan berbuka jam 8.58 malam. 17 jam 30 minit. Boleh tahan, hahaha.

Ramai yang bertanya sebenarnya pengalaman berpuasa panjang ini. Dan saban tahun juga bercerita, berkongsi pengalaman. Kali ini mahu dijiidkan, rasanya, di helaian-helaian laman sesawang.

Aku pun belum pasti bagaimana hendak menyusun kata-kata, sebenarnya. Nak guna aku? Saya? Berbahasa Melayu? Inggeris? Rojak? Formal? Tak formal? You overthink everything, kata si dia. Tulis sahaja.

Jadi aku kira aku akan bercerita. Tiada plot, tiada struktur, satu stream of consciousness in the spirit of blogs of Idlan past. Harapnya istiqamah, harapnya dapat mencetuskan semula semangat untuk menulis yang sekian lama terkubur dek diulik kesibukkan dunia.

Kalau ada masa, jenguklah ya sekali sekala?

18 again

“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!

First foot forward

It made sense, at first. I had to perform the ghusl before Fajr prayers, and it didn’t make sense to shower, run and then shower again. I’ll just do it tomorrow, I thought to myself yesterday morning. My running schedule is spaced out on alternate days, but it’s not like I’m running a 10km every morning so much so that I’d constantly need a whole day’s recovery.

Of course, I didn’t actually check the weather forecast.

And as I looked out of the window at the frost on everyone’s car (and clearly, poor old Gomo too even though I covered him well last night), I figured a shower-run-shower-again combo would have been better than a run in -3 degrees.

I could have given it up, but of late, running in the morning before work has given me both a sense of structure and a sense of self. It put my head in the right place for the day ahead, and sometimes it even verged on the therapeutic. In fact, running therapised itself from becoming something I didn’t like very much, to becoming something I’d actually do.

And so out I trudged, doing the scheduled 4km and choosing a route that had two runs in two separate parks on the way. Birmingham has an abundance of these little parks just beyond the busy thoroughfares that make it Motor City. You just need to know where to look. On my last stretch back, through Pebble Mill Playing Fields, I saw other runners braving the cold. Clearly more dedicated than me, and at a faster pace, too. A few even nodded and waved, a mark of camaraderie, I suppose, and an acknowledgement to each other’s madness for venturing out on such a day.

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I have in the past confessed that for someone that does it quite a bit, I don’t like running. I don’t, really. I want to say that I am more of a people person and enjoy team sports more; but my reclusive nature that more and more people are beginning to attest to would say that’s a lie. My preference for sports such as football, badminton and those of its ilk lies in one thing: the ability to score, and the ability to win. I like winning, let’s put that on the table. And I’m not a fast runner, so running doesn’t offer me the opportunity to win, as much.

What made running really unenjoyable for me, in the beginning stages of my foray into this sport, was the fact that I could only push myself so much, and having failed to achieve a personal best every single day, for that was what winning entailed in my competitive mind, I got frustrated. I later found out about the run-walk movement, where the whole aim of the game is to run and walk rather than just continuously run. You start off walking more than running, and then ultimately as you get fitter, you flipped the process. So you’d end up with say, a 5-minute run and then a 2-minute fast walk, which when done in sets of 10, could pretty well get you to 10km or beyond. And that gave me more of a sense of achievement – doing a decent 10km, than huffing and puffing to run 6o minutes straight and then feeling dejected having failed to do so.

Allowing myself to do something which I am nowhere near good at has been excellent therapy for someone who is used to doing well in most things that she tries. It humbles you, and humility is never a bad thing.

And so I run.

If Abraham was alive to see this..

It’s almost two weeks now since the Trump victory, and people are still grappling with the enormity of the verdict. 2016 has been the year for unexpected events: Brexit, Leicester City winning the Premier League and now President-Elect Trump. A betting man has good money to earn in these remaining weeks.

Of course in analysing all this, we often forget that as outsiders, our view is very much skewed. When we are outside looking in, a very different view of America, or indeed, the UK, France or wherever. The USA of our television sets are cities such as New York or Los Angeles, the UK that we see is really London or Manchester. Even in times of atrocity, the Syria that we see are not beyond the warzones of Aleppo. This limited view – which still persists even with 24-hour television and the Internet – often oversimplifies what we see and it makes us think we understand; when really, we don’t. Real life in these countries are lived in Sioux Falls in Iowa and Jaywick in Essex; not in New York or London where inhabitants of these metropoles are so international that very few of them really even have the right to vote.

