Fajr Ruminations on Ramadan in the Middle of Nowhere

I’m in a weird place this Ramadan. Not just spiritually but geographically as well. Almost exactly a year ago I finished my MA thesis and moved back home: home being wherever so my parents were living, regardless of roots and attachments. A few months before my less-than-triumphant return to the moist womb, my parents had made the move to Northern Alberta for business.

This is home. Every day. But more majestic.

While I have always been one for living and experiencing a new city, town, state, province – whatever – the shock of the sight of the prairie was, well, enough to leave me in a near-crippling abyss of self-woe. I had arrived into a town of 1200 people (although no more than 30 were ever visible), not even with an MA in hand- just a final copy of my thesis – thinking that within a month, maybe two, I’d be working at some kick arse, welcome-to-the-gunz-show kinda job. That’s right. I wholeheartedly believed that I wouldn’t be a victim of statistics and have to wait seven months, at minimum, after graduation before I would get any hint of a slightly disposable income.

Here I am now: 10 months, 80 applications, one acceptance-turned-into-a-rejection and one full-out-rejection later. Everything that should have worked, didn’t. Everyone who should have helped, didn’t. I’m 25, with a Masters degree from a great university in a hot field, having focused on a hot subject, and with an illustrious writing career – WHY THE HELL IS MY SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT NOT RESULTING IN ANYTHING? I thought privilege was supposed to get you something.

Instead – I’m 25, with a Masters degree from a great university in a hot field, having focused on a hot subject, and with an illustrious writing career and …I’m working for my parents, in a convenience store.

I couldn’t be more blessed.

I now live in a town of about 3000 people (moving on up from that 1200), which is about 7-8 hours by car from the Arctic circle. The north of Canada is truly a whole other place, a whole other experience. While people implore me to go to the Middle East, South East Asia, Europe, to “discover” the world, I can’t help but scoff. This little town, in the Middle of Nowhere Alberta, has taught me far more about myself and the people who surround me than any expensive, overseas adventure ever could.

Fish pakoras

Fish pakoras! Fish (walleye in this case) covered in a chickpea flour + spices batter and deep fried. The fish was given to us by a regular customer who goes fishing in a nearby lake. It was absolutely fantastic.

A convenience store is the microcosm of life. Every sin and virtue is apparent. Every human interaction counts and every penny and dollar spent and shared speaks beyond the metal and paper upon which they are printed. Neighbours smile; old men think nothing of sexual harassment. There’s a farmers’ market run by old women; they sell delicious loaves of bread. Fifteen seems like the average age when most mothers first give birth. The skies are big, constantly throwing the remembrance of God into your eyes. Life is quaint.

There is a surprising number of Muslims in this town – in fact, our deputy mayor is Palestinian. The local mechanic shop is filled with beautifully scripted Qur’anic ayahs and daily adhaan. We get our halaal chicken from a Hutterite chicken farmer, who is visited by a Muslim restaurant owner kind enough to zabihah some chickens for us alongside his own share for his menu. The farmer charges a very cheap rate for however many chickens we order and delivers them, without extra charge, from two hours away. Jordanians. Palestinians. Pakistanis. Aboriginals. Chinese. Lebanese. Kashmiris. The Muslims in this town come from all walks of life and are, in many ways, the heartbeat of this town – they run the major local restaurants, hotels, gas stations, convenience stores and mechanic shops. There are generations of Muslims here. I can’t help but scoff at the façade of “multiculturalism” we parade in Southern Canada. No one questions why you’re here; no one displaces you immediately with a metropolitan “where are you from?” – you’re probably here to make a living, so welcome.

A void, however, remains. After being used to years of community iftars, taraweeh, group suhurs and just communal support… I’ve had a hard time getting into the Ramadan spirit on my own. My parents are unable to do the 18-hour fasts due to health reasons this year. We are all constantly busy at the store. I don’t even have Rooh Afza, a Pakistani staple for this month and the Macgyver of desserts. Ramadan, with my family, has always been a grand affair. Even if it was just the four of us, we would somehow be able to create an atmosphere of an entire community within our tiny home. These days, suhur is a personal and short affair and iftar is lonely, with just my mother and me, sitting in the kitchen together, drinking tea, eating dates.  It’s hard not to think of the tough work, long hours and backaches. The closest masjid is an hour and some minutes away and because of our schedule, we never get the time to go. It doesn’t feel like the Ramadan I’ve known for as long as I’ve been fasting – but in its exceptionalism it has done and is continuing to do much good for my soul.

Daunting sunsets. First of Ramadan. This is exactly how red it was.

