Wednesday, 15 September 2010

My Little Ramazan - Bayram

Thurs 9th - Sat 11th September 2010

Ok, so I said there would be no more. No more Ramazan, no more blogging right? But a girl’s allowed to change her mind. A girl’s allowed to stage a comeback. I just could not resist recording how these three celebratory days of Bayram have gone for my little family. It kind of feels like a big full stop on the whole affair.

In exactly the same style as my efforts during Ramazan, Bayram has been very much adapted to suit our situation here in Scotland. Imagine if you can, spending Christmas in a place where not only is nobody else celebrating it, but they haven’t even heard of it. But you strive forwards anyway. For the love of your husband, as opposed to the love of God, you strive forwards into blissfully ignorant celebration.

It all started in the best way it possibly could have. With giving our son presents. When we heard him wake in the morning, Mustafa and I skipped into his room, camera in hand and watched him discover a mountain of new stuff. A Bob the Builder figure with its very own toolbox, a Bob the Builder car making ‘We Can Fix It’ pledges, a Bob the Builder construction helmet for times of high risk construction work and a Bob the Builder coat for the upcoming Scottish Winter (have you spotted a theme yet?). He was delighted. And even more delighted when Mummy and Daddy joined him for breakfast.

Now I did say that one of the first things I wanted to do with my new-found freedom was eat something breakfasty. But do you know what? Now it came to it, I just wanted a coffee. I stood next to the kitchen window, mug in hand, listening to my son and my husband exchange gurgles and giggles at the breakfast table, and I took my first sip. And by God, it was good. This was completely different to any after-sun-down coffee I’d had during the last month. This was the first taste of the day. This was the first taste as I stood in a patch of golden, early morning sunshine streaming through the window, my eyes closed, the warmth of the sun and the warmth of the coffee fusing so beautifully that I didn’t know when my skin ended and my taste buds began. This was what I had missed.

And after that the morning just got better. After the incredible coffee fix, I moved onto my very own, first ever, home-baked Baklava. If you’ve ever been to Greece or Turkey or perhaps Egypt, you may have sampled this amazing stuff. Layers and layers of butter-coated wafer-thin pastry, interlaced with chopped nuts of every luxurious type and soaked in a mixture of honey, sugar, lemon and spices. Yes, it is as lethal as it sounds. It is no small wonder that people in Eastern Turkey suffer from a variety of heart-related problems. But if you’ve ever tasted Baklava you will understand why they run that particular risk.

I’d baked the stuff the day before, following an idiot’s guide recipe from the internet. Big gamble for someone who’s husband is pretty much a Baklava connoisseur. And I couldn’t believe my luck when I took it out of the oven and it looked exactly like the real thing. Surely my luck had to stop there. Surely there was no way I could have created something that actually tasted like the real thing too. Maybe I should coat it in varnish and make it into fridge magnets like they do with those mini loaves of bread in souvenir shops. Could there be a market for that? Maybe I could hang out with a suitcase of them at Bodrum airport and target tourists who’d perhaps forgotten to buy gifts for people they didn’t really like. Baklava fridge magnet Madam? It looks just like the real thing.

But lo and behold I could cross varnish off the shopping list. As Mustafa tucked into the first bite of my lovingly-prepared sweet treat, a broad smile spread over his face. It tasted good! Hence, it became our first ever breakfast after my first-ever Ramazan. Not the most nutritious start to the day who cared? We were celebrating the breaking of our fast, with an actual break-fast worth shouting about. Yey!

As if presents, coffee and baklava on the same morning weren’t enough, we were all jumping and jiving at the fact that Mustafa had the whole day off work! So, pyjamas were donned for much of the morning whilst Baran introduced his assortment of Bob the Builder items to all his other toys. Mustafa dominated the phone for a good while, bellowing ‘Iyi Bayramlar’ (Happy Bayram) to a plethora of friends and family in Eastern Turkey, and I tried to shove the thought of the resulting phone bill to the back of my mind.

I too spouted my very best Turkish at the in-laws, which isn’t all that great owing to the lack of recent time spent in Turkey. It was wonderful to speak to Mustafa’s mum and find out that she was out of hospital, following her heart attack earlier this month. It was not so wonderful to hear the weakness in her voice and to learn that she was pretty much bed-ridden. Mustafa’s eyes glazed over when he spoke to her and I wished at that very moment that I could jet us all over there. Times of celebration are difficult at times of illness. We all know that.

