Ramadan is coming up, and in Northern Ghana, that means a large portion of staff, partners, and survey respondents will be going without food and water during daylight hours. If you aren’t Muslim, sometimes you forget that other people are fasting, or to be unaware of how this may affect their work and schedules. Some rookie mistakes I have seen:
· One of our interns wanted to do something nice for the office, so he brought in donuts at 2pm- prime hunger time for many fasters.
· A friend of mine was working with a Ghanaian staffer, and noticed she wasn’t eating anything. Feeling bad, she proceeded to offer the Ghanaian shares of everything she ate that day. It wasn’t until later that she realized the Ghanaian must have been fasting.
· A staff member scheduled a lunch meeting with partners. The partners came without complaint, and the staff member was chagrinned when none of them ate anything and she remembered it was Ramadan.
To avoid being a jerk to hungry people during Ramadan:
1. Find out when Ramadan is. In many cases, the beginning and end of Ramadan are set locally, based on sighting the moon in that location.
2. Set schedules that allow people to break fast in their accustomed manner. This usually means being at home for sundown.
3. Don’t push food on people. It’s fine to offer, but if someone declines, try to remember that they may be fasting, so don’t keep offering all day.
4. Be aware of the effect that fasting may have on energy levels and mood. Most fasters will do the work they need to without complaint, but think twice about asking people to work late.
5. Remember the people who aren’t fasting. Don’t assume people can skip lunch breaks.
6. Don’t pity the fasters. Ramadan is a month for celebration, and most people fast gladly. They won’t mind you eating in front of them, especially if you aren’t wafting the fumes from your super-smelly food at them.
7. Consider trying to fast, if only for a day. It will show solidarity and make you more sensitive to those who are fasting. I fasted during Ramadan in Tamale last year. This year, I will be fasting in Accra for as long as my Tamale team is in the field.
If you decide to try fasting, here are some tips:
· Don’t give up early. The first three days are the most difficult. Get through those, and it gets easier.
· Eat before sunrise. Even if you aren’t hungry, make yourself do it. It will help you get through the day.
· Don’t fight the hunger. The more you try to ignore it, the more you will focus on it. Accept that it is there, and learn to function with it.
· Recognize your moods. Be aware of how fasting is affecting your mood. Work on changing your reaction to hunger, or be on guard against letting the mood affect your behavior towards others.
· Be aware of your health. Consider whether you want to include water in your fast, especially if you work in hot environments or exercise during the day. Muslims fast if they can; young children, pregnant women, and others for whom fasting could pose a health risk are not expected to fast.
· Don’t stay up drinking all night. A hangover is no fun when you can’t have pizza. This is especially important if you aren’t drinking water, as you can easily get dehydrated.
· …Unless you also stay up eating all night. I spent one night last Ramadan at a friend’s house mixing drinks and cooking a new meal every few hours, till the sun came up. The next day was the easiest day of Ramadan.
I have worked in economic policy and research in Washington, D.C. and Ghana. My husband and I recently moved to Guyana, where I am working for the Ministry of Finance. I like riding motorcycle, outdoor sports, foreign currencies, capybaras, and having opinions.