Is it hard to stay without water? Can you actually work? Are tourists welcome? Hafsa Mbamba, prominent Zanzibari career woman and mum, gives us an insight into her life during the holy month, taking place around 22 March to 20 April this year.
Please tell us about your Ramadan routine - between office and family?
A lot of things change during Ramadan. It helps living in Zanzibar where the whole society adapts to this special time in Muslim faith. We are allowed to leave work earlier, usually at 2:30pm and by then you may actually feel a bit worn-out and tired, having had no drinks and food since sunrise. So we go home, prepare iftar, the daily fast-breaking meal. I am not much into cooking and am happy to have a household help. Sometimes I cook one special dish. The evening is a special time for family gatherings and visiting relatives and friends. In my family we stay mostly at home for iftar during week days, but on weekends we join my only living grandmother and other relatives at our family house. I come from a lineage of very strong women and a father you could say was a feminist, but I am also very spiritual. We hold night prayers, read the Quran. Ramadan is a time to be more giving. As a family, we started a “Ramadan basket” to support the less fortunate in 2014. I usually go to bed early, and after a short night it’s getting up at 4am when you can take your breakfast before the sun rises. My small daughters at their age do not practise Ramadan yet, but the older one has tried once by missing out on a meal; you slowly introduce your children to it. It’s like trying for a marathon. Fasting is an almost invisible act. It makes me feel connected to my inner soul and my creator. I feel really elevated. It’s certainly not sleep-all-day, and eat-all-night. Who could do that holding a job? I still have to be alive and functioning.
Is it hard to stay without water the whole day?
In Zanzibar it’s actually only 12 hours. It’s important to keep your body hydrated. I drink at least eight glasses of water between breaking my fast and waking up for suhur, the meal before starting again. I also take vitamins and other supplements. We have delicious rich smoothies with healthy fruits with moringa and baobab, or oat milk with banana and dates, that keeps me going up to 2pm.
What is the essence of Ramadan to you?
For me it’s like a detox. A detox from a lot of things. I become more conscious about what I say, think and do. It’s like a reset button for my thoughts and action. Isn’t that why people go to wellness retreats? It’s me-time. I grew up in a very libertarian society in Scandinavia, with very supportive parents. They made no difference between boys and girls, especially my father who taught me everything from using tools to painting a house. Islam gives women the freedom to be active, contrary to what many believe. My husband also supports me greatly in my job.
Are tourists welcome during this time?
Certainly, why not? With 20 years of experience in tourism I would actually say, Ramadan can showcase the authentic Zanzibar. Cultures are more present, big hotels have even started to prepare beautiful iftars. Of course, you don’t run in a bikini through Stone Town, but you don’t do that in the Vatican either! Tourists also ask me about my veil sometimes. I did not cover up before I came to Zanzibar. Instead I had an Afro before it was in fashion! Now I wear the hijab like a crown. I feel my personality has come out more wearing a scarf, I am not constantly defined by my haircut or my clothes