A Ramadan Away from Home

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They keep asking me where I like Ramadan more: in Hebron or Montreal.

They ask as if they’re clueless, but their eager faces betray the fact that they’re sure Ramadan in the East is superior to Ramadan in the West. For many people, it is. For me, I thought it would be, too. But it’s a bit more complicated, as I’ve learned…

They keep asking me which country I enjoy Ramadan most in – Palestine or Canada. What a distressing question for me, if only they knew!

All my Ramadans before 2017 have taken place in sweet, sweet Montreal. In Canada, I am often in crowded rooms being the only one refraining from food and drink. But this has never been an obstacle to having a spiritually and socially enlightening month. In Montreal, I always celebrated Ramadan with my parents and siblings. Being in the company of my two youngest sisters Wisam and Rania during taraweeh is a fundamental part of the night prayer experience. Eating from homemade atayef mostly prepared by my sister Rwan is a delicious and traditional element of the Ramadan vibe. Listening to my brother Mohammed reading Qur’an with me to practice his tajweed is a refreshing pre-iftar routine I love. Driving to the masjid in my dad’s van at fajr time is a luxury I try to take advantage of when I am not too sleepy to stay awake a little while longer after suhoor.
But this year, I am spending Ramadan in a completely different setting. I am fasting and Ramadan-ing it up in my native homeland of Palestine.
It is wonderful here.
The streets are decorated for Ramadan.
The traditional seasonal sweets are sold at every corner.
Everyday you’re invited to an iftar feast.
The athan echoes throughout the day, adding beauty to the wind.
It’s almost perfect.
But where are my multicultural friends’ faces whom I always run into at taraweeh?
Where are those STM bus drivers whom I don’t realize are Muslim, but then loudly exclaim “Ramadan mubarak, salamu alaikum!”
Where is my usual stash of fair-trade 70%+ dark chocolate to break my fast on?
Where is my jar of thick rich honey to sweeten everything the light touches?
Most of all… where are some of my favourite people in the world to break their fasts with me at the exact same time?
See, half my family came with me to Palestine, but I miss the other half. Sorely. I miss my family left back in Canada. Two months have passed but it feels so much longer. As much as I love and adore my relatives and extended family in Hebron, nothing and no one can replace the fondness and nearness that Rwan, Wisam, Rania, Mohammed and my father occupy in my heart.
Half of my heart is literally stuck in Montreal, in an unknown location. Maybe you’ll find it in a smoked salmon bagel cafe like Hinnawi Brothers, in a sushi restaurant like Sushi St.Jean, in a chocolate-loaded place like Coco 70, or in a beehive loaded with honey somewhere…. My heart ironically yearns for the place where the streets are NOT decorated for Ramadan, where Arabic sweets are NOT the norm at every corner, and where the athan is NOT visible from your home but is only heard from the inside the mosques.
And yet, Ramadan in Montreal is absolutely perfect.
In Montreal, the atayef tastes just right. They even look more appetizing! (I have only enjoyed one actual atayef in Palestine this whole month. It just ain’t the same.) Maybe it’s because the hands that make them (Rwan’s) are full of a sacred care no one else can provide. Maybe it’s because the syrup that sweetens the atayef is made by my lovely mother. Maybe it’s because as a family, members of us gather around the Qur’an together and discuss it more frequently as a group than in other times of the year.
And maybe… probably… it’s just because the small group of people in Montreal I love, I love with a fierceness greater than my love combined for everything in Palestine.
atayef

Photo of Rwan’s masterpiece dessert.

