Ramadan (Food) and the Working Girl

Ramadan (Food) and the Working Girl July 23, 2012

This year is my thirteenth Ramadan, and I have spent ten of them working full time. While my husband was always able to organize his annual leave to be off for two weeks in Ramadan, a collection of luck and circumstances meant that I usually had to work – a board meeting, a month-end close, a big court case…the list goes on. So I have gotten very good at organizing my life during Ramadan to make sure that I can still work and perform at reasonable levels and at the same time live my faith the way I want to.

One crucial point I think some Muslims miss out on is that our behaviour and how we carry ourselves is dawah in itself.  The non-Muslims in your entourage, which may include your coworkers, do look at how you are coping during Ramadan. If you come in to work tired and bitchy because you haven’t had coffee and haven’t slept because you were at Tarawih until 2 am and you’re bugging out because you have to go home and cook a five-course Ramadan extravaganza for the 15 people hanging out in your two-bedroom apartment, they’re going to think you don’t have this on lock.

As a convert-married-to, during my early Ramadans I often fell trap to “this is how Muslims do Ramadan,” when in reality what I was living was “this is how my husband’s Franco-Algerian Parisian family does Ramadan.”  What we ate at breakfast, what we cooked for dinner, when we prayed maghrib and when we went to the masjid… this was all done the “family” way.  And there is nothing wrong with that, but the past few Ramadans have given me space to step back and decide how Nicole’s Ramadan should be.  I learned key three things in the recent past which have helped me keep running at work and lessened my anxiety about “missing out” on Ramadan.

1. You don’t have to cook or eat as much ask you think.

Now that I am a crazy cat lady living alone, I do all of my “Ramadan” cooking on Sunday nights.  I usually cook three dishes and some rice. I then put all of it in single serve containers and freeze the Thursday-Saturday portions.  I keep the fridge stocked with salad and salad accessories, so that when I get home I have a prep time of ten minutes max.  We eat to live and not live to eat. I love “Ramadan food” as much as the next girl but sometimes no one’s mama is cooking for you and sometimes you have to cook for people and hold down a job.

And to be fair, at least on that point, I lucked out in the husband sweepstakes. When I hear stories about other men wanting fresh homemade bread daily and refusing to eat leftovers during Ramadan, at least homie was perfectly content with some salad and whatever was one the table.  That was pretty cool, actually.  But if you lower your culinary expectations and re-frame your thinking to “what can I eat tonight that is nutritious and filling and will help me make it through the next 24 hours” rather than “whaaaa it’s Ramadan I want to eat ALL TEH FOOD,” then you have already taken one step in lowering the drama and angst about what’s for dinner. Some could disagree with this, and I see their point, that when children are involved if you don’t make special food then you don’t make it clear to them that this is a special event and childhood memories and all that.  But, especially because Ramadan shouldn’t be about the food, I find in an adults-only household (or adult and cat), keeping meals as organized simple as possible actually helps me to focus more on the spiritual side of Ramadan.

2. You don’t have to go to the masjid if you don’t want to.

I had a lot of pressure early on from various people about how I didn’t go to Tarawih when I was working. Do the math: if I wake up for suhoor (which I generally do), go work all day, stay up doing various things relating to guests or meal prep, eat, then go to the masjid…well then that means three hours of sleep on a good night. That isn’t sustainable, at least for me, over a whole month.  Don’t let people, especially those who don’t have 9-to-5 jobs and can take a little nap after fajr, guilt trip you or try to one-up you about how this is the month of rewards and shaytan being locked up means if you stay home from tarawih you are missing out on points for the afterlife and if you want to skip that then you are an essentially horrible person.  If you can’t take off of work, you need to organize your time the way it works for you and the spiritual goals you have for the month.  In my case, this means I usually do Friday night tarawih, and I receive guests on Saturday nights.  If I am invited to someone else’s house, I usually do that on a weeknight to save Sunday for cooking and resting.  Yes, it sucks to work and during Ramadan I wish I could stay home all day and stay in the masjid all night. Life doesn’t always work that way for me and I have learned to accept that seeing the bigger picture (=not being a zombie at work and keeping the gainful employment that allows me to put a roof over my head) means I will miss some mosque time, and that is ok.

3. You don’t have to skip your lunch break.

I find, especially now that Ramadan is creeping into the summer months, that I really like my Ramadan lunch break.  I’m one of those people who can’t fall asleep after suhoor (regardless of the amount of caffeine consumed, I just don’t fall asleep easily) so once I am up, I’m up.  That means about 20 hours of “awake time” this Ramadan in Switzerland.  So that I can keep my game on at work, I learned a few years ago to take my lunch break anyway.  I take this time to give my brain a chance to shut down. I sit or lie down somewhere cool, usually hijacking a conference room or a storage room, and spend my hour listening to Islamic lectures on podcast. On a related note, I usually talk to my bosses just before Ramadan to explain to them what I would like and ask them what they expect of me. This is also the time to address their concerns about lower performance, which is funny, because if you aren’t eating, your blood sugar isn’t spiking, which is the most common cause of “slumps” at work. The only thing I try to avoid during Ramadan are meetings and presentations where I have to do a lot of talking; my throat is already dry, and in a cramped meeting room, nobody cares that the faster’s breath is “sweet.” Regarding working hours, I clarify with them what my “eating” times are, and ask how I would be allowed to tweak my schedule within the core hours of a 9-5 operation.  In previous Ramadans when maghrib was earlier in the day, I preferred to come in early (between 6 and 7 am since I was up anyway) and leave 4:30 ish.  Now that maghrib is quite late and I am working in a “later” office, this year I will probably try to come in later and work later.

To wrap up, two final tips I live by in Ramadan are: 1. always have food on you.  You never know where you will have to break fast, and that energy bar could mean you saying yes to going to the masjid, even knowing full well the men are going to hit that chicken biryani first and you might get a few grains of rice after people have served themselves and the tupperwares in their purses.  Been there.  Secondly, if you are at work, brush your teeth. With toothpaste. More than once if you have to.  Yes it is makrooh, but like I said, your coworkers don’t think your breath is sweet.

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

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