The Tusk Blog

The Tusk Ramadan Series: "We Eat with Our Eyes"

by Sara Elhassan (@BSonblast)

Photo credit: Najla Salih

Photo credit: Najla Salih

Nas alSudan fataru” [the folks in Sudan have already broken fast]
“Yeah, I heard”
“We just started!”

The first Whatsapp conversation of the season.

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Like many of you, I’m sure, I start Ramadan in a panic: I wake up unusually hungry, thirsty, cranky. I watch the clock with desperation, keeping tabs on all my friends and family scattered across different time zones, envying some for being already done and pitying others for the number of hours they still have to fast. 

I work myself into a ravenous, rabid fervor as the athaan approaches, my eyes darting between the juices neatly aligned across the table and the sambuksa bouncing in bubbling oil on the stove. At the first sound of “Allahu akbar” (emanating from the speakers of our neighborhood mosque in Khartoum, or the tiny speaker of my mother’s iPhone in our living room in America) I lunge at the dates, stuffing half in my mouth while scooping a spoonful of baleela with my other hand. I reach for a glass and hear my father, “Ma tashrabi kateer[don’t drink too much], it will keep you from eating”, but his words of warning are distant, barely audible, replaced by the swishing sound of water gushing down my throat. A mental image plays, following the roaring river down the passageway, transforming it from a desert into a flourishing garden. 

After prayer, the table is set in a dizzying array of dishes. Ramadan is a time when food just tastes better.  On one side, salads of all types stand attention – cooling yogurt, another in a peanut butter sauce, tamatim bel jibna. On the other end are the heavy hitters – gurrasa3seedaful, each made to satisfy the picky palette of a particular member of the house. 

Two bites of this and a spoonful of that, and the table starts to clear out, leaving the dishes to entertain themselves. Because Ramadan is also a time when appetites are easily satiated. So the dishes patiently man their stations for the rest of the night, hoping someone will come finish them off. A sambuksa might be lucky to meet its fate, grabbed off a plate by a passerby late into the night. But for the most part, the dishes will be relegated to the role of leftovers – or, even worse, trash. 

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In the past few years, my family has become more honest with itself and adopted a more minimalist approach to Ramadan.  We are teaching ourselves to not “eat with our eyes”, and in the process, to be more in line with the spirit and lesson of the month. We have cut our iftar menu down to three or four staple dishes that we alternate throughout the month, and it has done wonders – not only for how we consume, but also for how we worship. 

From a physical and practical standpoint, a lighter stomach allows for more comfort, especially when it comes to performing Taraweeh prayers. From a moral and spiritual one, it is an exercise in humility. It is also a lesson in satisfaction, and discovering what is enough based not on what we want, but on what we need. But above all, it is the best way to recognize our own privilege, and to appreciate the blessing of owning it.