Ramadan Diaries, Day One

“Dish.” Cigarette card (Germany/Prussia). NYPL Digital Collections.

4:43 a.m.
Well, Day One for me, but Day Four on the official calendar. I was traveling (non-fasting) the prior three days, and now making my way back to New York on an overnight bus. It was the only way I could participate in a capoeira workshop in another city (with a mestre who only comes to the U.S. from Brazil sporadically) and get back early in time for work. It’s a comforting sort of red-eye by land, something everyone I know surveys disapprovingly. My first pre-dawn “meal” is water and half a protein bar. I am hydrated at least, but suddenly faced with my nightmare scenario of not having access to coffee before the designated hour. My hands are tied. I am going to face this day knowingly uncaffeinated. I predict piercing headaches before noon.

4:56 a.m.
We’ve arrived in New York. I’m listening to a podcast in which the host beamingly recalls the shoe once thrown at George W. Bush. I play the scene over and over in my head like a .gif. It loops seamlessly, beatifically.

5:01 a.m.
Day laborers are huddled in swaths of neon yellow. I try to make out their faces underneath bright orange helmets. This is the hour where the city is still bewitchingly quiet, but in their presence on the empty subway platform (and inside, where the men take three or four seats to stretch out their bodies in fetal positions), it feels apprehensive. Their sleepy sighs weigh loudly all around me.

12:43 p.m.
Done teaching for the day. I walk home in a light drizzle that I barely notice. My thoughts are enwrapped in a discussion we had about the possibility of freedom and whether there is such a thing, considering full freedom toward its asymptotic limit in human life. My students are reading Goat Days, a novel about Najeeb, an enslaved Malayalam laborer in Saudi Arabia. At one point in the novel Najeeb finds himself unable to muster the will to escape the masara where he is forced to herd goats, given dry bread and water for every single meal, and refused bathing or any sanitary ritual.

They are also reading Guy Mannes-Abbott’s essay “Tales from the Deportees Room,” about his detention at DXB:

I can’t help but think myself out of the Room by holding to the improvised, migratory, outlawed joys of embracing how precarious all life is here, now. Versus the ruins of Saadiyat Island and the demagoguery that arms itself to delete others. The Deportees Room reminded me that all life begins after deletion, that we’re already there.

The Deportees Room as a place for dead people. That to be awakened to the reality of a situation is to have necessarily died first. And deletion as the first act before the possibility of freedom. I think of Najeeb “dying” in the desert before he is able to finally free himself.

I want you to act as if you’re already dead. I only want to ally myself with people who have already died. That’s what my capoeira mestre said yesterday.

Back in class I recall uttering, “What is freedom now, what is it really? That I’m free to shop at Target and then buy a bagel at my favorite place? What is it?”

1:11 p.m.
Fading. Crash.

2:45 p.m.
In and out of sleep mode.The morning’s queasy feeling that the inaccessibility of coffee would cost me has eased. The monstrous headache I was expecting never comes, but it is possible that I accidentally discovered a quirky biological hack by sleeping through it. Caffeine addiction seems unwinnable, but for now, I am safe.

6:00 p.m.
I like waking up on the nose of something. It is 18:00 exactly. I meditate (10 minutes? 20?) and sort out the plan for the evening. I have no food at home, so my first iftār will be at a vegan Asian restaurant on Flatbush Avenue. I’m going alone.

7:56 p.m.
The walk to food is long, longer than the 25 minutes it actually takes. I notice something slightly unusual: that all my senses seem enlivened, sharp. The store facades seem more colorful than I recall, and the street noise sharper and more refined in its clangs, hums, and chimes.

8:01 p.m.
I order pad thai, scallion pancakes, jasmine tea, and hot water, in reverse order.

9:45 p.m.
Weighty head. Rush of tiredness. I walk to the coop to buy groceries. I leave a voice memo for a friend but have to stop midway in the street to record it without moving. I seem to have lost the ability to multitask, I tell her, I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Breath enters and exits my chest heavily. Maybe I’ll be up early enough for coffee.