Despite this, collectively, as a world, we are trying to drill down the reason behind why Trump is President-Elect to a soundbite, to a digestible summary of reasons. Why? My conjecture is that by being able to simplify this, we are able to also categorise and it creates a way for us to assign blame to others; and in effect, absolving ourselves of blame from the cause of the atrocity, the undesired event, the disaster.

We do this a lot, whether we realise it or not. When we hear of a death, we often ask: why? Oh he had a heart attack. We probe further: did he smoke? Yes. If at this point we identify ourselves as a non-smoker, then the questions often end: for we are unlikely to perhaps meet a similar end, as we do not smoke. If we are a smoker, we probe further: how many packs did he smoke in a day? Was he already warned about this? We ask and we try to simplify and categorise, so that we carve ourselves out of association. It isn’t me.  Nothing is more unsettling than hearing, “oh, he had a heart attack, but he was otherwise super healthy”.

While such behaviour seems ingrained in society, I have mixed feelings about singling out specific factors. There are complexities that are often intertwined with others, a mixture of variables that are often benign on their own, but taken together can bring out the worst of people when a catalyst rears its ugly head.

My conjecture is that the catalyst behind all this is that most basic of needs as defined by Abraham Maslow: survival. The physiological needs – when threatened, threats one’s survival, and if you know how to light a fire under this catalyst, you have in your hands a very powerful tool of manipulation.

People talk about how sane people could vote for a racist, sexist, misogynist – shaking our heads in disbelief. But we discount the fact that  we live in a time where racism, sexism, misogyny etc are outweighed by a more basic need: that of survival. You simply vote for the candidate who is more likely to help you survive: be it by way of better jobs, lower taxes, less competition for limited funds – when it is a matter of survival you feel guilty about the black / Muslim / native Americans that may struggle but hey you’re struggling too.

This is the fallout of fake promises of guaranteed home ownership: where sub-prime mortgages that you trusted would finally bring you into the suburbs instead led you to the trailer park. This is the fallout of the desire to better oneself through education; only to see education being something you are increasingly priced out of – or if you’re not, then something that leaves you crippled with debt for the rest of your adulthood. This is the fallout of fake promises made by people who don’t stay around long enough to help you scoop the shit off your walls after it hits the fan.

Sure, we all want world peace and all the fluffy things that go with it, but how many of us can really afford to dream about it when the next plate of food is even more visually vague? We discuss, condemn legislate against racism, sexism, misogyny but no one is fixing the real small cut that is now growing to be a festering, pus-filled wound.

A large part of the disenfranchisement, I feel, is symptomatic of the failures of capitalism. I say this not because I champion socialism or communism as an alternative, but in its current form, the abject worship of capital – that is, wealth – has now managed, over a few generations, to create class systems that are more apparent; and worse still, an attitude of individualism and not being able to care: note that I argue it is not being able to care, rather than not wanting to care. Nowhere is capitalism more rampant than in America, and in that sense you begin to understand that survival may be what underlines what and how people vote. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs exemplifies this: while people are sympathetic towards the plight of others, they are unable to vote for self-actualising reasons when the more basic needs are unfulfilled.

But how does this explain the voters who are affluent who also chose for Trumpian presidency? The thing is, you don’t have to be in dire straits to be swayed this way – for many, the very threat of a possible change in the way we live our lives is enough. Wine consultant Robin Moore, in an article in the Financial Times, said she voted for Trump because “I have a problem with people coming in illegally, abusing our healthcare system, being given things that other people have worked for, social security benefits, being paid under the table and not paying taxes”. Eerily similar to those who opted to vote for Brexit.

I have not yet fact-checked whether her claims are backed up by facts and statistics, but even if they aren’t, it doesn’t matter: the very thought of something that threatens their basic needs – healthcare, benefits, the way they live – is enough to push buttons. Fear mongering works when you tap into the more basic survival instincts of man. It doesn’t work as well when you tap into the higher echelons of the pyramid – esteem or self-actualisation.

[There is space for research here to evaluate the extent to which candidates win election by using campaign language that targets at lower levels of the hierarchy of needs. I just wish I had the time (and the political science expertise) to do it.]

And so it is. We can only look forward now, and we need to stop playing Schrodinger’s President and keep wondering what if. I want to say, hang on baby it’s a bumpy ride but you know what? Only time will tell how well paved that road really is.

