It is 10 pm. The devil is still unchained. Six hours are left. And I am sitting in a bar in Sofia. Initially the plan was to arrive in Istanbul on the first day of the holy month. But due to the tight schedule, I am still in Bulgaria's Capital. Tonight - before the fasting begins - I should finally get used to staying reserve. Although I regret that my stay in Sofia has been so short, I am at the same time glad that the transition from occident to orient is near, because when a young Western tourist chooses to fast in the holy month of Ramadan, it can be rather inconvenient if his travel destination is known for excessive parties, especially if that tourist is used to excessive parties.
Although according to Islam it is not mandatory to fast while travelling, especially this journey, this quest for cognition, would feel incomplete without complying to the rules of Ramadan. But of course, this is not always easy for somebody who is used to a very different lifestyle, who is not known to be a pious person, whose deeds are often not compatible with Islam. Starting tomorrow, the most challenging part of the most challenging journey in my life is ahead of me. But what about tonight? I only have this one night in Sofia. Who knows if I will ever be able to return and experience Bulgaria's nightlife again? It is my last chance in this journey to live the easier lifestyle that I have become so used to over all the years, because even after Ramadan I will be staying in a country where certain things are illegal. So tonight, maybe I will have "just one beer"?
You do not have to be the Bulgarian mystic Baba Vanga to foresee that after one beer I have another beer, and a cocktail, and another beer, and another cocktail, not because of some of those people who like to persuade you to have a drink like they were missionaries, but because I myself simply felt like having "one last drink". How time flies, I wonder, as I figure out what time it is hours later. A dawn of a new day. And it begins to dawn on me, as I'm tumbling around the streets of Sofia: I "celebrated" into Ramadan in the most shameful way. Stupid me! The plan was to fast all 29 days, and already the first day turns out to be a disaster.
How could I not foresee that this would happen? Somebody give me a slap, and a punch, and another slap, and another punch, not on behalf of those people who derogatorily impose their views on others, being obsessed with the mistakes of others, but because of my personal failure to achieve what I had aspired not for anyone but for myself. How could I fail so miserably after being able to fast during Ramadan the previous two years, even resisting the temptations of the hedonistic nightlife of Amsterdam, while my friends were drinking as if there was no tomorrow? Saying that I slipped on a stair on my way to 'heaven" is an understatement. It feels much more like I am on a completely different path.
The next morning I arrive at the border. The sun is rising, the meal is in my stomach, the second day of Ramadan
has begun. No more eating, drinking or smoking until the sun goes down. And no more alcohol for a long long time. After arriving in Istanbul hours later, an older Turkish local selflessly
helps me to find my way to Sultan Ahmed, where last year, during my "Around the World" trip, I witnessed the astonishing Blue Mosque as well as the legendary Hagia Sophia for the first time. The
Turkish man makes me look foolish in the most noble way as he insists on carrying my luggage, without ever asking me for anything.
Around twelve hours later it is getting more and more crowded on the streets in Sultan Ahmed. The sun is about to go down. The smell of corn is in the air. Water melons are being cut. Near the Obelisk of Theodosius I. a market has been prepared, where people are standing in line. And just like the locals, I am anticipating Iftar. But there is not much motivation left after ruining the first day of Ramadan. How could I possibly explain to God that the incident in Sofia was an occident... I mean an accident! I can't. It was my fault. The least what I can do now is to move on and to focus on Ramadan all the more. What's done is done. It cannot be reversed. It is time to look forward. And I am really looking forward to the meal dishes right now.
After a redeeming dinner, I walk over to a stage, where a local band is apparently about to perform live songs in dedication to Allah. I look at the screen that reads "Fatih'te Ramazan", which means "the opening of Ramadan". The message is iconographically complemented by some small stars and a big crescent, which is regarded as the symbol of Islam. Particularly with respect to praying and fasting, the crescent has a very decisive meaning. According to the Quran, Ramadan begins the day after the crescent has become visible. And this leads me to a redeeming conclusion: Although the past cannot be changed, it may still not be too late to fast all days!
The crescent was not sighted everywhere on the same day, making me think of different possible scenarios, which at first glance seem impossible. For instance, If the crescent was visible in Sofia two days ago, but only yesterday in Turkey, this would mean that although I did not fast on the first day of Ramadan, I did fast on the first day of Ramadan. It would mean that today is the first day of Ramadan 2011 again, as if somebody pushed on a reset button, restarting Ramadan. It seems more likely, however, that in this region the crescent was sighted everywhere on the same day, making me realize that the only way that I can unquestionably fast all 29 days of this year's Ramadan, is to stick to the plan and travel further eastwards, because it is for certain that Ramadan will end in Pakistan one day later. A very weird situation. It feels like travelling through time. As if I am entering a parallel world, or as if Allah is giving me a second chance for Ramadan, redirecting me from the 'Highway to Hell' back to the 'Stairway to Heaven'.
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