Nothing can replace the bond of a sister or brother – so how to explain that as wonderful and gracious that everyone is in Hebron, nothing can replace four sibling bonds… even if those bonds are limited to social media right now with a 7-hour time zone difference. How could people even ask me such a question? It’s infuriating sometimes! Honestly, what a blessing Whatsapp, Messenger, Snapchat, and TextPlus have all turned out to be for me. Thank God!
I don’t mean to be harsh on people. They mean well, and I know it. When people ask me where do I enjoy Ramadan more, they usually assume that my definition of ultimate satisfaction is measured by the number of feasts I attend and number of people I greet. But how to explain that all the pecks, formalities, and kisses on cheeks over several months totalled up, do not amount to even one simple “yo” exchanged with my brother? Do not amount to just one bone-crushing hug with Wisam and Rania? Do not amount to one pre-bedtime rambling conversation with Rwan?
Between you and me, dear reader, here’s my personal truth: Ramadan in Palestine is really nice. But Ramadan in Montreal? It’s just perfect.
All praise to Allah for everything, alhamdulileh. I am blessed to be spending this holy month in a holy land. And thank You for the blessings of technology, which make it easy to keep in constant communication with those physically far, far away from me!
Until we hug again, my friends! Shout out to Mohammed, Rania, Wisam, Rwan and yaba for making me miss you so much. That speaks to how wonderful of human beings you must undoubtedly be.
And God plans Best.
-A.S.
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Dear Diary: My Writing Has Died

I have no desire to write anymore.

Actually, that is a little extreme, so allow me to rephrase that: I have lots of desire to write, but I simply seem to have nothing worthy to write about. There are tons of things I’m learning everyday but I am lacking the elegant ways of expressing them. Besides creating fragmented poetry pieces here & there, I think this is the longest writer’s block I have experienced in quite a while.

“there are days

where i feel infertile

like no more poems will come

like all the words there were

to be weaved by me

have been weaved

and i am unable

to create anything.”

(Rupi Kaur)

Isn’t it interesting that the younger & less knowledgeable me had an ocean of things to say, and keen enough to make the time to share it with the whole virtual world? Yet now, when I actually have the time to write, it’s no longer an option; I toss the pen aside, thinking Who am I, anyways, to write on these things, and what do I REALLY have to say that is both of value & which I’m actively applying to myself simultaneously?

You see, my criteria for what I can, would and should share with hearts external to my own has changed over time, becoming more constricted. In person, I might speak spontaneously sometimes, so I try to measure & weigh my words prior as much as possible when I can (such as in writing).The fact is, as human beings, we do more talking than walking… more preaching than acting… more judging than understanding… and I am no different. I am trying to rise above that.

I suppose the older I get and with the “more wisdom” I acquire, the more I realize that life is a strict teacher with the ultimate lesson to not have too many assumptions about the way the world works, and especially on the way people are. When a shareable idea flickers across my mind, I hesitate; I’m probably wrong, I think; the inclination to write decreases; and eventually I decide my words are of very little necessity or use to anyone.

Sketching pad

But I’ve come to realize something lately. There is a void in me. I take on new hobbies & interests and still I feel incomplete. This feeling is only absent when I… wait for it… express myself through writing.

Writing academic essays & educational blog posts for professional development purposes is not the same as sorting through jumbled thoughts & trying to understand myself. They are both useful and beneficial, yes, but in different ways and for different purposes.

When I say my writing has flattened, I am talking about the kind that involves heart-felt sentences I put out there, allowing myself to be vulnerable to the scrutiny of strangers (and most frighteningly, people I know) while experiencing a sheer bliss feeling of realizing how many others are experiencing the same thing through the feedback. Sharing one’s writing is a bold act, an act of community, and I have allowed myself to stumble away from it.

When my writing habit died, so did a little part of myself.

It’s like suddenly losing a bunch of teeth and much of what passes through your lips becomes pronounced wrong – likewise, without the exercise of writing, my thoughts remain constricted in my mind & create tension in my heart, muddling my concentration, because I’m not quite sure what is going on inside of me.

“i write because

i don’t know

how i feel

until i read it.” 

(Rupi Kaur)

Out of the many Ramadan goals I have set for myself this blessed month, one of them is to write again… regularly. I will reflect on certain Quranic passages as sources of inspiration to get started. (InshaAllah… stay tuned!)

For all future posts, I intend to weigh my words beforehand, but nonetheless that does not guarantee that every post will provide unique insights to every reader; and that’s perfectly okay. I will not pretend to believe that I am your golden chest of treasured words.

But they are my words, which tell my story… and they are coming back to life. Fasting is reviving my soul, and writing shall revive my spirit.

revival

And Allah (God) knows best.
-A.S.