Mustafa put a brave front on by insisting that we all put on our best clothes and go out. A chill ran down my spine. Best clothes? Could I get away with trackie bottoms and flip-flops? Something in the way Mustafa bounded downstairs in dressy trousers and a shirt told me I couldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting dressed up but my wardrobe really does leave a lot to be desired. Over the last two years I have taken immense pleasure in clothing my son in the funkiest range of garments the high street has to offer, but since I became a parent there has been some kind of invisible block to spending money on myself. And even if I had the money to spend, I have no idea what I like anymore. One thing (amongst others) that I miss about being in my twenties is the certainty with which I clothed my body. Now, as a thirties girl, if it’s got a stretchy waistband and it’s crease-free, it’s in. Oh, the sad, sad truth.

I managed to rescue a dress from the back of my wardrobe and slipped it on over a pair of leggings (stretchy waistband incorporated). The outfit at least resembled something close to smart. Baran sported the lumberjack look in a red checked shirt and clearly outshone both Mustafa and I in the stakes of pure gorgeousness. I remember one day not too long ago I was having a bit of a confidence crisis and Mustafa said to me: “How can you think you are not beautiful? Look at your son and just think, you made him!” Good point, well made.

We ended up at the Blue Angel café at Findhorn Community Foundation. This was the very same café I had visited a few weeks earlier with my friend Jo and her twin baby girls, and where Baran had stubbornly refused the most delicious looking pizza ever. Except this time I could order my heart’s desire. Or, more accurately, my heart’s desire had to wait until midday when the ‘food lady’ arrived. That was ok. I could handle that. Waiting was my special skill. I could have waited till sundown if required.

During our wait, Mustafa and I unfolded a copy of the Highland News for today was my big day. As we scoured the pages to find my Ramazan article, I began to think they may have downsized it. Perhaps they’d segregated me to a non-descript corner of a non-descript page and used me as a jaunty little space-filler. Or maybe they’d scrapped the whole idea.

But then we got to page fourteen, and there it was. In all its full page (yes, full page) glory. A truly massive photo of me and Baran crouching behind my copy of ‘The Koran for Dummies’ and a lengthy article entitled ‘Abi Tries Her Hand at Dawn-to-Dusk Fast’. For one thing, I couldn’t believe the photographer had actually managed to snap a photo of Baran when he wasn’t screaming his head off, bearing in mind he was demonstrating a fit of rage during the entire photo session. Having said that, he did have his shoulders hunched in very discontented posture and I had a maniac’s smile fixed on my face which suggested I may have been half-way through singing a desperate rendition of Bob the Builder.

For another thing, I was amazed at the length of the article. Of course, I’d scanned a copy which the reporter had sent to me and I’d approved it. But, having parents with a background in journalism, I knew the way these things tended to get chopped to pieces. What, was it a slow news week? Was nothing else going down in Inverness this week? Surely I couldn’t be that interesting.

But then a spontaneous conversation with the waitress at the café told me that perhaps I was. She’d heard Mustafa and I mention that we’d been fasting and swooped over to find out more. It turns out she was exploring the possibility of entering Islam herself and was intrigued about what drew me to it, considering I was a very white, very freckled, very blonde Westerner. Well, I would have liked to have enlightened her with my extensive knowledge and experience on the matter, but had to humbly admit that my wisdom was limited to half of the contents of ‘The Koran for Dummies’ and that I had no intention of joining the faith. “I’m just supporting my husband.” I explained, and when I saw the look on her face I thought how strange it was that somebody could think this was even more odd than supporting a non-visible, non-tangible entity in the sky.

The rest of our Bayram day included a mammoth nap back at home for father and son whilst mummy tippy-tapped away on her laptop, making notes for her blogs, in a Carrie Bradshaw type way. I was merely lacking the impossibly long legs and big hair. And the ability to chain smoke. Oh, and the walk-in wardrobe. But hey ho.

After napping we all piled back into the car and made our way to the only child-friendly pub within a considerable radius. This pub incorporates a play area for little nippers to run around in whilst parents enjoy the obvious benefits of a pub’s general offerings. And I think it illustrates beautifully just how unconditionally I love my son, that I was willing to consume a microwaved bowl of chewy tomato pasta and two pieces of scorched garlic bread, apparently lacking any actual garlic, for my post-starvation Bayram meal, just so he could roll around in a padded, rainbow-coloured atrium. A mother’s love transcends words yet again.

