Tag Archives: experience

I Pretended to be Muslim for a Second. Sort of.

Ramadan just ended.  Happy Eid!  I’ve always thought that religion is a very strange concept.  I cannot at all relate to the need to believe in something above ourselves.  I am 100% comfortable in believing that all I am is science and cells reacting.  With that being said, I have no problem with you or your religion.  I might think it’s silly… but in the same, harmless way that I think middle/lower class Republicans are silly.

I know a fair amount of Muslims who I have worked with for years, and developed friendships with.  So this whole hating and/or fearing Islam mentality that people have is really starting to irritate me.  I believe that intolerance and hate ultimately stems from a lack of education.  People tend to judge what they don’t understand.  It’s no coincidence that the most famous humanitarians in history were well educated.  I believe in being the change you want to see in the world, so I took it upon myself to not be a hypocrite, and to further educate myself in the field of Islam.  When I say educate… I mean that I read one book and a few scholarly articles.  But hey, that’s probably one more book than most non-Muslims.  And I’ve been a bit more exposed to it.  Like I said, I work with a huge ass Muslim family and I also went to Istanbul last year, where the majority of the population is Muslim.  I found the people and the place to be beautiful and peaceful.

After learning a little bit more about the Qur’an, to my NOT surprise, it seemed similar to the Bible in a lot of ways.  They are definitely both violent at times, but underneath all of the stories, they are basically all about spreading love, staying humble, helping each other out and blah blah.  Oh, and worshipping God of course, but that’s where it loses me.  I don’t need a book or a God telling me to do good.  I do good because it’s the fucking right thing to do.  No doctrine necessary.

Despite how baffling I find religion, I decided to participate in Ramadan this year.  My Islamic friends have conformed to our culture, and are not only a minority here, but a minority that has been at the center of such negativity over the years.  I was curious about their practice of Ramadan, and I also wanted to show my respect to them, and also because why not?  I celebrate Christmas even though I’m not Christian so what’s the difference?  For me, Christmas is about giving, not Jesus’ birthday.  And now for me, Ramadan has become a time to appreciate what I have and recognize what others do not.

I didn’t fast for thirty days.  I’m not that hardcore.  I fasted for the first four days of Ramadan, and then again on the very last day.  I was just going to do the first three days, but I got a fairly large tattoo on the third day, and knew that it wouldn’t be a good idea to go in for that without eating a granola bar and a glass of water.  If you break the fast, you just practice for one extra day.  A fair amount of American Muslims only fast for the first three days and the last day as well.

For those of you who don’t know, the “rules” are: no food or water from sunrise to sunset.  Traditionally, the household arises before the sun (in my case this was 5:30am, but obviously it differs depending on what latitudinal line you’re on) and have breakfast.  At no point do you gorge yourself.  This would completely defeat the purpose of the practice.  Then the fast is broken when the sunsets (which was around 8:30pm for me) and you eat a fig and drink a cup of water.  Then, dinner is served and you celebrate with your friends and family by eating and drinking tea.  This goes on for thirty days.  During the entire duration (not just when the sun is up) one is not allowed to participate in sex, smoking or drinking alcohol.  Of course, strict Muslims also pray five times a day, but I didn’t do all that.  Obviously.  I just did my own type of mental checks of all the things the be grateful for.  I suppose that’s my form of prayer.

During the first day of the fast, I was surprised at how NOT tempted I was to break the fast.  I discovered that when one fully devotes themselves to something, that it is relatively easy to just do it.  (The Nike slogan has a whole new meaning).  Like smoking cigarettes.  I think if one wants to badly enough, it is a lot easier to overcome.  Truly wanting to quit is the hard part.  Truly devoting a month to fasting is the hard part.

The second day what I was surprised to discover was that the hunger and thirst was not the hardest part.  For me, the inability to focus was the hardest part.  I thought that the hunger pains would become unbearable, but those subside.  The true battle is making your brain function.  I suppose if you’re a devout Muslim in a Muslim state, you don’t do much during Ramadan other than pray, and you don’t need many brain cells for that.  But I had to work!  I was attempting to bartend, but finding it difficult to remember orders and difficult to communicate in a way that didn’t make people question if I was a zombie.

