Farhina Islam, is one of our Mobilise Cuppa attendees, we asked her to share some thoughts about celebrating Eid as a carer.
As I gaze through my floor to ceiling window, I can see a honey coloured stone built church next to a school. Both of which have been still and quiet during this time. It made me remember how much noise there used to be and how the stillness right now, has allowed more time for reflection, for me, during Ramadan.
Ramadan which lasts for one month, in which 1.8 billion Muslims across the world fast by not eating or drinking from dawn break to sunset, reminds us of the pain and suffering of many millions of people on our planet who are living in conditions with no access to food, water and shelter. It's a time for us to be grateful for everything little thing we have, especially during this new normal of Covid-19. A time to be more spiritual, to be kind, to help in local communities to give to charity and spend time with our friends and families (in person in previous years).
This Ramadan has been so challenging and different to anything we have known. I think back to last year’s routine. Up at 3.30am at the rectangular dining table we ate a meal, perhaps a tuna sweetcorn sandwich or rice with chicken and vegetables. My mother was recovering from multiple fractures from a fall, I was adjusting to helping her.
Our flat was full of laughter with children running around as my cousins were visiting from America. By day I was rushing on London transport taking my elderly parents to their medical appointments multiple times a week. The light summer evenings, visiting and inviting friends new and old to squish around our dining table to share in our Iftar. (Iftar the name of the meal you have to break your fast at sunset).
This year, my elderly father is stuck across the other side of the world unable to come home, running out of medication, in lockdown and his memory is getting worse. He forgets he has told me the same information on the phone everyday this week and each day he tells me with such excitement.
As I write this there has been a cyclone through Bangladesh and India with many families having already lost their incomes in lockdown and now with their homes destroyed. I wonder if I will ever get to see my father again. Just before dawn break as the birds are tweeting it’s my mother and I alone with lots of empty spaces around the table, and a subdued joy in the evening with two of us. I am too scared to have my mother tested for dementia, although I can see the signs there already and her mobility and stability has gotten a lot worse.
The first few days of Ramadan the portion sizes were all too big, cooking onion pakora for two is very different for 10 people. There were many staple Bengali grocery items we couldn’t get such as Moori (type of white puffed rice) to have with chick peas.
I live in an area far from the Bengali shops. My mother is shielding and we haven’t left the flat since March. Ethnic comfort foods, all sold out online, I was too late whilst I was busy with my caring responsibilities. For different cultures a lot of ethnic foods are in certain shops or street markets. I pray they are still in business afterwards.
On a positive note I have attempted, like the rest of the nation, to try my bread making skills with many disasters along the way, how did I manage to follow Nan bread recipes and end up with a flavoursome chapatti? I followed it to a T!
Sharing food at Iftar is important to us, so I decided to leave surprise chickpea and hot pilau rice boxes outside neighbours’ doors, I've never done that before. The neighbours to my right, an elderly couple, we know well. However, the neighbours to my left, a flat of young Italian flat sharers, we didn’t know other than the occasional smile going in and out of the lift. They were so thankful for the home cooked meal, they bought us a floral thank you card and chocolates, and my other neighbours painted an A4 sized thank you note in bright multi-colours. We were so touched, both have pride of place on the dining table. These neighbourly friendships span across 6 nationalities and cultures. We have had offers of books to be loaned, post to be dropped off and buying our milk, eggs and fruit from the local shops. I in turn offered to share my supermarket delivery and add in their shopping too. A sense of community spirit just within our floor, marvellous.
I am lucky enough to have internet access and join in the Zoom learning curve, there were so many Zoom accessible Iftars, I started to teach elderly friends and tried to break our fast whilst using Zoom to stay connected, it's very weird having a laptop as your third dinner guest.
I find this is the first time in years I am not rushing from one hospital appointment to the next. I've had more time for personal reflection. Found many online lectures or even online Iftar sessions via Zoom such as the Naz Legacy Foundation and I would never have had the chance to attend in any other year being a carer, and now this Ramadan we could from home. We even had a surprise takeaway food delivery from friends.
When the situation at home was challenging both my mother's and my mental health. I found comfort in finding Mobilise online, being able to join in the Mobilise carers cuppas as my breath of fresh air to cope through this time. Unpaid carers really do understand what each of us is going through and we are largely unseen by many in society.
A few weeks ago my mother asked extended family “You are coming to ours for Eid?”, “Yes” they said to my surprise. I asked them “You know we can’t have Eid party”, “Yes, we know, just didn’t want to disappoint your mum so early on”. Eid-al-Fitr is the celebration to mark the end of a lunar month of fasting and is an occasion Muslims look forward to all year.
There is normally sharing of presents and dressing up in your finest. Seeing parents and grandparents, hugging grand-kids and meeting new babies. A marathon day from afternoon to evening visiting different people and connecting with lovely food. I had to keep reminding mum “We have to stay at home mum for Eid.” I could see the sadness in her eyes and then I decided what could I do to make it special?
I searched on google found an Eid party decoration website, with red, blue, purple colourful banners and crinkled paper hangings, I have ordered a few as a surprise for my mum. I have turned cereal boxes into decorations and gave it ago! I remembered how my father would go to congregation for prayers and would buy Asian sweets from Ambala. I looked online and by the 16th of May they had sold out for Eid. The earliest slot was 27th May. I booked it. Odd you may think, it will be my birthday so we will celebrate with a candle in my Ladoo! (an Indian sweet, round yellow ball of yumminess).
This Eid will be Zooming from room to room, across the country and internationally. We remember those that will not be here with us to celebrate. I know a number of people that have passed away. Calling my father has been tiring. “What did you say?", "you're breaking up dad I can’t hear you", "what?”. I finally managed to get a video call. He was so happy he has already told me he will video call on Eid. He said “this is great, it’s like you are in the next room.”
Across the country people are finding ways to celebrate Eid. The day always starts off with Eid prayers, many being held online this year. Some will be dropping off food to their grandparents and socially distancing on the road. Some are having a bbq just in their household. This year we can join in on virtual Eid in the park festivals. My mother hasn’t been able to attend one in years, so now we can join in. The BBC will have an Eid cooking show and much more across international TV channels. A quick search on Eventbite has Eid festivals and Eid quizzes from across the globe. There are even Ramadan and Eid ideas on TikTok.
Our Eid meal will be a special chicken biryani, salad and a rice pudding like dish with vermicelli. I hope the Tesco order arrives today as we also ordered extra for local volunteers collecting for the foodbank. How ever everyone celebrates Eid at home.
I hope we all continue to come together, continue to support and value each other and be kind. Eid Mubarak for this weekend.