And, in the early evening when Mustafa’s family would have been about ready to link arms in a raucous round of traditional Turkish dancing, we were walking by the River Ness, watching a magenta sun set in a grey sky. Baran sat in his buggy resting after his Wacky Warehouse antics, and we strolled along, taking in our surroundings and commenting on how nice it was to do something out of the ordinary, however simple it may be. It struck me that Mustafa was in his pensive mode, a state which I had found very enticing when we first met four years ago. Although now I have learned it is as frustrating as it is sexy. It is never easy to draw anything out of him when he switches this mode on. Luckily, the incredible sharpness of my mind told me he was probably thinking about everyone back home. As lovely as this riverside walk was, it was not in the spirit of Bayram, and it could not substitute seeing his Mum, alive and well, with his own eyes. One of the hardest things about relationships is that you cannot package the whole world up and give it to your partner, no matter how good you are at gift-wrapping. All you can offer is yourself.

The following two days of Bayram were back to normal for us really. Except, thankfully, normal now includes three meals a day and a variety of beverages, hot and cold. It was, for this period of time at least, a shame we didn’t live somewhere a bit more cosmopolitan than the Highlands of Scotland so we could have experienced these celebrations with other Muslims. However, I am sure that my future with Mustafa will offer this opportunity and I will make an educated decision then and there about whether or not to participate. Take your bets please . . .

I have a few lingering questions which I have been left with during my post-Ramazan days. Just wanted to jot them down in case I find the answers by the time I next read over this final entry. That way I can feel very pleased with myself which is always a good thing.

1.) Why oh why does Mustafa need time for his stomach to stretch again yet I seem to be able to effortlessly consume my full pre-Ramazan quota??

2.) Why did it take me four weeks of excruciating fasting to lose four pounds, yet only three days of normal eating to gain five?

3.) Is it possible I could become a British Carrie Bradshaw, like my friends Lisa and Alexia seem to think? (Please overlook the fact that Carrie Bradshaw is a fictional character)

4.) Will the words to Bob the Builder ever vacate my conscious and/or subconscious mind?

5.) Will I ever read (and understand) the whole of ‘The Koran for Dummies’?

6.) Will the pastor in Florida burn two hundred copies of the Koran to mark the ninth anniversary 9/11? What kind of fool is he?

7.) Will Mustafa ever be able to stop working twenty-four-seven?

8.) Will my son ever leave the tantrums stage behind him? I don’t think I’ll be able to handle it from a twelve-stone hairy teenager.

9.) Will I ever see fit to participate in Ramazan again?

10.) What will I write about next?

So, until next time, answers on a postcard please . . .

Thursday, 9 September 2010

My Little Ramazan - Day Twenty Nine

Weds 8th September 2010

I am here. I did it. I scuffed my way along the long, weary road of Ramazan, some tumbles and trips along the way, I but managed to make it to the very end. So now I’m here, facing a new set of crossroads as it were, what the heck was that all about?

This has probably been the easiest day of fasting so far, as I have been occupied with that question the whole while. It was my first thought as I leapt out of bed (yes, leapt). It was my second thought as I served Baran his breakfast. It was my next thought as I started planning a mammoth baking session ready for Bayram tomorrow. All day I have been thinking about the pros and cons, the highs and lows. I’m not sure that I’ve reached any logical conclusions, more a smattering of surreal thoughts linked together with the very wispy thread of the past month’s experiences. They’re probably not of any interest to anybody. But what the heck, let’s get them out there.

Whilst I baked away to my heart’s content, actively avoiding any Nigella-style licking of spoons or fingers (by the way, she is officially my culinary idol), I tried to work it all out. Obviously, to me, the whole Ramazan thing has been a vastly different experience to any run-of-the-mill Muslim. Chiefly because I don’t follow Islam and I don’t believe in their type of God. But that doesn’t mean it’s been without its spiritual experiences (accidental meditation on Findhorn Beach to name but one). I do feel like I’ve learned some stuff about myself and about the world I occupy. And I’m also feeling like the world actually occupies me a little bit. You know, like the world’s in me and I’m in the world. All one and all intrinsically linked. If that’s not a good dose of spirituality then I don’t know what is.

And speaking of all being one, I think there’s been an important element lacking in my whole Ramazan experience. Commonality. Sure, Mustafa and I have had each other but we have been living our separate lifestyles of babycare and breadwinning and have scarcely come together to share a post sunset meal. I am sure that in a typical Muslim community, there would be far more camaraderie and support between family, friends and work colleagues. We all know how uplifting it is to witness acts of human kindness, so it must be amazing to spend a whole month where people give each other concessions, cook each other meals and give to the poor and needy. I am sure that some of my more ‘challenging’ moments may have been more bearable if there had been somebody ready to swoop in and care for Baran for an hour or two.