I was also worried that I would get snappy.  Logan calls me sassy, and according to him I need to “take it down with the sass” when I’m hungry.  I think he takes advantage of that however because when he says something like “there are monkeys in the Everglades,” and I call him a retard, he will say, “do we need to get you some food?”  No Logan, we just need you to not think that there are monkeys in the Everglades!  Anyway, I acknowledge that I can start to suck if I haven’t eaten in a while, so I did have my concerns about such.  However, it didn’t happen at all.  I was actually happy.  I was absolutely hungry and thirsty and lightheaded, but I still somehow was not sassy because I felt good about what I was doing.

The thirst is really rough.  But I just kept thinking to myself, there are so many people in the world who HAVE to do this.  It is not a choice for them.  So now when I’m hungry or thirsty, I just think about that.  I am lucky that I have the luxury of eating and drinking essentially whenever I want to.

On the third day, I was working with the two other people who were also fasting.  We had this lovely moment when the sunset.  The woman walked out to the front of house with a fig for me and a cup of water, and made me stop what I was doing to break my fast.  The man had cooked the three of us up some food.  We sat together at the side of the restaurant away from everyone, and enjoyed a meal together.  It felt good, like we had done something together.  It was pretty.  Ramadan also seemed beautiful to me because it is about the passing down of values, and also about simply being among friends and family.  The latter is a practice a lot of us have lost track of or don’t devote enough time to.  Ramadan is a good time to slow down and enjoy the here and now.

I was passion vomiting at Logan about all this shit, and had a sort of epiphany.  It seems as though those who have less, are those who are the most gracious and giving.  Within the four days that I was fasting, I even found myself to be more wanting and willing to help a brother out, in a truly altruistic way.  It was this feeling that we are all one, all in this shitshow together and if we can all help make each other happy then… well, then we will all be happy and boom!  World peace!  People who have less, those who aren’t all caught up in the rat race seem to have this notion already imbedded in them.  Logan brought up that geography plays a huge role in this, and that topic will be one of my next discussions.

Overall, I learned that fasting is a practice that I believe everyone can take something from.  It’s humbling.  I wasn’t doing it for God, so it doesn’t really matter what month I was doing it, but by doing it during Ramadan, it unified me and a couple of my friends, and it gave me a greater understanding of what is at the heart of not just Islam, but people.  Ultimately, I believe that people are good, but so many seem to lose track of what is good and just along this journey.

So stop thinking of ISIS and other similar groups as Islamic.  They’re not.  Think of them as more of a gang.  I bet that most of them haven’t even read the Qur’an from front to back.  It would be interesting to see what the literacy rate is among the members.  I would be willing to bet that it is low, which further proves my point that intolerance stems from a lack of exposure and education.  Education is the solution.  Now go read a book about a culture or religion that you don’t understand and try fasting.  It will be good for you.

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2015 was Epic – Part 3

As I left off in part 2, the day that we were scheduled to leave Budapest, was the day that thousands of refugees flooded the train stations.  We decided to stay in Budapest for another night.  One, because Raven became obsessed with the corndogs there.  Two, we didn’t want to attempt to deal with the train stations.  Three, B (the Hungarian merch guy I mentioned before that I knew) owns a club, and he was having a party there that he invited us to.  Four, B introduced us to Palinka, a Hungarian liquor that was so good that we felt it deserved another day of our company.

The club party thing was very interesting.  For the most part, it seemed like typical clubs that we know.  There was loud music, children dancing (Fat Face and I were easily the oldest two in the establishment at a whopping 28 years old), flashy lights, people making out in corners and everyone sweating and abusing substances.  Typical.  The interesting part however, was that almost all of the people seemed to know the same choreography to every fucking song that came on.  You know how everyone knows the steps to the Macarena and the Electric Slide?  That’s kind of how this was, only it was every single song that came on and choreography that far exceeded the skills of the Electric Slide.  I have always wished that life was like a musical when at each plot advancement, everyone within proximity magically knows all of the same songs and choreography.  Well, that’s how I felt at this club in Budapest, except me, Raven and Fat Face seemed to be the only ones not in on the magical musical.  That was our last night in Budapest.