People can be distracting. Big dinners, group prayer – all of this can be distracting during a time when personal reflection is so incredibly important. Community is so very important for the well-being and sustenance of our ummah, but I cannot help but say: guys, I need a breather. Being in the Middle of Nowhere Alberta has forced me to go from a spoiled and selfish brat to a socially isolated, self-reflective, faux-solipsist Muslim struggling to reconnect not only with God but her family. Six years of independent living, 3000 miles from your parents, can do that. You spend so much time just with yourself: fending for yourself, dealing with issues on your own – you become self-reliant in such a way that to re-integrate others in an intimate way (not in that roommate way) becomes daunting, almost near impossible. It’s been a struggle, but to have the opportunity to spend this much time with family again – perhaps for the last time, in such a capacity – has been invaluable. More important than any job or career or accomplishments have been the moments of pure elation and sadness I’ve experienced in the arms of my family.

I wasn’t always selfish. Or maybe was but it never struck me, since I never seemed to have time to reflect on it. Now, however, it’s all I usually think about. Spiritually, I’m frail. I am frail in that I need more. I am so very hungry this Ramadan. After years of being inundated with people and noise, I am hungry for a quiet moment. I am hungry for a moment with myself where I can look at myself, what I have become and prepare for what I want to become.

And this Ramadan, in the Middle of Nowhere, has set the table for the feast.

For more on Ramadan, and to read the rest of the posts in MMW’s Ramadan 2012 series, click here.

  • Kamran Malik

    Assalamoalikum Sana

    Wonderful article. Hope you get out of the doldrums and find a job soon – a real one that is. With your writing talents (and that MA of course) you shouldn’t really have any trouble – maybe you need to get yourself to a bigger locality (30,000 instead of 3000).

    In any case where exactly is this middle of nowhere? Can you also send me your parents phone number so I can give them a call. Its been a long time since I talked to the. Thanks

    Love
    Kamran (I am your mom’s first cousin).

  • Calisha

    Mashallah Sana,
    A beautifully written reflection and very much appreciated by me all the way in Perth, Western Australia.

  • Nabs

    Your article really resonated with me too. Its really challenging to find your space and your inner contentment when it seems like your life is hanging in limbo , and ‘waiting’ for something. Well in my case, it would be marriage. Its great that you are taking a step back and giving yourself a moment. May Allah SWT give us all the patience to do so, Inshallah !

    • Sana

      Definitely. Uncertainty of anything, future or love, leaves us in that awful feeling of limbo we can never seem to escape and seems unending. May God make it easier for you and give you patience!

  • http://www.loveinshAllah.com Ayesha

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful insights!

  • http://www.auroobaahmed.com/blog Aurooba Ahmed

    Salam Sana,

    Loved your article, and it’s a pleasure to see someone from Northern Alberta writing. I’m close to where you live, (Fort McMurray). It’s remarkable how how being in the middle of nowhere as you call it can make you focus in on yourself and see things so different.

    • Sana

      Yay! Another North dweller! Haven’t been to Fort Mac yet, but iA one day!

  • Robert Smith

    Keep writing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    You have got right inside country town living (even though it’s northern Canada and not southern Australia where we are) and your reflections on faith and ambition are thought provoking.

  • http://www.facebook.com rakean

    well written sana. i moved out of my parent’s house when i was in high school and moved back with them in Germany. I can understand how you feel. Spend this time to reconnect with your parents as much as possible. May God bless you and your parents. Insh’Allah you will remember us in your prayer.

    Asalamualaikum

  • Bana Khoiri

    Assalamualaikum.
    Greetings from Indonesia. It’s beautifully written article Sana. I admire your spirit, and most of all, your thoughts and reflections. May Allah SWT bless us all in this holy Ramadhan.

  • http://fieryfury.wordpress.com maheen

    Beautiful article sana. My experience living in NYC and then coming to visit my family in vancouver is the opposite. I miss being able to sit with the rest of the family, and be loud and make unnecessary food and be unable to even move after eating…although, nobody in our house is the proponent of extravagant iftaris, but when u have been alone for sometime, you miss this—growing up, i think we took this craziness for granted, and moving away really puts it into perspective—I really hope inshAllah that your being unemployed woes are solved soon—-this feeling of limbo sucks:(—i know it all too well

  • Merium

    Hi Sana! Thank you for sharing such a personal journey. I wish you every success! :)

    PS I have tried fish pakoras but only in Lahore!!

  • http://nasiasramadan.wordpress.com/ nasia

    so well written.. !

  • Ayeshter

    I loved this!!!!!! Took me back to my Muslim roots in small town BC! Very touching! Mashallah, this is a beautiful glimpse into your life!


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