Similarly, those evening meals and early morning breakfasts must be something really special when shared with others. I remember when I lived in Turkey and I used to wander down the main promenade on an evening, pushing my gorgeous new baby in his pram and wonder why the atmosphere suddenly felt so magical. I’d hear china chinking, smell incredible cooking aromas, and see the orange haze of the sun start to melt into the deep purple blend of sea and sky. In each restaurant there would be only one table occupied by every single staff member, all chatting, laughing, eating and drinking round an amazing feast probably made by everyone. This was real solidarity, real understanding and real worship. I didn’t get it then, although I knew there was something powerful going on. I get it now.

And, thanks to my thorough studies on Islam (ok, my brief dip into ‘The Koran For Dummies’), I have discovered that the religion itself has a very communal element. The reason it gives such clear guidance for living, is because it’s all set on developing an ‘equitable society’, creating ‘peace and harmony within an individual that then spreads to society.’ There is so much concentration on generosity, forgiveness, sharing, gratitude and love which are not always words that spring to mind when one thinks of the Muslim faith. Maybe I’m making an unforgiveable sweeping statement here, but I think Islam may have been a tad misinterpreted in the western world. I don’t exactly feel qualified to get into that debate right now, but it’s food for thought (food – yey!).

I think it goes without saying that I have come out of this experience with a new found gratitude for the sustenance available to me day to day. Like most young women (and some men too, I know), I’ve had my fair share of food-related issues. I’ve sporadically dipped into psychological states bordering on eating disorders and have special people in my life right now, who continuously battle with food and self-image. I will not pretend that these disorders are easy to overcome. They are not. However, speaking for myself, participating in Ramazan has been nothing short of liberating. I have examined my own thoughts and behaviour patterns relating to food and been able to identify which ones are constructive and which ones are downright vicious. Why be vicious to myself? Time to find some compassion and some balance. And it’s always time to remember how lucky we are to have food and drink on the table, even if we do have to shop more thoughtfully than ever thanks to a double-dip recession.

And while we’re on the topic of gratitude, the past twenty nine days have helped me to feel real gratitude for myself. I mean honestly, I totally rock. Because going without food stripped me of basic functions such as patience, tolerance and empathy, particularly in relation to my two-year-old, it made me appreciate how often I use those virtues on a normal basis. From day to day we exercise qualities without even thinking about it, mostly to benefit ourselves and the people we co-habit with. Maybe that ideal Muslim society already exists in the little pockets of experience we create for ourselves. Maybe it can if only we let it.

Another reason I totally rock is that I’ve managed to fulfill my commitment to complete these daily records. I have spent the last four years talking about writing, dreaming about writing and imagining what writing on a regular basis must be like. Why did I spend all that time imagining? Oh how I love the modern-aged wonder that is the internet because if blogging was still a thing of tomorrow, these words would never have escaped my mind. It was that mental contract I drew up with myself after Day One that I started down the one-way road of daily blogging. Yes, they have just been my silly ramblings but for me they have been cathartic and a real creative release. Goodness knows what they have been for you, but that’s for you to know and for me, perhaps to never find out.

So, to summarise, if a summary is possible after this insane journey, I think I have a brand new admiration for those committed to their beliefs. Whether that belief is in God, yourself, a theory or a philosophy, commitment and resolution to a genuine belief is admirable. And it will undoubtedly open up a pathway to new experiences and more than a little magic. And after this, I believe strongly in a few key things. I won’t divulge them now, as you’ve probably picked them up along the way anyway. But what I will do, is leave you, fittingly, with the words of Rumi, a thirteenth century Muslim poet and Sufi Mystic:

‘Let the beauty of what you love, be what you do.’

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

My Little Ramazan - Day Twenty Eight

Tues 7th September 2010

Today saw witness to a momentous occasion. The last Parent and Toddler session I will ever have to endure devoid of caffeine and sugar. Yes, that’s right. Next time I step foot through that community centre door, I will be partaking in the God-given right I was awarded when I became a parent: coffee and biscuits. One of the mums actually said she felt sorry for me today. She felt genuine pity for me. Does that not tell you the great magnitude with which parents value their cuppa? I pointed out to the mum that she didn’t need to waste her pity on me. This was, after all, my decision and therefore I pretty much deserved all I got. Harsh but true.

