Having moved to a new city two years ago, and going through some changes in my personal life last year, my “Zurich-era” Ramadans have become rather solitary affairs. I’m away from family, I’m away from what I consider “my” masjid, and I live alone. Since I tend to be an introvert and my day job keeps me busy, I’m not as upset about it as I could be. Before, my Ramadans ebbed and flowed with the cultural expectations that Ramadan absolutely MUST include copious amounts of cooking, tons of guests and masjid iftars. I followed the rhythms of the crowd. These are all nice things, but my life has changed and my Ramadan reflects that.
Last Ramadan was the first that my ex-husband spent with his new family, a younger, prettier, smarter girl. So last year was a giant pity party about my lot in life, staring at my ancient black cat as we split a can of tuna at suhoor. I spent a lot of time being angry last Ramadan – angry that I had moved to a strange city, angry about the language barrier at the masjid, angry that I was living a life I didn’t really choose. I wasn’t really feeling last Ramadan towards the end, to be honest. I felt like every fast just reinforced the fact that I was really, truly alone. Even at the masjid, everyone has a family; and honestly, I’m a little too old now for the white convert schtick whereby the new girl is a curiosity meant to be married off. Because, you know, divorcees, they must have done something to deserve their situation. Maybe I didn’t cook enough, maybe I wasn’t thin enough, maybe I was just a bad Muslim wife.
I made a choice this year – that we (we as in me and my cat, of course) were NOT going to have a repeat of last year, which lacked structure because I think I was expecting it just to “happen,” as in years past. Maybe I was also expecting my husband to come back. Neither of those possibilities occurred. So my first step was to put my big girl pants on and methodically plan my “visits,” the social calls we all try to make during Ramadan. Fasting is tiring, and I think it is added stress on a working single woman to constantly be going over to people’s houses or having people over. It’s not tenable if I want to keep my job. So I looked at my schedule and plotted out my month. I’m spending one weekend (incha Allah) with Muslim friends in Vienna. The rest of the time, I have one night a week for friends here in Switzerland.
Planning has given me the structure I need to not think too much about the what-ifs, from the “how am I going to fast for 20 hours a day and go to work” to the “will I be a crazy cat lady for the rest of my life.” My menus, as such, are planned out, to the extent that I can cook rather than just collapsing in a heap when I get home from work. There is actually a plus to spending Ramadan alone: you don’t have to cook for anyone but yourself. So a night with instant soup and a hastily-prepared salad, like last night, turns into an appetizing bedtime feast rather than setting yourself up as the worst cook in the community. The long fasts this year have one saving grace -I’m back to square one, ten years ago, where I am too busy just getting through the day to worry too much about myself or have a pity party about my lack of a family.
Being an introvert, however, the biggest plus I have found to my solitary life so far, which I hope spreads over to this Ramadan, is the ability to do what I want, both spiritually and personally. It’s a strange feeling, over a decade after converting, to be starting over in a sense: I don’t have to do or be anything during Ramadan except myself. The difference is that this time, I’m armed with the spiritual tools to know what is right for me at this point in my life. For example, while it is true that I miss the sense of community, my “home” masjid broadcasts its tarawih and sermons online, so I don’t really feel like I am missing out on knowledge. Also, staying up and praying all night has more to do now with whether I think I can swing it at work the next day, rather than thinking about everyone else in my house and what I have to cook and where I need to go. I’m more optimistic than I was last year – I see this year as a chance to take a new step spiritually, rather than live in the past.
For more on MMW’s Ramadan series, and to read the rest of this year’s Ramadan posts, click here.