Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Blank State of Mind

I am late in posting this week, and I apologize. I’m temporarily (hopefully…) suffering from a lack of inspiration – and a corresponding lack of excitement in my daily life. After three weeks of fasting I’ve comfortably settled into the rhythm of Ramadan: the highlight of my day now falls between 8 pm and midnight, while days are spent in a stupor of semi-wakefulness. Being an absolute morning person, this means that my habitual circadian rhythm has been turned completely upside down.

I’m still glad that I decided to participate in Ramadan. I think that joining in has helped me discover aspects of this tradition that I don’t think I would have picked up on as easily, had I remained a spectator. I may still not fully understand what Ramadan is like for the average Moroccan individual (there are certain boundaries between ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ status that can never be crossed, I think, no matter how hard you try), but fasting has allowed me to come a little closer to that comprehension than I would have, otherwise. I ‘get’ how acute that feeling of solidarity is, during the first week of fasting. I ‘get’ how strong and motivating the cultural imperative to fast really is, and I think I ‘get’ how intensely participation can reinforce one’s identity as a member of Moroccan society.

It has felt good to participate – despite the hunger. It feels good to join in a custom that seems to be so fundamental to the Moroccan sense of cultural identity. I enjoy the thought of being a part of something so full of meaning for Moroccans, of sharing both in its larger significance and in its smaller manifestations. Of standing in the kitchen making harira, as I smell the soup being made in kitchens across the street. Of eating that first date, knowing that everyone else in the neighborhood is likely doing the exact same thing. Of lying on the couch watching Mexican soap operas with the members of a Moroccan family, whiling away the last hour until ftour. It simply makes me feel part of something – and this is a feeling that I often miss, living alone here in Rabat.

But in all honesty, my body is – literally – exhausted and worn out by the rhythm of Ramadan. Lack of nutrition and lack of sleep have turned me into a daytime zombie whose body happily comes alive only at night, right when it should be winding down to sleep. It’s beginning to frustrate me – because while my circadian rhythm has been turned upside down, my work schedule has not. This has resulted in a complete lack of productivity that is beginning to really worry me.

To give you an idea, let me describe an average day for you – starting at 6.45 PM, the hour of ftour (the breaking of the fast):

A cannon shot and the call for sunset prayer are our sign that we are allowed to eat. Gratefully, I immediately down a full glass of water, while Farid tells me to slow down: “it’s not good to drink too fast!” he will warn, in vain, as I ignore him.

I follow the water with a date, and then turn my attention toward the hot bowl of harira (made from a package, most days, with some of my own ingredients added in) in front of me. Usually, my stomach is quite satisfied with one bowl of soup, but because our mental hunger has grown exponentially with each hour of fasting, we have filled the table with multiple plates of other delicacies that beg to be eaten. I’ll eat a croissant or a piece of quiche, some salad, and (of course) some chebakia. I’ll drink more water, then have a glass of juice.

At 8 PM, stomachs stuffed to capacity, we come alive – and thus become restless. We leave my house and take a walk downtown, reveling in the lights and activity of Ramadan evenings. We’ll stop at a café and drink our daily coffee, as we sit and do some work on our laptops.

Around 11, I come home, still full of energy. I won’t at all be hungry, but I’ll convince myself to eat some fruit – to build up some reserves for the next day of fasting. I’ll read the news online, do some writing, and then make myself go to bed. Still energetic, I’ll lie awake for an hour and a half before I fall asleep.

I’ll wake up every two hours to go to the bathroom – the liter and a half of water that I’ve had over the course of four hours will need a way to leave my body. During the first week of Ramadan, I’d also wake up at 4.30 for shour – the last meal before sunrise. I’d have some yoghurt and a date, but even with this modest amount in my stomach, I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep for those last two hours until morning. In the interest of a few more hours of sleep, I gave up shour halfway through week two.

At seven thirty, I am woken up by my alarm. A shower does wonders to wake me up, and I usually enjoy about two to three hours of mental clarity after that. This is when I try to do the bulk of my work – because after 11 AM, I become a yawning mess of semi-wakefulness. I will continue to try to be productive despite the haze that then seems to have settled over my brain, and let frustration mount as my frequency of typing errors rapidly increases and my ability to focus on what I’m reading falls to the bare minimum.

At four or five PM, I head home and start preparations for that evening’s ftour. I’ll mince some vegetables, cut up a piece of meat, and add it to the harira from a package. I’ll put some dates on a plate, cut chunks of bread, and arrange croissants on a platter. I’ll mix work in the kitchen with brief stints of relaxation in front of the television until Farid comes over. We’ll set the table, sit down, and wait for the cannon shot – the sign that another long day of fasting is over.

It seems to me that if you persist in maintaining a regular work schedule, participation in Ramadan seems to require a trade-off between sleeping and eating. When I make sure I get enough sleep, there is no time to eat enough – and when I make sure I eat, I don’t get enough sleep. The result, so far, has been that I do not get enough of either. I am not sure how to remedy this situation, other than to stop fasting – which, with less than a week left to go, would feel like giving up.

I want to keep going. And I’m sure I’d be fine for one more week – if I didn’t have an impending important presentation to prepare for. This Tuesday, I will be presenting my research proposal to all psychiatrists at the Clinic. In French. It’s at 9 am, which luckily falls within my brief window of productivity, but I’m a little worried that in this state of mind (both the haze and the frustration over my lack of productivity), I won’t be able to prepare as well as I’d like.

Oh well. It’s only a few more days, right? And luckily, the rest of next week promises to provide a considerable share of new excitement: I’m getting my hands henna’ed on Wednesday evening, will go see some interesting art during Rabat’s annual Nuit des Galeries on Thursday night, and on Friday, finally, I fly home…

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