So, as far as I am aware, and as far as Mustafa and I can make out by consulting the Islamic calendar, this is the penultimate day in my Ramazan challenge. On Thursday, or actually Wednesday night, I will be a free, free woman. So, what will I do with my new-found freedom? Here’s the top ten of instinctive thoughts on this topic:

1.) Eat with my son again.
2.) Go out for a meal with my husband.
3.) Have something breakfasty.
4.) Meet up with some mums and savour every sip of coffee, every crumb of cake.
5.) Get through a whole day without a nap (today I napped with Baran on the sofa in front of a DVD. Sweet.).
6.) Bake some gorgeous sweet stuff for the celebratory festival of Bayram.
7.) Shake my ass at Zumba again.
8.) Clench it at a yoga class.
9.) Not weigh myself for at least three months
10.) Stop writing daily blogs (until I think of something else to write about).

That should keep me going for the time being.

I will also buy a copy of the Highland News on Thursday so I can witness my very own launch to star-studded fame. Should probably warn Mustafa about the likelihood of persistent calls from Brad. It could get quite annoying.

Furthermore, I will complete my reading of ‘The Koran For Dummies’ which is, as it happens, absolutely fascinating. I’ve managed to make it to page seventy four, and there’s still another two hundred and eighty six to go, but I reckon I can do it. So far I’ve learned about the revelations given to Muhammad, the structure and language of the book, experiencing the Koran as a divine art and comparisons to the Bible and the Torah. My favourite passage of the book describes the fasting ritual like this: ‘The entire month . . . trains the human soul in self control so that the pure heart that advocates patience and righteousness rises above the ego . . . that calls the soul towards anger, violence, revenge, and other self destructive acts.’
Well, let’s see. Self control: check. Patience: check. Pure heart: questionable. Rising above the ego: perhaps there’s still some work to do there. Oh well, whoever my God is, whatever power has guided me through this entirely bizarre experience, I’m sure they’re well chuffed that I’ve even given it a go. I know I am.

Monday, 6 September 2010

My Little Ramazan - Day Twenty Seven

Mon 6th September 2010

It is the magical time of sunset and I am sitting at my faithful laptop, not with a slap-up meal, but with a truly delightful cup of tea and a stack of Hob Nob biscuits. The slap-up meal may make an appearance later but, for now, this great British tradition is really hitting the spot. Peter Kay wasn’t wrong when he described Hob Nobs as the SAS of the biscuit world. I am dipping to my heart’s content, completely unconcerned about a breaking and sinking situation. You have no idea how happy that makes me right at this moment.

Today should have been a day of full productivity. Baran was off to Nursery early this morning and I left him playing with a herd of sweet-scented My Little Ponies (remember them?), trotting them in and out of their pink fantasy castle. I chose not to share this information with Mustafa, who probably would have turned white with fear on account of how un-macho his son’s chosen play activity was.

When I arrived home I got properly stuck into worky-type stuff and also spent a few hours on some paintings for a new exhibition in a local café. I think perhaps my experiences of Ramazan are flooding into my artwork, as when I looked at the abstract patterns I’d created, I saw a lot of gaping, cavernous holes, akin to the inside of my poor, poor belly. I have no idea whether my subconscious was at work or not, but who cares? The paintings looked quite pretty and hopefully they’ll sell.

But that was where the pause button stuck. By what would usually be the glorious arrival of lunchtime, I was absolutely bushed. I could not understand it. I mean, what had I done? Got a toddler up and taken him to nursery, then spent the morning in front of a laptop and an easel, that’s what. Hardly cause for acute fatigue. But the facts were there. Heavy limbs. Drooping head. Sore eyes. Surely this was not all down to lack of food?

Well, in the broader sense, perhaps it was. The joint arrival of lunchtime and a state of weariness must have been connected. Maybe by wielding that paintbrush all morning, and entering that familiar state of artistic rumination, had connected my subconscious to how I’m really feeling about Ramazan. Sick of it. Sorry everybody, but I am. Yes, it’s connected me with higher goods at times. Yes I am thoroughly, thoroughly grateful for all that I am blessed with. Yes, it has brought me closer to understanding my husband’s religion. But enough’s enough, isn’t it? A girl’s got to draw the line somewhere.

So I drew the line. I drew my duvet up around my ears and was all set on a power nap. Just what I needed to recoup some energy. Some power nap. Four and a half hours later I woke up, startled and scrabbling to get ready to go and pick Baran up. Four and a half hours! And I tell you what, it was four and a half hours of blissful, heavy, warm, contented sleep. Just beautiful. The kind you have on holiday by the pool. For a busy mum of a toddler, it was like being sprinkled with gold dust.

