Of sticky mouths and contemplation

The holy month for Islamic people is happening now: Ramadan. Tajikistan is a muslim country and many people are observant, so many are fasting...

When I heard how many of our national staff were going to fast, and that my fellow expats Irshad and Tila would too, I decided to participate. 30 long days stretching endlessly before me...

So the first thing I need to tell you is that the temperature here averages 35 degrees C every day. Sunrise starts at 3.15am and sunset clocks around 8pm (gets a little earlier each day). Nearly 17 hours! What I didn’t realize when I made my decision was that no drinking is allowed either. Nothing is to enter the body except air. No brushing of teeth, no rinsing the mouth, not even  chewing gum. So the hardest part of the first few days was the sticky feeling in my mouth after getting up in the morning (not being a devout muslim - or any kind of muslim at all - I go back to bed after getting up at 3am to eat). The devout do their prayers and at least one person I know stays up and starts her day.

TB Tajikistan MSF

Sunset in Dushanbe © Terry Porsild/MSF

The second thing is the thirst. A lot of the time you forget about it. And the prospect of satisfaction at the end of the day helps to endure. But these moments of discomfort are actually very important. Feeling extreme thirst today made me sit down and think. What am I fasting for? What meaning does this have? Why am I enduring this?

TB Tajikistan MSF

Me, at a loss © Terry Porsild/MSF

The third thing is realizing the extent of my ‘addiction’ to food. I have discovered how much time I spend going to get cups of coffee, glasses of water, cookies, bags of nuts. I always have something going next to my elbow. I discovered how much I welcome lunch break and the big Tajik meal cooked every day by Delia - and that I am at a loss to know what to do with myself when 12.30 comes around and I don’t have to go downstairs with the rest. So without all the activity I normally have around food, I have all this time to contemplate - 10 days on mercy, 10 days on forgiveness, 10 days on how to seek refuge from hellfire, or so Irshad tells me... I’m afraid I’m not really following the teachings.

TB Tajikistan MSF

My colleages Irshad and Tila © Terry Porsild/MSF

But I do feel solidarity with those who are by observing the rituals, not eating and drinking alongside them, and learning more about Islam. The time spent asking myself questions leads to good reflections on my own choices in life. And enduring the discomfort helps me to feel compassion for the suffering of people who have to endure far worse. My ‘suffering’ ends every day around 8pm, and that perspective makes it easy to hang on.

TB Tajikistan MSF

End of 'suffering' © Terry Porsild/MSF

That first taste and sip are so delicious, I can only feel thankful! How much harder it must be when there is no perspective; when you can’t see that there will be an end to the suffering. Like when you’re a small child with MDR-TB and have to take pills that make you sick and give you pain, every day for two years...

TB Tajikistan MSF

Child with MDR-TB © Terry Porsild/MSF