The original Arabic root of the word ‘Ramadan’ denotes intense heat and shortness of rations – this year the word’s original meaning holds very true in Pakistan and Afghanistan where the soaring temperatures and long daylight hours of August have made it even more challenging to fast sans water and food.
Stepping into the home of a typical Barakat beneficiary in Pakistan, you will find that the pace and pressure of life has become more hectic, despite the fasting. For women in the household, the day begins around 3:30 a.m. They get up and prepare a meal for sehri, the pre-dawn feast that commences the day of fasting.
Shukurullah, his wife and their five children (three of who go to Barakat schools), are quite familiar with this routine. They describe a regular day during the month of Ramadan as being ‘tough.’ They start weaving carpets early in the morning around 4 a.m. and continue the work right into the hottest part of the afternoon: 3 p.m. “Then,” says the mother, “other household work needs to be done; we cook food for iftar (the breaking of the fast at sunset, around 7 p.m.) then, following the meal, we return to our weaving until 10 p.m.”
Healthy children above 12 years are expected to participate fully in the fast, which is anything but easy. Rukhsana, a 14 year old Barakat student, says, “During fasting, we become tired, as we have to go to school and then weave carpets.” However, she adds, “It’s holy month for Muslims and it teaches us patience and how to remain cool and calm.”
For parents, the upcoming festival of Eid-ul-Fitr is a time of celebration, but also of increased expenses: “We become busier during Ramadan, as we have to finish the carpets on looms to meet the Eid expenses.” Additionally, “the prices of food and everything are very high (at this time of the year).”
As temperatures soar to 110 degrees in Attock, it becomes harder to go without water for the entire day, especially since most people work in non air-conditioned environments. Shukurullah’s family testifies that “it’s very hot in August and power failure is too common,” so that even the comfort of an electric fan is denied them as they sweat over daily chores.
As the month of August comes to end, Eid-ul-Fitr is much awaited and children anxiously anticipate a delicious feast: pulao (meat and rice), dried fruits and sweet dishes like saivayyain (a dish of fine, toasted sweet vermicelli noodles with milk) are prepared in celebration of the end of the month-long fast.
Shukurullah’s family gave us a true feeling for what Ramadan really means to our students, beyond the fasting and hardships that they face daily. Shukurullah’s teenage son Zakhir says, “It means Patience and to feel the hunger of those poor people who cannot eat their daily meals.” Coming from a family and community that struggles to make ends meet on a daily basis, this explanation humbles us. The consciousness of privilege, the ability to empathize with those who have less then ourselves, and the inclination towards charity is not limited to the well-off in the developed countries of the globe – it is a perception that is shared by others in the world, who may own less but believe themselves to be blessed in the true sense of the word.