Thursday, August 12, 2010

Because You Asked Me About Ramadan...

Childhoods are funny things.  Even when we don't realize it's happening - and even if we can't look back and say that it was all roses - there are certain memories, etched on a soul with sunlight and laughter, that are ours alone to smile about all those years later.  For me, Ramadan is one of those times.

Sure, fasting is and was hard.  But for me, it's something else too.

A memory:
February, 1994.  Early, before sunrise.  I am 16. Waking up to silence and darkness, whispering in hushed tones to my father, my brother.  "As-Salaam Alaikum".  Peace and good morning.  "When can I go back to bed, Dad?"  "Not yet, love.  You need to eat first.  Don't forget to pick up the roti on your way down."
Walking down the stairs, not trying to be quiet anymore, because anyone who is still sleeping shouldn't be.  But of course I know that my grandparents won't wake this morning.  After a lifetime of sacrifice, now it's their time to rest.  Our time to carry the torch.  Literally.  
I can hear the TV on in the basement - softly - replaying the Opening Ceremonies of the Lillehammer Olympics.  In the future they will say that it was the most watched Olympics in history.  And I will always think of these mornings, where Muslims all over the world were tuning in to watch Olympic coverage over tea and fruits and eggs and the melody of the Quran over the radio. 
Passing the darkened kitchen, catching my breath on the cold tile as I stop to pick up a stack of flatbread that my mom made for us the night before.  They're not there....Dad must have known that I was in no mood to get them.
Entering the bright lights in the basement, into the second family room.  Three bedraggled boys are crowded around the television set.  "As-Salaam Alaikum!  We won another medal!  Jean-Luc Brassard is the SHIZZ. I gotta go lay out the prayer rugs.  Wanna help?"  Me, rolling my eyes.  How can three little people have so much energy so early in the morning?  Hair tousling, helping to get our jobs done so that my aunt doesn't have to give us The Look later on.  
My aunt.  Standing over the stove.  She gives me a sidelong glance as I enter the kitchen.  No time for kisses. But I know she loves me anyway.  Smells: cooking onions, eggs.  Omelettes and roti for our breakfast.  Much better than the cereal and leftovers we used to have when my dad was in charge of the kitchen.  This will keep me full.  For a while. 
We all slowly trickle in, lured from our cozy beds and hidey-holes by the enticing aromas emanating from the kitchen.  Sitting around the tiny table, two families together.  Passing the bread, the eggs.  Making sure everyone has enough to satiate their hunger for the day ahead.  Don't forget to drink.  Tender words.  Gentle kisses to the children who are choosing to take part with us, even if they can't fast all day.  Somehow I think they're waking up more for the Olympics than for the food.  That's okay.  Their enthusiasm brings cheer to my sleepy mood.  There is love here.  There is warmth.
My uncle and my father.  Brothers. Chatting about politics.  About cricket.  About some memory of the past - of their childhood.  My aunt blushes and laughs.  The three of them were friends even before they came to Canada, before children and mortgages and nine to five jobs.  They probably sat around a table like this during Ramadan with their families so many years ago. My uncle is finished his eggs now, and he leans back. Reaches over my aunt and grabs his cigarettes.  He sighs.  This will be his first and last of the day.  He is resigned to his fate...but we're all in the same boat today.  We're all giving something up.  Together.  When it gets too much to bear later on, someone will be there to empathize.  A hug or kind smile.  I know how you feel.  
This is always my favorite part.  My uncle gets all reflective with that first and last cigarette.  His deep baritone voice is a soothing melody.  He is a natural storyteller.  "Tell us about the djinns again.  Are they good guys or bad guys?  Do they fast?"  He chuckles.  Launches into a story that is part adventure, part fantasy, part horror, part religious instruction.  The pictures are alive in my mind and go flitting across the landscape of my imagination.  This will be a good day.

I will always have this.  This moment.  This memory will leave an indelible mark on me in the years to come.  When I leave home and go off to university.  When I get married and move to another country and start my own family.  The start of every Ramadan will feel like this.  The memory of faces around a table in the early morning pre-dawn, the stories told, the love shared. Forever and a day, I will strive to recreate this for my family.  In a world gone crazy, amidst the suspicion and hate, my Ramadan will mean more.  My fast will reach out and touch people.  My religion will be love.  My actions will be peace.

There is only one path to Heaven. On Earth, we call it Love.

This is my Ramadan.  This is me.

 My beautiful girl at the start of another Ramadan.  Her smile gives me hope.  Her love for the world hints at the promise of a thousand bright tomorrows.  Peace and blessings from our family to yours.
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