Entering Angell Hall, I thread my way through the clusters of people, past the ever-inviting candy vending machines and to my classes. The most difficult part of the now-routine journey up to the third floor is restraining myself from reaching for the water fountain. It is neither the lack of projection of the water, which my paranoia deems can spread meningococcal bacteria nor the water temperature, which could breed legionella bacteria, that prevents me from taking a sip. It is the fifth day of Ramadan and I have decided to fast from sunrise to sunset for a month this year.

Kate Green

Since I wasn’t raised with the tenet that curiosity killed the cat, I try novel and often uncharacteristic things. Though not a religious person myself, I have experimented with aspects of some religions.

When I was younger, I would choose something important to give up for Lent. To my mother’s chagrin, I usually became a vegetarian for 40 days. Cooking for me became particularly unpleasant for her since within my picky consumption habits lies an aversion of most vegetables.

In a quest to try something else once I came to college, I joined my Muslim friends in their observance of Ramadan. From sunrise to sunset, I would not eat, drink water or any other substance and learned throughout the process. As I have done my share of fasts throughout my experimentation phases, I did not expect this to be a particularly difficult feat.

Those whose stomachs grumble mid-class understand the importance of and the urgency one feels for lunch. While most people observe Ramadan for deeply religious beliefs, I wanted to experience the hunger.

This option is not available for millions of people worldwide. Not only was I able to choose this, but I was also able to do no hard labor, instead limiting the extent of my activity to sitting at a computer or in class. In fact, what I have tried over the past three years is nothing like what Muslims in Indonesia are going through, as it is the early summer months for them. The days are much longer, the heat is more unbearable and the thirst must be infinitely greater.

There are of course many other times during the year I could embark on this mission to greater understanding. I have limited it to a month because at present I am not determined enough to try it for much longer. What I gain from the month will hopefully make me aware of my actions throughout the year.

Another, more selfish reason I choose to participate during this particular month is because of the established community around the event. For every night of Ramadan, someone usually organizes a large dinner to break the fast, known as an ifthar. Even if you’re just walking down the street around this time, it is common for someone in the community to recognize that you too have been fasting and offer you a date or other fruit to break the fast.

In order to include others in the event, the Muslim Students Association organized a fast-a-thon last year for non-Muslim students. Those who pledged to not eat during one day were able to raise money from local businesses to help those in need. A friend of mine joined wholeheartedly as it was a noble way to raise funds. He didn’t realize, however, that for him to gain from the experience, he would have to give up smoking the daily quota of cigarettes. He obliged and after a few hours of not smoking, understood both his dependence on the habit and that smoking is an immense privilege.

The reason I fast is simple: It offers me an understanding of what other people must be going through. People live without food or water for days while doing strenuous activity for the better part of the day.

When we are nurtured within the leisures of Ann Arbor, we ignore that our actions have a direct affect on many others’ lives. Not until we are aware of the hunger ourselves will we have any inclinations to change the current situation.

All too often, when we get a bite to eat from Mr. Spot’s or get a free slice of pizza on the Diag, we fail to realize just how lucky we are. I am lucky enough to want to experience hunger. I can state and do what millions can not dream of: I can choose not to eat.

Chirumamilla can be reached at schiruma@umich.edu.

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