Ok, so I probably haven’t done anywhere near as much work as I should have done and I probably haven’t done the reputation of a self-employed artist much justice. But there were no dodgy aromatic tobaccos involved and understand me here, I needed it. Perhaps the next time I set paintbrush to canvas, it will be the beginning of a genuine masterpiece, a masterpiece to alter the world’s view on art, a masterpiece to alter the world’s view on itself and create a radical new understanding of an ever-changing complex global community, which will be gloriously united by the universal language of aesthetics on one single canvas! And this canvas could never have occurred without the proper sleep quota. This we must agree on.

Until this masterpiece explodes into the world, I have, at least, got Hob Nobs to keep my strength up. If I consume enough of them this evening, who knows what dizzy artistic heights I may reach? And the comforting thing about all of today’s ponderings is, there’s not long to go now. So please join me in saying, or perhaps chanting mantra-style, ‘Hang in there girl’.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

My Little Ramazan - Day Twenty Six

Sun 5th September 2010

I have ascended yet another rung of the glittery Ramazan ladder or, more accurately, I will have done in exactly thirty three minutes and counting.

Today has been a special day. Not just because Baran and I splashed about in Inverness’s excellent leisure pool until we resembled a couple of prunes. And not just because I managed a quick trip round Tesco without being tempted by their excellent range of sweet pastries. Today is a special day because it would have been the twentieth birthday of a very special young man called Andrew. Or Andy as most people knew him. Or Little Star as others knew him. Or Dipton Devil, if I’m honest, seemed to be the firm favourite.

And by golly was he ever a devil. This was a boy who completely outran the life expectancy the doctors gave him when he was born with severe cerebral palsy. This was a boy who failed every hearing test he ever took yet still, by some strange coincidence, laughed uproariously when he heard a juicy piece of gossip. This was a boy who, when his exhausted mother was meticulously monitoring his precarious breathing patterns, thought it was hilarious to hold his breath. As I said, the label of ‘Devil’ was the firm favourite, and for good reason.

I got to know Andy years ago when he and his family moved into my street. He saw me go through lots of pivotal life changes, most notably my heart-rending break-up with the first boy I ever loved. It was then his Mum, Jenni and I became close friends. In fact, I fell hard for the whole family and am convinced to this day that Jenni is actually an angel in disguise. How many women do you know who could raise three boys, one of them with complex medical needs, and still have time to nurse a teenaged girl’s broken heart? Not to mention the ridiculously long list of other calamities I endured through university and, ultimately, adulthood. Jenni has always been there for me and she was the first person who I ever wrote a poem about. I’m not hot on poetry, but I still think it’s probably one of my best.

And, despite his impish ways, Andy had a gentle side too. He was officially the world’s best listener. He knew when to make soft, sympathetic sounds and when to grip your hand even tighter. He also knew when to roll his eyes and groan at you as if to say, “get with the program”. He was also usually right. I think I told him about falling in love with a Turkish man four years ago before I even told Jenni. It’s not the kind of news you revel in telling people, especially considering the agonizingly clichéd aspect to it all. And do you know what? There was no eye rolling or huffing and puffing. He actually smiled. Now that, for me, was a seal of approval.

The news of Andy’s departure last December was devastating for everyone, not least his wonderful family. So today, his birthday, must have been incredibly hard for them. Baran and I had made a shiny star of tin foil and coloured tissue paper and sent it down to England to make sure they know they are in our thoughts. It was a bit crooked and soaked in far too much PVA glue, but I guess I have to allow my artistic standards to slip slightly when co-creating with a toddler.

I rang Jenni too and was relieved to hear a fair few voices in the background. She had invited some of Andy’s carers over to the house, and support the family through the day. We didn’t speak for long but it was marvelous to reconnect with her and Andy’s dad, Billy. Sometimes thoughts just aren’t enough, but the voices you need to hear make you feel a whole lot better. At least for the meantime.

So after that I felt the urge to indulge in a spot of Zakat. No, it’s not a cheap white wine, it’s the Arabic word for ‘almsgiving’ or, more accurately, it means ‘to purify’. During Ramazan Muslims are encouraged to donate money to charity. This is thought to purify wealth by ‘transforming it into a resource that can aide those who need help’(1) . During this fasting period, I have tried to be more generous as a general rule, and have popped change into charity tins, bought copies of the Big Issue and donated to the Pakistan Floods appeal. But today, inspired by Andy and his unwavering, beautiful memory, I donated to St Oswald’s Hospice.

