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Mon, 08/13/2012

Ramadan at PGD International

The hospitals of PGD are a melting pot. People of different nations and religions work here together. On July 20, 2012 this years Ramadan, the Muslim fasting period, began which will end August 19 with Eid ul-Fitr followed by the three-day sugar festival. As the Ramadan slowly draws to its end, it is time to look how the Muslim colleagues at PGD International's office cope with the fasting.

"It is far away from being easy," says Nadya Chaabou and smiles wearily. Her beautiful eyes look a bit tired today. It is a warm day and she would like to drink. But she is brave. No cigarette, no glass of water, no coffee, nothing to eat. Without the tiniest doubt, for her, obeying the fasting rules of Ramadan is natural. "But still, each time the first days are exhausting. I often have headaches. But I also know that the body gets used to it quickly." Nadya, 36, came with her family in 1983 from Beirut to Berlin. Ramadan is still an integral part of their lives - it is the third of the five pillars of Islam. Nadya Chaabou works for PGD International and looks after the Arab patients who get treatment at one of the PGD hospitals.

Nazu Heyo (29) escaped with her parents from Beirut to Denmark as a baby. She came to Berlin eight years ago, now she works as a service assistant and looks after our Arab patients as well. For her, too, it is a question of faith and tradition to observe the fasting month consistently, even though it is sometimes hard to endure the stress of a workday. "But all the doctors and nurses know and meet each other with respect and patience. And we may even call it a day on time during Ramadan," she explains. "Of course it is difficult sometimes. And I have to take care of my two small children Mohammed and Aliya as well. The days feel much longer - especially when it's so hot. It is best to keep busy a lot during the day. That is the best distraction."

However, at the moment her Muslim patients spend their days quiteley. "Almost all Arabs here in our clinics fast, so they are tired during the day because at night they eat and pray." Part of the international service of PGD is that the hospitals of PGD have adapted to this rhythm. Food will be provided at night from Arab restaurants.

For both women the daily routine is about the same. Prayer is at the center, but also the relationship with friends and family. Nadya Chaabou: "After work I go home and take care of my son Ali. Then I change, pray and go to my family. At 8 p.m. I prepare with my mother and my siblings some food for the entire family. After sunset, everyone gathers to eat together and talk. This creates a new, close relationship every year. It is simply beautiful."

When Ramadan falls in the middle of summer, it is even more difficult to adhere to the strict rules - the days are long in Germany, and the nights rather short." So I can eat only once. I also have to sleep sometime," Nadya Chaabou says. In both families it is tradition to give money for poor people or charitable organizations. "So we are reminded that one cannot take anything for granted in this world. One gets humble and reminded again how good it is for us."

Traditionally, the month of fasting ends with the Sugar Festival - a three day festivity with friends and family gathered to spend time together in the open while the children get lots of presents. Traditionally the children get new clothes at the Sugar Festival. Nadya smiles: "Just go to the district of Neukölln a few days before the Sugar Festival starts. You will find thousands of mothers and their children in a shopping spree." And there is yet another side effect of the fasting month: both women lose between four and six kilos of weight. When Nadya fasted for the very first time she was only eight years of age. She did it voluntary and only for a day. "I can still remember how stressful it was. But as a reward my mother cooked me all my favorite dishes." And what about with Ali, her 12 year old son? "He already fasts with us for a few days on a voluntary basis. I am very proud for him."



For 1,400 years Ramadan has always been the 9th month of the lunar calendar. The lunar calendar has only 354 days, so that the month of fasting travels through all four seasons during the course of 33 years. The believers will experience the severe deprivation during extreme heat as well as during bitter cold. Every Muslim must fast - except children, the elderly, the sick, travelers and women during menstruation, pregnancy and lactation. From sunrise to sunset eating, drinking, smoking, inhaling aromatic smoke and having sex are prohibited. Also slander, blasphemy and lies are forbidden. The spiritual aspects of fasting are the rediscovery of mercy and compassion for poor people, asking for forgiveness of your sins, patience and humility, but also the rediscovery and the associated gratitude for the existential importance of food and beverages. Every evening after sunset the fast is broken. Then, all lifestyles are allowed again until sunrise.