Today is my day-off. It is also the second day of the Islamic month of fasting. Every week most of my teammates and I take Monday off. It’s like my Saturday if I had a 9-5 in the states. We get to do whatever we need to recharge, to relax and sometimes just to get away, as much as possible, from the difficulties of living in another culture.
For me this usually means waking up a little later, lounging around in bed, watching Hulu or Netflix, reading a novel, possibly cooking something yummy and eventually making my way to a teammate’s house for food, games and/or a movie. Every week is a little different depending on who wants to do what or what kind of mood I’m in: social introvert or introvert introvert.
The one thing that each Monday has in common is that I try not to do anything “island-y”. I do my best to avoid speaking local language. I don’t eat island food. And I don’t hang out with islanders. I retreat into my own imaginary Western world of personal entertainment and English language speaking.
Today started off a little differently. I woke up at 4am before the call to prayer. I stumbled to the refrigerator and shoveled some yogurt down my throat before falling back in bed. While I am not following the fast exactly as my neighbors (I think it’s dangerous to not drink water all day in this climate), I am trying to experience it as closely as possible. This means if I want to eat something in the morning, it must happen before the morning call to prayer usually between 4:15-4:30am.
I then slept in until 9:15am. It is the first time I’ve actually slept that late since arriving here. It’s a wonder what earplugs are capable of shielding us from because when I awoke I discovered that Indzia, my mischievous cat, had practically destroyed my room. Scarves were dragged haphazardly around the room, napkins had been torn and littered the floor, bits of food from a party last night were scattered over my desk. Sigh.
Shortly after waking I received a text message from my language/house helper. She wanted to know where I was so she could come and talk to me about a missing skirt of mine. She normally works on Tuesdays so I told her not to bother coming over, I would see her tomorrow; it wasn’t a big deal. An hour later…. she was at my door. I quickly threw on some half decent clothes and charged downstairs to let her in. My neighbor, a 19 year old who’s in the third day of taking the notorious baccalaureate, was waiting for me as well. She needed help studying for the English portion of the exam.
I invited them both upstairs and began talking to my helper. Come to find out, she came to tell me that she is not coming tomorrow because her neck hurts. She can’t even turn her head. Why she couldn’t have just texted this to me, I do not know. But since she was here I decided to do what I could to help. I called a teammate who is a trained massage therapist and I gave her some ibuprofen. Then I turned my attention to my neighbor. Her English is non-existent. Her French is not much better. And yet she really is trying to pass the English portion of a difficult French exam. She had a sample text with questions and we went over it together.
Once my teammate arrived at my house, she gave my helper a neck message, advice on stretching and directions to drink water. I then gave her a frozen bottle of water to put under her neck and she promptly fell asleep on my couch. She is still there…three hours later.
Under normal circumstances, I would view today as an utter failure as a day-off. Having islanders in my house is work, right? Helping someone study English is my job. With an islander sleeping on my couch I am not free to walk around my house in shorts. The horror! I can’t cook anything delicious. This is my day off!
But I don’t feel that way. I was happy to have them here. It provided a distraction from my grumbling stomach but more than that I knew that their stomachs were protesting as well. Together we are sharing this experience. They can ask, how is fasting? And I can respond, it goes well. On my day off, my day to get away, I actually feel closer to the island people than ever before. And so I count this day as a success.