The next day, we would learn that traveling by train in Eastern Europe is nothing like traveling by train in Western Europe.  People kept telling us how accommodating and fast the trains are.  No.  They were basing these statements on experiences in all of the Western countries of Europe.  I like to think that we had a more “adventurous” experience, though Raven and Fat Face would probably just say, “No Cait, those trains just sucked.”

We arrived at the main train station, and there were plenty of news vans and whatnot; people covering the story of the Syrian refugees being held up in Hungary.  The Hungarians aren’t fucking around with the refugees, so they refuse to take them in or even acknowledge them until absolutely necessary.  On this day, it became absolutely necessary.  There were so many Syrians at the train station, that hundreds of them that morning started WALKING to Austria.  I remember that B had a hard time getting to us because he said that the highways were shutdown because these motherfuckers just straight up started walking to the border.  Which at its’ CLOSEST, is over 200 km away (about 130 miles) by the way.  After a day, Hungary realized that they had to do something, so they bussed two thousand refugees from the train stations to the Austrian border and then basically said, peace out.

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Main train station in Budapest.

 

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Raven and Fat Face waiting for the train.

Judging from the American media, you would think that it was absolute mayhem at these train stations.  But it wasn’t at all.  Sure, there were a lot of people there, but it wasn’t the chaos that the media would like to scare you into believing so that you keep watching their news and drive their ratings up.  It was really quite calm.  Mostly, people were just sitting and waiting.  Trains were cancelled, but in no way was it pandemonium.  What really left an impression on me however, was the amount of people I saw leaving the train station carrying literally nothing.  Not even a plastic bag.  I cannot even comprehend leaving for a sleepover without a backpack.  Please, take a break right here, and for a few moments, try to imagine leaving your life, your country, everything you know with literally nothing in your hands…

Holy shit, is all I can say about that.  I know that she doesn’t appreciate it now, but I did turn to my sister and say, “Do you realize that this will be written about in history books?  And we are here for it.”  She is 20 and mostly cares about Instagram but hopefully she will appreciate it someday.

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Raven not giving a fuck as she picks her nose in a bar while playing Scrabble.  Then there’s Fat Face with that damn headband that he was 100% serious about, by the way.

After a couple of minor set backs, we were on a train to Sibiu, Romania.  We grossly underestimated how much travel time would go into our trip.  The trains seem to be going approximately the same speed that I jog, and they stop every four and a half seconds with no explanation.  There is no PA system on these things, so when the train stops in the middle of no where and nothing happens, there is no one coming on the intercom to tell you what the fucking deal is.  You just wait.  On top of this, we don’t speak the language, so it’s not like a PA system would have helped anyway, but we could have tried to ask someone.  Another thing that makes traveling by train in Eastern Europe tricky, is that without the PA system, you never know what the hell city or stop you’re at.  You would think that these train stations would have signs saying what the name of the damn station is, or the city or SOMETHING!  Nope!  Most of these “stations” are more of what I would call a shelter.  They are mostly open air with a platform and a grumpy lady behind plexiglass selling the tickets.  If she doesn’t show up for work that day, I doubt they sell tickets that day and you would just be shit out of luck.  I found it amazing that these trains were even running.  Other than the main station in Budapest, we rarely saw any personnel.  But there were plenty of wild dogs.  We would learn that you know you’re out of the First World when the cities have a bunch of wild dogs.  I didn’t understand this at first.  I asked Fat Face, “What is it that they do different?  Why don’t we have a bunch of dogs roaming around in the States?”  And he knew the answer which was so completely obvious… we have pounds in the states and we round them up and kill them.  Second and Third World countries don’t have that type of infrastructure.

