With the shutdown of the holy city and the uncertainty of this year’s Ramadan, we spoke to three Muslim health workers. They tell us about juggling Ramadan with working on the frontline.
A Special Kind Of Ramadan.
Ramadan hasn’t been very hard. The only difference is that I don’t get to eat what I want to eat, and I am not with family. Because of the nature of my work, the hospital provided hotel accommodation for us. That means that I don’t get to go home and I have to eat whatever the hotel provides.
I can’t remember the last time I did proper Ramadan at home. From uni to house job, I have mostly done Ramadan alone as an adult. The only difference was that then, I could go home to spend some time with my family, but now I have to stay in a hotel provided by the hospital. It’s nothing out of the ordinary for me because I am used to fasting alone.
Ramadan this year is different because I can’t afford to miss Sahur. I know that missing it will be problematic because carrying PPE requires energy. When Ramadan started, the first thing I did was call home to make sure that they always wake me up by 4 am, no matter what.
In school, I was the only Muslim in my room. Most times, I had to wake up to eat Sahur and Iftar alone. So, it’s not really different. The major difference is a hotel which is not convenient food-wise because you have to eat whatever they give you. The hospital put us in a hotel to reduce the risk of infecting our families.
My last Ramadan was a bit different because I was in Dubai. The iftar there is a celebration – There’s food, people, it’s a big deal. But this year, it’s just me eating alone in my hotel room or eating at work like any regular person.
It’s a bit solitary because there are just three of us here who are Muslims. We work in different units and different shifts. So, it’s just you, your God, and your Ramadan. To be fair, it doesn’t feel like it’s Ramadan here. Except for the three Muslims here, everyone else is just going about their usual business. We are the ones telling them that we are fasting.
It also doesn’t help that there aren’t a lot of Muslims around or on similar shifts, so I am very lonely. No one to remind me to read my Quran, or tell me when it’s time to break. Sometimes, I just sit alone in a corner.
It helps that one of my family friends who is a doctor is here with me. We work the same shift, so we do Sahur and Iftar together. It’s nice to have someone to do all of that with.
The PPE Struggle:
My teammates are very nice. In situations where I don’t feel like going in, they offer to go in. This is important on days where I had very light Sahur and I am weak. Also, wearing the PPE leaves you dehydrated because of how hot it is. So, it’s very nice when they offer to go in.
In the beginning, it was weird because wearing PPE makes me hot and dehydrated. On the first day of Ramadan, I didn’t eat proper Sahur. I had to go into the ward wearing PPE and we had a lot of admissions. What stood out for me from that day was that I was very thirsty when I came out. I don’t remember ever being that thirsty in my life.
Any day I have to wear PPE longer than usual is a difficult day. This happens on days where there are a lot of samples to collect and patients to see. I try not to miss Sahur so I can be at my best.
The PPE is made from nylon. It is unbreathable. That means no air is getting to your skin and whatever is inside the PPE. It feels like you are trapped with all your body heat. Nigeria is hot, so on a sunny day, it’s ten times worse. No matter how cold the A.C is, you won’t feel it; you are sweaty and uncomfortable. It’s not like coming out and removing the PPE is a quick process. It takes at least 15 minutes to decontaminate you. So, if 12 people go in, you have to wait until it’s your turn. It’s really uncomfortable.
When people come out, the first thing they reach for is a bottle of water. That’s where it can get tricky for people that are fasting. Because of this, a lot of Muslims aren’t fasting at the moment.
Food and Drink:
I think one of the most difficult parts is looking for what to eat. The hotel provides us with food but sometimes you want to eat a certain meal for iftar and that option isn’t there. It’s not the same as preparing your own meal and planning ahead. I just have to eat whatever they provide.
This year, I made the decision to eat well. But it’s not about food, it’s the thirst. I need to have something in my belly because I don’t want to add hypoglycemia to my dehydration troubles.
