I’ve been traveling during Ramadan in Malaysia. This Holy Month is when Muslims show their devotion by fasting from sunrise to sunset, then eating a huge feast in the evening with their family once the sun goes down. The fast is meant to be a time of quiet contemplation of faith.
After a couple of weeks of traveling during Ramadan in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, I’ve started to understand the rhythm of the day from the pre-dawn breakfasts to the long day where no food or even water is consumed, to the joyous stuffing of faces which goes down every evening.
I have to admire the devotion of these people because to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t do it.
One of the things I hate most in the world is the sensation of being hungry.
I can’t stand the feeling of light-headedness and the empty ache in my stomach. When I am hungry I feel weak, cranky and irritable and the hungrier I get, the less I am able to cope with the simplest obstacles in life. When I am hungry I can be an absolute bitch to be around, which is unfortunate for Lee.
I can’t imagine choosing voluntarily to be in that state of hunger for the entire day from sunrise to sunset. It would drive me crazy and I don’t think I would be able to get anything done, I would simply lie there and feel sorry for myself and day dream about food.
I just can’t get my head around why someone would do this for an entire month.
However, that’s just the point; I am not religious.
There is no higher being that I would sacrifice my lunch for, let alone devote my life to.
I can’t imagine believing in anything so strongly that I would pray to it five times per day. There is simply nothing out there which has this sort of power over me. That is the difference between me and the people around me here in Malaysia who are participating in the fast as I am traveling during Ramadan. I’m sure they are uncomfortable as well and their stomachs are growling, but they are struggling through it because of their beliefs.
This is why I find traveling during Ramadan fascinating and sort of beautiful in a way. It makes me wonder what it is like to be a believer of a religion. It must bring so many answers and so much meaning to this existence.
For a while when I was traveling during Ramadan I thought that I was weaker in some way than these people who were making sacrifices for their beliefs, until I realized that there is a larger devotion which is guiding my actions as well. That “higher purpose” is travel.
My devotion to seeing the world has caused me to make some serious life changes and commitments which might appear crazy to others. When I meet people and explain to them that I live out of a backpack, don’t have a home and don’t even know how to drive a car at age 25, they are often incredulous. They can’t imagine making the type of lifestyle changes and sacrifices that I make in order to travel the world.
However, I couldn’t imagine not making them.
When I was 21 and I graduated university, the only thought that occupied my mind was achieving my dream of traveling to Europe and especially Paris. I worshipped Paris. I dreamt about it, read books about it and watched films about it. During the summer of 2008 I worked a day job and an evening and weekend job in order to save up enough money for a European trip.
I think I only had one day off per month that summer and I denied myself new clothes, trips to the movies and nights out. My friends probably thought I was completely lame for working my ass off 12 hours a day, 7 days per week. However, I didn’t care; my sacrifices were for something greater than the temporary pleasure of having a fun summer. They were in the name of leaping across the ocean and launching myself into the unknown.
Hemingway once called Paris a “moveable feast” and when I my sacrifices paid off and I touched down at Charles de Gaulle airport, I feasted.
The Musee du Louvre, The Palace of Versailles, The book sellers on the banks of the Seine, Fresh cheese in the marketplace, Winding cobblestone streets and sidewalk cafes. I could have kissed the ground. I was in heaven.
Since then I have given up any sense of a normal life to live on the road full time. No car, no house, no family, no dog and no closet filled with clothes. Sometimes it can be brutally hard, but I believe in what I am doing and I am dedicated to the journey that I am on. Traveling, just like fasting for Ramadan, means challenging yourself to do something difficult because it is what you believe in and what you want to achieve.
I’m not saying that travel is the same as religion. However, my experiences traveling during Ramadan have helped me to understand why the strong faith of very devout people makes them do things that seem absolutely ludicrous to me. I may not understand, but I know that my behaviors might appear the same way to someone else.
In one way or another, we all change our behaviors when we are inspired by something bigger than ourselves.