Traveling during Ramadan

For those not familiar with Muslim traditions, Ramadan is a 29-30 day period during which time a few unusual things happen. The most noticeable of these is the fast. During this time, many Muslims will not eat during daylight hours. As you can imagine, this comes with varying degrees of difficulty depending on what time of year this occurs (the time frame is based on a lunar calendar, so the time of year shifts slightly each year). This year, it’s 15 May – 14 June (at least in Turkey).

When it began, I was in İstanbul. Even though Turkey is a Muslim country, there are a lot of non-Muslims (or non-fast participants) in İstanbul so I didn’t notice that much of a difference. In Ankara, there were also a lot of non-participants so I could still go out to eat during the day without getting looked at strangely.

All that changed when I arrived in Samsun. Here almost everyone is fasting. It’s very strange for someone like me who isn’t used to this sort of thing.

About half the restaurants are still open, but no one in them is eating (during daylight hours). They’ll sit at a table socializing and drinking (usually tea) with their unopened to-go bags sitting on the table.

All the bakeries, fruit stands, and convenience stores are still open. It’s just that now you don’t see anyone walking away from them munching on their newly acquired Simit (a ring of bread with sesame seeds; they look like pretzels, but taste like ‘normal’ bread).

I was warned in Ankara eating in public in an area with a lot of fasting people could be dangerous. As in, a hangry person (someone that’s angry due to hunger) could take my public display of not fasting as an excuse to fight me. Since I didn’t have the foresight to book a place with a private kitchen, this has made things rather difficult for me.

Traveling can be tricky enough without these extra complications. I’m in a new place with unfamiliar restaurants. I don’t speak the local language. And now I have to take any food I get during the day back to my place, and hide the fact that I’m stuffing my face before I get hangry.

Since I started traveling, I haven’t missed much about the US. However, being able to gorge myself in public is definitely something I really miss right now. Anyone that’s met me in person knows I have very little fat which means I’m particularly susceptible to disruptions in my food supply. If some sort of mass starvation event occurred, I’d be one of the first casualties.

Some other people that know me might be like: “This is a great opportunity to experience someone else’s culture. You can find out first-hand what it’s like to be Muslim during Ramadan.” While it’s certainly true that I like new cultural experiences, this is not one I’d like to try. Sorry Muslims, I like my food.

I think the next time I decide to travel through a Muslim country, I’ll check to see if it’s Ramadan time. If it is, I’ll punch myself in the face and re-schedule.

It’s funny; a lot of people back home told me I shouldn’t come to Turkey because it’s “dangerous” and “there are a lot of refugees there” and “don’t they practice Sharia Law there?” To which I can now respond that “it’s not dangerous”, “what do you have against refugees” and “no, they don’t practice Sharia Law”. This ‘fasting during Ramadan’ thing is the biggest challenge I’ve faced.

Now I’m rambling…. Anyway, hopefully someone out there has found this helpful and/or entertaining. Until next post….

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