Because there are only three of us here, there’s no special arrangement for food for us. We have to sort ourselves. The hotel provides breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so people convert either their breakfast or dinner to Sahur. I had to get a microwave because the hotel doesn’t come with microwaves in the room. Using it to warm my food during Sahur has been super helpful as opposed to eating cold food.
“I enjoy the fulfilment that comes with it.”
I am fasting because I don’t feel like I qualify to not fast. I saw the Fatwa about not fasting if you are on the frontline. I don’t think I could have not fasted and been comfortable because I don’t see the difference between doing this and regular hospital work. For me, this is my regular job. I didn’t think it was going to be difficult. Or unbearable. To me, not fasting was never an option and it never crossed my mind.
However, I understand that anyone not fasting on the frontline has their own reason for doing so.
Everyone’s case is peculiar. For me, it was never an option because I evaluated my experience and I knew I could handle it.
I can’t remember the last time I completed Taraweeh. It’s not easy. Sometimes, on the night shift, I don’t get to pray Ishai till past 10 pm (I normally pray at 8 pm). And that’s after attending to patients. It can be difficult to complete Taraweeh because I am already tired by then.
Fortunately for me, I don’t sweat a lot so that part of Ramadan has been easy for me. I am committed to fasting because I enjoy the fulfilment that comes with it.
I don’t think about it that much because I chose to volunteer. I wasn’t going to volunteer, at least not in this capacity, but an incident changed my mind. I heard about the patient who didn’t disclose his travel history in Luth. So, whether or not I am in an isolation centre, at the end of the day, I am going to be exposed to Coronavirus. Because you don’t know the history of whatever patient you are attending to.
I’ll rather be in a place where I know this is what we are managing so it’s not a surprise. At least, if you are aware, you are more careful. At the end of the day, every health worker is at the risk of exposure.
“The hardest part is the stigma”
When I was moving to the hotel, I had to go to my apartment to pack some stuff. On getting home, my flatmate saw me, ran to her room and locked herself.
Unlike other parts of the world where they appreciate you for being on the frontline, in Nigeria, it’s “don’t come to my house!” In the beginning, there was stigma from the hotel staff where we were staying. They were scared, so we had to re-educate them and re-orientate them. I have also had to adjust the way I dress to make them comfortable. Even though the hotel is a walking distance from the centre, I can’t wear my scrubs from the hotel. I have to wear my regular clothes from and to the hotel.
Some people even have to show others their negative test results before they are comfortable around you. It’s that bad, but it is what it is.
Being a Muslim already comes with its own stigma. When you add Covid-19 stigmatisation, it becomes a lot worse.. But I will be fine. At least that’s what I tell myself every morning.
“I find myself missing my friends and my family.”
Because we can’t leave the hotel and isolation centre, I find myself missing my friends and family. It feels like I am in a routine – go to work, come back, stay alone in my hotel room.
I try to stay in touch with my family through video calls. I am constantly updating them with what’s going on at work and they update me with theirs. I’m looking forward to when this is over. I miss my old life.
I am used to spending Ramadan alone and away from family. However, the last ten days are special because I get to go home. I go for Itikaf where I catch up with friends, family, and generally bond together as a religious community. It’s kind of like a reunion. Funny enough, I had plans for this year’s Itikaf because I missed last year’s. Sadly, Corona has prevented that.
I’ve been avoiding going home. I am worried about infecting my family. Especially in a case where I am asymptomatic. I really wanted to see my Grandma but I cannot afford to infect her.
When this is over, I am going on dinners, travelling… It feels like my life is on hold. Covid-19 derailed a lot of plans and the world is never going to be the same. Even though I can’t envision what life would like in the aftermath of this virus, I am looking forward to the new normal.
Fatwa – a ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognized authority.
Sahur – the meal consumed early in the morning by Muslims before fasting (sawm), before dawn during or outside the Islamic month of Ramadan.
Iftar – This is the evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset.
Taraweeh – refers to additional ritual prayers performed by Muslims at night after the Isha prayer.
Itikaf – an Islamic practice consisting of a period of staying in a mosque for a certain number of days, devoting oneself to worship during these days.
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