Kazakhstan is a Muslim country much like the way Latin America is Catholic. The majority of the population identifies themselves as Muslim, but very few people actually practice the religion. (Although I must add that there is a large Russian Orthodox population, and other religions present with some strength as well.) I was fortunate enough to get placed with a wonderful host family that is very devout in their Islamic faith. I’ve enjoyed talking to my brother about his religion, and I am impressed with the commitment I see. There have been many conversations that have been interrupted because of the call to prayer (which happens five times a day: sunrise, morning, afternoon, sunset, night).
Well Ramadan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramadan) was set to start on September 1, and for practicing Muslims, this means a month long fast. While the sun is up, you are not allowed to eat any food or drink anything. This lasts for about a month, which ends with a series of feasts. (You apparently have to visit either 7 or 49 homes to celebrate. Even though most Kazakhstanis don’t participate in Ramadan, you can bet they take part in the feast. Think Easter without the Lent.)
In order to bond with my family, I asked my host brother if I could participate with them. I didn’t know what this would entail exactly, but I thought it would be a great way to bond with my fam and experience a new culture. So for about the past two weeks, I’ve mostly stuck to the day-long fast of not eating or drinking. I wouldn’t say it has been fun, but I am excited to be a part of such a global event that is essential in the lives of so many people.
Just because we are fasting though, doesn’t mean that we don’t eat. You eat when the sun goes down. Exactly when. One time I had class during that time, and I figured I would just eat when I got back. Instead I was sent out of the house with bread, dates, and an egg to eat exactly at 7:40. Usually, we break the fast with a prayer, some dates, and some chai. Then host-mom and host-bro go pray for about twenty minutes, and then we come back to the table to eat dinner number one. Sometimes there is also a dinner number two, and even a dinner number three.
Then in the morning, you chow down before the sunrise. Sunrise starting at 4:40 or so, means waking up at 4:00 for breakfast. Which is really a repeat of dinner. Or at least is like dinner in terms of food type and portion. And that’s just me waking up at 4:00. I am not quite sure what time they wake up beforehand to get the meal prepared by 4:15. They also only drink about 4 cups of hot tea in the morning. I average probably about 5 plus a Nalgene of water. How they are not incredibly dehydrated (maybe they are?) continues to amaze me.
According to my host brother, many Muslim countries slow down during the time of Ramadan. Work hours are shortened. People take vacations. Due to the fasting, they try to rest during the day. However, most in Kazakhstan don’t seem to be so lucky. My host mom still works and I have about nine to ten hours of classes a day. It can be exhausting at times, but I’m stubborn enough to try and stick with it until the end of the month. I’m almost halfway there. For concerned family and friends though, if one is sick, then they don’t have to fast. And if I were to get sick, then I would stop fasting and eat and drink during the day.
Also, thanks for all the comments from my previous posts. :)