Not The Usual Ramadan – Syafiqah Adam

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Ramadan is a month of worship, tradition, love and family gatherings. I was accustomed to celebrating Ramadan with family where iftar, the meal at sunset, was a celebration, a huge feast. This year was different – I decided to spend half of Ramadan on Samos, volunteering with the refugee community here. It was my first time fasting while working in an environment which required physical and emotional strength. In the day, while fasting, I was working at either the Alpha Centre, the Olive Trees just outside the camp, or the laundry station.

On my first shift at Alpha, I was greeted by an enthusiastic “Ramadan Kareem”; I guess donning the hijab gave way to the fact that I was observing Ramadan. The wish instantly brought about a sense of home and commonality. As I spoke to the many Muslim refugees who spent their days in Alpha, I realized that many strive to keep the daily fast, despite the living conditions in camp. Ramadan was not a reason to sleep all day; they walked down the steep roads from camp to Alpha to either attend classes, relax, socialize or play a game of backgammon. The summer heat occasionally wearied them, but they walked in, around and out of Alpha with smiles on their faces. Their resilience and optimism silenced me; I had nothing to complain about – I had a nourishing meal before sunrise to keep me going for the day and a bed to rest in.

Later in the day, about 5PM, was the greatest struggle of Ramadan –  my body was in a draught of water. Ironically, this was also the time when I needed the most energy if I was scheduled on kids’ activities by the Olive Trees. The kids were bursting with energy, ever so ready to pull off their carefully derived tricks but I was parched and drained. To keep singing boom-chica-boom, to go bananas, and to simply exude a positive vibe under the sweltering heat was challenging. I attempted to communicate with the children (with my minimal Arabic) and learned that some of them were observing Ramadan too. Nevertheless, they played jump rope, ran at lightning speed when we played Duck, Duck, Goose and chanted songs at the top of their lungs. I was convinced they had an emergency energy storage. 

At the end of the day, as I watched the sun dip below the horizon and the fleeting colors of dusk fade away, the absence of loved ones made iftar meals tinged with sorrow – I wasn’t used to being ‘alone’ in Ramadan. However, I learned to appreciate a minimalistic Ramadan:  serving humanity, performing mandatory prayers and having simple meals at iftar. Every other day, evenings were spent by the waterfront, occasionally bumping into friends from Alpha and exchanging Ramadan greetings which filled my heart with contentment.

On the day prior to Eid, I was at Alpha, refilling coffee when I felt a slight tug. A young boy with a beaming smile and a mischievous look in his eyes said, “Eidi?” Eidi is goodwill money given on Eid to children by elders who have a stable source of income. I could not help but to chuckle before I explained to him that I was a student and technically not required to give Eidi. He accepted my sound reasoning and signaled for me to bend over. I did as asked. He whispered, “I love you, Eid Mubarak” and fled toward his older brother who was sipping a hot cup of tea nearby. 

Indeed, I had an Eid Mubarak (translates into a blessed celebration) and a productive Ramadan this year, despite being away from family. Ramadan and Eid were not the traditional, luxurious feast-ivities with family, but they were celebrated as prescribed by Islam – modest and communal. As the holy month of Ramadan drew to an end, I was thankful for the community I met in Samos; after 14 years of observing Ramadan, this was my first Ramadan which was more spiritual than festive. Ramadan was a month of constant self-reflections and intention renewals whereas Eid was a day of modest celebrations with the community. Hugs and well wishes were exchanged in Alpha and on the streets but above all, warmth and love filled the air. I might not have had my blood family throughout Ramadan and Eid, but I discovered a vibrant, close-knit, supportive surrogate family here in Samos.

Samos Volunteers