St Oswald’s cares for children and adults with terminal illnesses. I always remember how, after years of struggling to find the right treatments and care for Andy, this hospice transformed the life of Andy and his family. Whilst his prognosis wasn’t going to change, his quality of life did, and this consequently affected all those around him. Andy was pain free, relaxed and happy. From what Jenni’s told me, this was largely due to St Oswald’s’ holistic approach to care, embracing the spiritual and emotional needs of patients as well as the medical ones.

My small donation won’t magic Andy back into our world but I’m sure he’s happy in the one he has built somewhere for himself. And whilst I don’t have much actual wealth to be purified, the combination of a scruffy tin foil star, a phone call and an online donation, have done enough to purify my mind for today.

(1)The Koran For Dummies, Sohaib Sultan

Saturday, 4 September 2010

My Little Ramazan - Day Twenty Five

Sat 4th September 2010

What a topsy turvy ride life can be for today has been the absolute antithesis to yesterday. Yes, there have been the customary stabs of hunger, the habitual bitterness towards a sun still to set, but other than that the day has been delightful. Thanks in no small part to Mustafa, who wins Husband of the Day. Sadly, he can not be here to accept this award, so I will say a few words on his behalf.

It was a luxuriously slow start to the day. No toddlers or nursery or anything else to pack ourselves off to, so after yesterday’s continuous tantrum tirade, I resigned myself to praising Baran for every little positive thing he did. “Oooh, look Baran, you can eat off a spoon so well . . . Oooh, look Baran, you’re such a good boy for getting the jigsaws out so nicely . . . Oooh, look Baran, you’re capable of opening a book . . .”. At every bit of praise, we visited his reward chart which consists of a glittery ladder with ten rungs and a homemade Bob The Builder figure with Baran’s head slapped on top of the legendary countenance of Bob himself. Baran was delighted to move the figure up a rung every time he did something good. The chart is new so he doesn’t yet realise that he will be rewarded with a treat when he gets to the top. The anticipation of that moment fills me with glee, and I cling to its potential power to help me with this enormous task of behaviour management.

After a bit of ladder action, Baran saw fit to wake his Dad who had been on yet another night shift, and I saw fit to suddenly decide that we would have a trip to the beach. The sun was shining, the air was clear and what we needed was some real family time. Much to my surprise, Mustafa eagerly agreed and before I knew it, we were packed into our tiny Punto with numerous spades, buckets, towels and picnic blankets. Needless to say, a picnic was sadly absent.

This was the first time we’d been to Findhorn beach. I can’t believe we have lived here for a year and a half and not sampled its delights before. It is stunning. I mean really gorgeous. Its people want to thank the heavens the weather is not any better because if it was, its soft sands would be emblazoned with sun loungers and water melon sellers. Instead, it is a vast, beautiful fusion of white and yellow-gold, decorated with stretches of smooth, multi-coloured pebbles and clusters of rounded sea shells. The sea was like a rich, blue-green slab of sapphire, lacerated with ever-rolling strips of foamy white. The wind was up too. Warm enough to enjoy. Cool enough to remind you of the sharp splendor of the Scottish elements.

Whilst I was taking all of this in, Baran was on a mission. To run across the entire width of the beach and explore every animal, vegetable or mineral that crossed his path. And lo and behold, he did not want me on this epic journey, but his father. So Mustafa suggested I have some time to relax while he went and did father and son bonding. Fine with me. More than fine actually. It was something close to magic seeing them enjoy each other’s company. It was something close to luxury, being allowed some time on my own, on my blanketed patch of sand.

Meditation has had some bad press, hasn’t it? I’ve dabbled in it a couple of times, I’ve run the risk of being labeled a weirdo and I’ve gone past the point of pins and needles in my meticulously crossed legs. But today, in my own private way, I think I slipped into it without realising. It was hard not to. I lay on my blanket on my back, palms facing upwards, the wind skimming each rise and fall of my breath. No matter who you are, I defy you to not be relaxed by the sound of gently lapping waves. There is something about that rhythmical hush-hush that speaks in an otherworldly way to the intrinsic working of our psyche. Before I knew it I was feeling peace wash over me. Deep emeralds and blushing crimsons flooded my mind and offered a sensual solace. Even if only for a few minutes. And even if I was later brought back to earth by a half-naked, snotty-nosed, sand-ridden toddler demanding a snack. He is my other world. A different type of meditation.