 

Brexit and Me (100 days on)

It has been 135 days since June 24th. I don’t actually keep a running tally – these days you can just Google these things – but I think about this a lot because I’m trying to make sense of the world in the days following June 24th, 2016. Especially on the verge of yet another momentous date – November 9th 2016: which, in non-American date parlance, may signal another ominous date-cronym.

Or not, we shall see, as Americans decide the fate of the free world.

Ok, I concede, a bit dramatic. But I’d be the world’s most oblivious if I dare not admit that things have changed since the UK EU Referendum: not necessarily in the mood of the towns and cities (that changed long before Britain went to the ballot boxes) but more lastingly, inside of me and in my psyche.

The day after the EU referendum, when the facts (and levels of disbelief) were beginning to sink in, we had an Open Day on campus: a day when potential applicants would visit the university, ask questions and be wowed (or un-wowed) by what Birmingham had to offer. Throughout the morning, while doing my time manning the Accounting and Finance stand, emails and texts were trickling in about what to say if we were asked about fees for EU students, or where the university stood when it came to matters referendum.

Funnily enough, no one actually brought it up in the two hours I was there; and it wasn’t until I was at the train station, heading towards Birmingham International to pick up Ili, that I was approached by someone who seemed so jubilant about the result she missed my slumped shoulders and look of utter dejection as I sat on Platform 1.

“Isn’t it brilliant?” she enthused. “A new dawn for us all!”

I smiled politely, very conscious of both the suit and the hijab I was wearing. “It’s early days but things will change,” I responded cautiously.

“Yes, yes, but what a start to the weekend, eh?” she nudged me with a knowing wink. These are the benefits of living north of Watford: God forbid getting into a conversation with strangers down south, save for Jehovah’s Witnesses wanting to save my wanton soul.

“Certainly a bright one ahead,” I replied, referring to the unrelentless sunshine beating on my poor, fasting head; yet happy for her to misconstrue the meaning. I am nothing if not non-confrontational. Inside my heart was as broken as the future of multicultural Britain. Sort of.

“Oooh yes, indeed!” she laughed and smiled.  The train arrived slowly into the station. “You have a good one, luv,” her parting words as we got into the carriage.

And probably, that was as pleasant as it got that first weekend after the results. Over the next few days, news filtered through of increases in racist attacks, demonstrations by far-right / far-right leaning groups, the shoving of racial abuse down postboxes, mouthy children telling their non-British schoolmates to ‘Go Home’. It was ugly, and it was not the Britain of my childhood even having grown up in the depths of Thatcherism.

Of course, as Muslims, we were used to – even sadly almost auto-immune –  such vitriol every time some idiot somewhere decided to commit an act of terror while not being white. But this time, it wasn’t just Muslims, or non-whites, who were targets. It was everyone who weren’t ethnically English or British.

In the 100-odd days that have since ensued, some of the racism has died down; but the bitter aftertaste is evident everywhere: from the areas you avoid after dark to the policies the government are putting up.

One thing that really affected me was that I really felt scared of wearing the hijab when on public transport, especially buses and trains. I have been through this before, post 9-11 and 7-7, where people would stop talking as I walked by in the streets, but I have never felt physically threatened before, not deep down in my heart of hearts.

I do, now.

I walk past groups of people – regardless of race – and I feel scared. I stand way back on train platforms, for fear of being pushed onto the tracks by someone because of nothing more than being non-white. I wear headphones and blast it with loud music whenever I am on the bus: not because I want to be left alone but because I don’t want to hear things. And sadly for me, unless I am in a safe space, such as at work, or with a large group of friends I trust, I wear a modified headscarf that makes it less obvious I am covering my hair. It depresses me.

The other thing that I have noticed, internally, is that I now view the England and the British flag with different eyes now. Whenever I see the England flag – a red cross on a white background – now I automatically associate it with racist Brexiters gloating about their ‘win’ on June 24th.

Once a symbol of footballing pride, I now see it as a marker of something to avoid. This is ironic, of course, because as an ardent England fan, many a World Cup or Euro I have draped the very same flag on my balcony, championing good sporting spirit during the games. (How ardent an England fan am I? I am known to have gone to work at the NST on the day after David Beckham’s petulant kick in the World Cup in 1998 wearing my England jersey).

It’s no longer a symbol of football for me. It’s turned into a symbol of hate: a symbol of people who do not want me here, regardless of the amount of tax I pay into the kitty every month willingly to support the very dole some of these people pick up weekly. And that to me is beyond sad. Sadder than the state of the England football team, which says a lot these days.