So I only lasted a day.
It was 11:00 PM when I was getting ready for bed after the first day of fasting, and I was filling up my water bottle. For those who don't know, Turkey is one of those places where it's probably best to purchase your water instead of drinking the tap water.
The tap water, technically, is okay to consume; I've had it on a few occasions. I don't know if I was being delusional, but it seemed to me that it gave me a floating feeling. It didn't taste strange, but the experience was enough to give me concern.
Most homes, stores, schools, etc. have water coolers. Similarly, Jena and I order those huge blue jugs of water, but we don't have a cooler. We have this hand-pump that you use to get the water out.
In our apartment we have a supply of three of blue water jugs at a time. When they run out we go down to the door man of our building and ask him, in Turkish, to order three more for us. The conversation is a little complicated, but by now we do alright with it. We have to say that we want three of the water bottles from a specific company. Then, if we're not going to be home for the delivery, we have to use some slightly difficult grammar involving Turkish postpositions (as opposed to prepositions) to explain that we have left the bottles outside our apartment door. Finally, we hand over the money. If there's change, which there usually is, sometimes the door man gives it to us when we come home, and sometimes it's left on the top of one of the bottles in front of our door.
Multi-step little process.
So I was pumping water into my water bottle, preparing to over-hydrate in preparation for the next day when the pump began making its sputtering noise, indicating that we were running out of water. We were on our third and final bottle.
At this point my options became limited. I could try to buy some water, but all the near by stores close around ten. I could drink the tap water, which I didn't want to do because I'd be drinking it in mass quantities. I could boil up some teapots full of tap water, but this seemed like a pain in the ass process. Or, I could go without water for twenty hours.
I didn't like any of these options.
In the morning, at 8:00 AM, three hours after the sunrise, I made tea with tap water, and I ate granola and yogurt.
In addition to the water barrier, I had realized on the previous day that it sort of miserable being a zombie in the afternoon. We got off work at 3:00 PM, and the best I could do was a minimal walk for my exercise, unless I wanted to exercise after 8:30 PM when I had hydrated and eaten. This seemed problematic. To some extent, it feels like a gift to be a non-fasting foreigner during Ramazan here in Turkey because you're one of the few people who isn't suffering through your afternoons. You have vivaciousness amid a cloudy-headed, slow moving populace.
Even my office, which the administration officially calls the "Leavers' Office," is full of life. There are six occupants, and they're all from the US except for one Brit. It's the only office having any fun during these days at work when there's nothing to do. I want to be able to play chess and have ridiculous conversations with my friends in the afternoon. I don't want to be lazing around, just for the sake of gratifying myself and my willpower.
Another way to look at it is this: it feels pretty empty to fast without a strong justification.
Aside from all this, as I've mentioned, I really hate the abstaining from water thing. Really hate it. It's so unhealthy. It makes me want to give fasting another shot, possibly tomorrow (which will be Monday) whereupon I only drink water. I'm not entirely sure what the point would be except to serve as a counter-experience to my experience last Thursday.
I've heard that one of the reasons that Muslims fast during Ramazan is to empathize with those who are less fortunate. Here, I can see how abstaining from water, in addition to food, is a critical point, especially in places where tap water is potentially unsafe and therefore commodified. Abstaining from water and food does give you a window into the psychological and physiological effects that could be occurring within someone without these resources.
What I don't really get, however, is the tradition of breaking your fast each night with a big celebration--a big meal, loads of cigarettes, etc. You can even go to downtown Kayseri where there are concerts and a road set up called Ramazan Sokağı (Ramazan Road). On the road are all these vendor booths where you can buy snacks, books, and arts and crafts.
It seems contrary to the purpose of empathizing with the poor when you end your difficult day with a night of varying degrees of excess.
On the other hand, I will say that there are many efforts within Muslim society to help those who are less fortunate. For example, it's not uncommon for one of our administrators to send out an email telling us about how one of the workers at Meliksah (usually one of the cleaning staff) can't afford a medical operation for his/her child. Therefore, if we could all donate a little money, maybe we could help the family out.
(As a side note, these emails are a bit hilarious because the administrators don't have a great command over diction-related register variation. For instance, the subject line of the emails usually read "Donations for a Sick Kid." This phrase "sick kid" is then used throughout the body of the email.)
In addition to these causes, our administration also takes Ramazan and the other bayramlar (holidays) as opportunities to fundraise for the poor. During Ramazan our administration has organized a donation fund to help poor families afford iftar (breaking of the fast) dinners. During Kurban Bayramı (Sacrifice Holiday) the administration organized a similar fundraiser as well.
I realize that efforts like these occur in the US as well, but from my personal view, I have seen more of these fundraisers aimed at helping the greater good here in Turkey's Muslim society.
As I've mentioned before Ramazan, like Christmas, is a bizarre mix of religion and concern for others in addition to indulgence. As someone who has no special feelings about the holiday, except for my difficult experiences teaching during Ramadan in the US where certain students used the holiday as an excuse for increased laziness and hostility (which as I understand goes against some of the main goals of the holiday) I think that my observation of Ramazan is almost over.
I may try to go a day with only water, just to see how it compares. It's also possible that Jena and I will travel to our friend Özge's hometown for the end of month feast. I'm curious to see how that plays out in a domestic setting. Last year during the final days of celebration Jena and I were only privy to the loads of teenagers in İzmir who spent their time at the amusement park where we exercised.
We'll see how it all plays out. For now, to all those who celebrate the holiday with sincerity and respect for the larger goals of the holiday, best of luck. İyi Ramazanlar (Good Ramazans).