Tonight, I can’t help but reflect on the fact that Ramazan should, according to the Koran, allow Muslims to be directed away from worldly activities, and to be discouraged from indulging in unimportant, glutinous rituals. I am pretty damn sure, that if a picnic had been present on my little blanket today, there would have been no moments of peaceful meditation. Instead I would probably have been focusing on whether or not I’d eaten too many sandwiches (and most likely I would have done). So ignoring the hunger pangs and stretching out for a bit of time with the earth was far preferable, and far more beneficial. The silent conversation I had with myself, God, the universe, the elements or whatever, has made me feel better. It’s reconnected me with something good.

And it seems to be rubbing off. By the end of today, Baran had reached the top rung of his ladder for being such a good boy in every way, shape and form. As we speak, there is a bumper story book resting underneath the chart ready for his discovery in the morning. Me? I’ve got a full tum and have satisfied my tea craving for the evening. And my new meditation will be visualizing these last few days of Ramazan like a big, glittery ladder. If I can reach the top, maybe there will be treats for me too.

My Little Ramazan - Day Twenty Four

Fri 3rd September 2010

What a day. Sometimes I wonder how, in my pre-parenting days, I managed to run a successful, vibrant community arts business and work all the hours God sent, when now I struggle to get through a two hour parent and toddler session. I think the answer lies in the fact that although I loved my little business, and the people I worked with, I am emotionally, physically and spiritually intertwined with my little tot, who now happens to be my major business partner. Sometimes we are a real dream team, we distribute high output and make maximum profit. Other times we are dysfunctional and inefficient and the business takes a downturn. Bankruptcy on the horizon.

Today has been one of those times. The naughty chair was used four times in the space of two hours (Supernanny eat your heart out), there were trips outside to allow fresh air to soothe the seething anger (for both of us), and there was a brawl over a breadstick. To cap it all, the Highland News photographer arrived just as Baran had filled his nappy and had decided to display an unrivaled and pretty impressive fit of temper on the corridor floor. This was not at all conducive to snapping the perfect shot of mother and child tenderness to accompany the Ramazan article for next week’s paper. And, for future reference, the ‘Koran for Dummies’ is not the best tool with which to distract a screaming toddler and crack a smile. Just in case you ever find yourself in the same situation.

The words ‘glutten’ and ‘punishment’ spring to mind when I recall what happened when we got home. I thought: ‘I know what I’ll do, I’ll start Baran’s potty training!’ What made me think that either of us were in the best frame of mind to begin this epic task? Have I not got enough of a challenge on my hands with daylight fasting and managing the highs and lows of a two year old? You’d think so.

But I assembled the equipment anyway. Potty. Disinfectant spray. Kitchen roll. Reward chart. Big boy pants. What I could not have anticipated was the amount of liquid that can come out of this child. I had about twenty seconds to sit back and think how sweet he looked in his new pants when it started. Scooshing, spraying, wiping, comforting, cleaning, changing and despairing – absolutely despairing – that anybody could have nine wees in the space of half an hour. He absolutely refused to sit on the potty (even though he’s done it fully-clothed many times before) and the way he was chucking it about, it was just a bloody good job it was made of toughened plastic.

So the only logical conclusion to these urine-soaked shenanigans, was to whack a nappy on him and insist it was time for an afternoon sleep. Not exactly health visitor logic, I know. And, once he’d finally nodded off into his land of clean, dry bums, the most annoyingly frustrating thing about all of this was that I could not sit down with a cup of tea. Still, after almost one month of fasting, I simply can’t shake the urge to reach for a cuppa.

And to be honest people (Allah, forgive me for I have sinned), if I hadn’t been fasting that cup of tea may have been actively shunned for a drop of vino. It’s been that kind of day.

So when I sent out a pleading text to my pal Becky, she rescued me this evening in a way that only a mum of five can do. With her three-month old baby boy in tow. We spent the evening chatting and I managed to extract some shiny pearls of wisdom from her about the golden rules of parenting. What a tonic. Bearing in mind I spend most evenings alone and waiting for Mustafa to finish his late shift at work, it was wonderful – no, bloody marvelous – to have some female company to soothe the soul. Men, you rock our worlds, you really do, but us girls need each other in large, medicinal doses. It’s just a fact of life.

Note to self: do not attempt huge tasks such as potty training whilst denying your body of basic sustenance. In fact, note to self: seriously consider whether or not Ramazan will be an annual thing for you. In this case, once may well be enough.