“Are you a Ruzador (faster) or a Ruzahor (non-faster)?” This is a question everyone gets asked at some point, if they are lucky enough to be here for some of the most important days in Islam.
Many Muslims in Tajikistan, like many Muslims in the US, celebrate the holy month of Ramadan (or Ramazan, depending on what country you are from) by fasting from sunup to sundown. This is something I have known since I first arrived in Tajikistan, having already been in the country for Ramadan three times before. However, ERLP places students in host families, which is a new experience for me, and as such I have learned a lot about the cultural nuances I previously inadvertently overlooked, including Ramadan practices.
During Ramadan, which this year took place during the longest days of the year for Muslims in the Northern Hemisphere (June 6-July 6), I broke fast with my host family. I wouldn’t fast during the day (I was a Ruzahor), but I would eat late dinner with them; I would watch them consume large quantities of water and liquids before beginning to eat, and I distinctly remember sitting there for most of the month wondering how they managed to go the whole day without anything to eat.
The climate here is dry. Desert dry. In the summertime I get parched just walking down the street, and I would never contemplate coming here without large quantities of chapstick to keep my lips from drying up and falling off my face. Even so, I try to keep cognizant during Ramadan and not eat or drink anything on the street, and to be honest, sometimes I feel like I am going to die. If I’m absolutely desperate, I’ll skulk off to a dark corner, turn my head towards the building or wall and take a quick, shameful swig of water.
This year however, I really wanted to understand what my host family went through on a daily basis, so I decided that I would fast the last day of Ramazan with them. Normally it wouldn’t be a big deal to fast a day, but the temperature in Dushanbe during Ramadan was usually well over 100, and while not eating in such heat is rather easy, not being able to drink anything was horrible, especially when you see children and non-fasters walking down the street with a drink in hand.
By noon I was parched, and by 3 pm I was parched and starving. 8 pm could not come soon enough. I lost my voice during class because I was thirsty, but I made it through, and it was nice to be able to get my mind off of water for a while. Eventually I went home and laid in the yard with my family, desperate for Iftar to come, and eventually it did.
Fasting was one of my more unpleasant experiences, but I consider it an important one. To my Muslim friends that fast everyday during Ramadan, I know that their faith must be strong and their will absolutely resolute. I don’t think I would be able to fast daily for a month, even if Ramadan took place during the winter that year; one time was enough for me. However, this one-time experience has made me much more acutely aware of what fasting Muslims experience. When Ramadan rolls around next year, I will have even more respect for those Ruzadors and learn not to complain, even to myself, when I am thirsty and need to wait until I get home to have a drink of water.
By: Alfred Yannuci
Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program
Term: Summer 2016