Back to never knowing where we were, we honestly guessed when it was time to get off of the trains.  We figured that we were mostly hitting up the bigger stops, so when everyone else gets off, that is when we will too.  Another funny thing about the train stations is that when you step off of the trains, unless it is the first track, a lot of times you’re just walking across the tracks, there are no platforms or walkways or anything.  I love that kind of stuff.  To me, it makes you feel more alive and more in touch with your surroundings.  Raven on the other hand, was just concerned with getting these train stations over with so she could find a shower and wifi, and Fat Face was probably daydreaming and playing with his gross mustache.

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Again, Raven not giving a fuck.  We were sitting on the train platform, waiting for a train and Rave is leaning back on her backpack and holding a peach that she was pissed about because it turned out to be moldy.

The trains don’t have toilet paper, and we learned that it is train etiquette to only use the toilet when the train is moving and away from any stations because there are no tanks to hold your waste.  Sexy.  The hole at the bottom of the toilet just empties to the ground.  The first train we took from Budapest to Sibiu was an overnight train, so we arrived hours before we were allowed to check into the hostel.  The hostels are all so surprisingly accommodating and always allow you to leave your bags even if you haven’t checked in yet.  It was 7:00 in the morning and we were in the middle of Transylvania and nothing was open except for gypsy panhandling.  I think the first human we ran into was a couple of little gypsy girls trying to get money from us.  I am a cunt and never gave them any money, and neither did Fat Face or Raven… except for one time, but she learned her lesson.  After being harassed by the cute little blonde eight year old gypsy with her pink pants and adorable smile for a couple of days, Raven gave her a two lire coin.  The little girl then suddenly spoke English (which she never eluded to prior) and said, “five.”  Raven LITERALLY pushed the girl away on her shoulder and said, “Noooo!” and the girl simply said, “okay okay” with her sweet smile and ran off.  Raven was pissed that she got played, but she was laughing about it.  So the gypsies in Romania… that seems to be a real thing.  Not nearly as glamorous as the stories elude though, they just send their tiny kids to the cities to beg for money.

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Us with the little gypsy girl.

Immediately next door to the hostel was a little cafe that had its’ door cracked open.  We assumed that that meant that they were open, so we walked in and sat down to order some coffee and breakfast.  Our delicious lattes were made, and then when we went to order food, the very handsome man informed us that they were not open for another half hour.  He was just being nice by letting us come in early.  Of course, this turned into our spot.  It was called Lillie’s and I probably went there three times a day because it had everything.  It had coffee, alcohol, food and wifi.  That’s considered a goldmine when you’re backpacking.  AND the owner was a hot man with salt and pepper hair and spoke very good English so Raven and I had a crush on him.  If I am ever in a position to take time away to just write, I would totally move to Sibiu for six months and go to Lillie’s everyday.  The little town would be perfect for writing or any type of art for that matter.  It’s small and quant, so there are not a bunch of distractions, and it’s beautiful, so it’s inspiring.

 

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We rented bikes again and found an overgrown rugby field that we did handstands in and climbed up the makeshift bleachers.  Makeshift being the important word in that sentence, because they were actually just two concrete slabs and then a metal standing rectangle thing that you could climb up.  Fat Face found a bow and arrow that was obviously crafted by children, so we played around with that for a while too.  Fat Face was surprisingly talented with it.  Maybe he should get into archery.

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The bleachers.

 

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It made me envy the simple life.  Kids there still play outside and people aren’t in such a damn rush and families stick together and they aren’t constantly wanting more.  In Sibiu, the way of life seemed to be, you’re born, you live in a way that you give as much as you take, and then you die.  Simple as that.  They don’t seem to have these existential questions and fascinations the way we do in the States and other First World countries where we are all into psychology, finding meaning, career success, etc.  Probably because they don’t have the luxury to do that.  They have chickens to attend to, water to boil, a fence to fix and a kid to bathe.  Maybe that’s partly where the former oppression comes into play.  These countries were in Communist rule not too long ago, so maybe these people just don’t strive for more all of the time because it has never been an option for them and they don’t question much because they were never allowed to.

Next stop, Bucharest.

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Had to add this… this is Fat Face concentrating on NOT throwing-up.

 

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