Athletes and Other Workers During Ramadan: This Non-Muslim Woman Takes Her Hat Off To You

“Come in here and take a look at this,” The Mate called from the living room where he was watching the NBA finals from the seat of his exercise bike.

“That guy,” he indicated one of the Toronto Raptors jockeying for a shot, “is Muslim. He’s doing all this while fasting. He’s not even drinking water!”

“That guy” is Enes Kanter, a Turkish player born in Switzerland, who’s been playing in the NBA since 2011. Kanter is a devout Muslim. This time of year, that fact carries extra meaning.

The holy month of Ramadan began on May 5. During Ramadan, devout Muslims refrain from eating or drinking anything, even water, from before dawn to after sunset. Since Ramadan is a celestially-based holiday, its dates rotate around the calendar. Sometimes Ramadan falls in the winter, and the fasting period is relatively short. But sometimes–like now–it falls in spring or summer, when daylight can last up to 18 hours.

Eat up! This has to last you 18 hours.

I watched, fascinated. All the athletes were sweating profusely, as athletes do. During breaks, they sat on the bench sucking from their Gatorade bottles. All but one. 

I’ve often wondered about people who work in the hot sun at jobs like construction, landscaping, or road work. How do they get through their challenging work days, day after day, for a month?

I haven’t yet taken the time to pursue the question as it relates to workers per se. But since I started with professional athletes, this article by Shireen Ahmed for Buzzfeednews.com, “Here’s How 15 Hardcore Athletes Train During Ramadan,” provided some answers. 

All the athletes focused on preparing their bodies carefully during suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, and iftar, the post-sunset meal. Protein and potassium were the main components, along with necessary sugar. Hydration was, as you might imagine, absolutely essential.

Get in there, vitamins! I need you!

Take a moment and think about that: not only are you going about your day of hot, sweaty, exhausting work with zero drinking, you are also getting up at four a.m. in order to prepare your body.

Besides the actual diet, however, the most striking theme from the 15 interviewed athletes was the power of their faith to get them through each work day.

Ahmed’s article features Indira Kaljo, a former Division 1 NCAA basketball player, describing the difficulty of playing while fasting:

“The biggest challenge was waiting through the water breaks. Those minutes were very difficult. The second [most difficult] thing was the late nights and then having to practice daily feeling exhausted.” The most powerful thing that helped her get through the month? “Prayer. I used prayer.”

Nadia Nadim,  a professional soccer player in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) with the  Portland Thorns FC, who also plays for Denmark’s national women’s team, :fasts on training days but not on match days. ‘I know my body can’t handle it,’ she says, because hydration and nutrition dictate her performance.”

I KNOW, right??!!

And yet: athletes do fast on game days. Workers do fast on work days. Instead of nutrition and hydration each day, they take prayer, and faith. And they give faith back to the rest of us who watch in awe.

Manal Rostom, a professional mountaineer from Egypt,

“sees Ramadan as a month to push through with a positive mental attitude. She says that colleagues praise her efforts to teach and work out during Ramadan, but she remains grounded. ‘[They] don’t get how easy it becomes once you reset your mind to literally just do it. You will survive. Fasting trains you to become a better human being.'”

You guys are my heroes. Need some pie for iftar?

I’m not Muslim. But I recognize strength and goodness when I see it. And I mean this with all intended ironic humor when I say, “My hat is off.” Thanks for the example.

“Hey World, Look How Flawed I Am”: Why I Love Reading Anne Lamott

I need to call our vet this morning, and tell him I may be calling him again in the next few days to put our sweet malamute, Juni, to sleep. She hasn’t eaten since Tuesday morning, and I think she’s telling us she’s done.

We went through this exactly 11 months ago with our other malamute, Molly. But Molly was 15; Juni just turned ten. I thought we’d have a little more time with her, but cancer thought otherwise. I am sad.

So I’m doing what I tend to do in this situation: not thinking about it. I can’t WAIT to get to work, where my brain will be too full of bread and pastry to think about big furry dogs and how much they may or may not be suffering.

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At the same time, I’m ignoring another unpleasant (though in a completely different way) set of thoughts. (Yep–I’m a multi-tasking avoider!) Apparently the Kindle version of The Flying Burgowski is riddled with formatting errors, which I only discovered this week, a month after the Kindle upload, because of the kindness of a friend. Not my own scrupulousness in CHECKING the Kindle version THOROUGHLY, which any normal author would do. I don’t particularly like Kindle, so I managed to avoid doing that too. So now I’m…let’s see: humiliated, aggravated, fearful (of the work I’m going to have to do fixing the formatting, AND of failure, AND of the inevitable buildup of aggravation/desperation/self-loathing that will ensue), and…sad.

This is why I was so comforted by reading myself to sleep last night in Annie Lamott’s book, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith.

I know, her author name is Anne, but everyone in the book calls her Annie, and that’s how I think of her too: like this crazy, loving girlfriend you can call when you’re feeling sad or down on yourself or both, because, girl, she’s been through way worse than you.

She’ll make you laugh. She’ll say stuff like, “bananas are great, as they are the only known cure for existential dread” or mention emergency errands “for milk and ice cream sundaes.”

She’ll comfort you with advice, all of which comes directly from the people she credits with the strongest guidance in her life, Father Tom Weston and Veronica Goines, the pastor of her church in Marin City, California. If, for example, you’re feeling put upon by the world, or a co-worker, or your partner,

I tried to look at each person kindly, because I believe that we are family. I don’t always feel it, but I know it. My pastor Veronica often quotes whoever said that it’s not what we’re looking at, but what we’re looking with, so each crooked smile could be like a minimal dose that, however small, helps the healing. Just as a doctor can help you relax for a moment during a spasm, and you remember you’re going to be okay at some point.

See? Helpful. Annie is my kind of religious person.

Her greatest gift, though, to a multi-tasking flaw-avoider like me, is in the way she holds out her flaws to the world. She has many, many struggles (some of which can be handled by her friend’s suggestion, “Drink a glass of water and call a friend,” or her father’s most “spiritual” advice, “Don’t be an asshole.”). The most poignant of the essays in this book, I found, are about her struggles as a parent. In “Samwheel,” where she suddenly–and for the first (and last) time ever–slapped her 17 year-old son in the face during an argument, Annie takes us with her on the drive she immediately took, running away from the house and her shame and rage and fear.

I wept at the wheel on a busy boulevard. At first people were looking over at me as they passed in the next lane. I wiped at my face and snorfled…I started calling out to God, “Help me! Help me! I’m calling on you! I hate myself, I hate my son!” I wanted to die. What is the point? What if the old bumper sticker is right and the hokey-pokey is what it’s all about?

Me? I barely have the courage to admit publicly that I don’t properly proofread. I can’t imagine the kind of guts it takes to write about feelings like that. So I went to sleep humbled, and grateful, and woke up ready to think about the things I don’t want to think about. I stroked my dog for awhile. Soon I will call my vet for that first, sad, preliminary conversation. Then I will start working my way through the ultra-polite advice of the Kindle rep and my friend Michelle, who have emailed me instructions to fix my mess.

But I may take a break to re-read another one of Annie’s thoughts on faith, on flaws, on dealing with being human.

How about sharing some of yours? Not flaws, I mean, but strategies for dealing with them. “Drink a glass of water and call a friend”? Go for a walk? Take a nap? Write? Maybe I can steal from you too.