Geography means the amount of daylight each part of the world is exposed to is different. Some have a proportional split between light and darkness. Others have a marginally higher amount of light than darkness and vice versa. And then there are the extremes of the world. Where some places get exposed to daylight for the best part of 24 hours. Simultaneously, the polar opposite of such places experience way more darkness than light.
This disparity in the various spatial dimensions of the world means fasting is “easier” in some places than it is in others. Take Iceland for example. The country is reported to be experiencing 21 hours of daylight this summer. That means, a Muslim in Reykjavik has to go without food and water in the sweltering heat of the summer (Is the country still Iceland during the summer) for 21 hours! That is the ultimate test of physical perseverance. Almost all the countries in the Northern hemisphere are currently going through longer fasting hours. Countries like Australia in the Southern hemisphere however have way shorter hours.
The disparity in Ramadan experience is about more than just hours spent not eating. Economics plays a large role in it. Of course the developing world does not see the scale of Iftaar you will come across in a Mosque in Washington DC. You can easily find all you can eat Biryani stands in London while worshippers in Madina Zongo might be battling with each other for a pack of half cooked rice.
Living in another country during Ramadan exposes you to such schisms. In 2011, I went on an exchange program to the USA. It was an exciting time after years of wishing I could live like the kids I saw on TV. I was going to hit all the famous food joints I had read about on the internet and saw on TV, particularly, McDonalds. But that had to wait for about a month after I landed at Dulles Airport. It was in the month of Ramadan and I had to see out my obligation regardless of where I was.
Around 5:30 pm on the first day I fasted in the USA, I decided to take a thirty plus minute nap with the hope of waking up just in time for Iftaar. 40 minutes later, I woke up and the sun was still high up in the skies. It was not the apocalypse neither was my time wrong. It was the USA and Iftaar was at 8:30 pm. Zongo mu’azzins had not prepared me for such a life. Sitting down looking at the clock for the next three hours were the hardest Ramadan period ever.
Coupled with that was the crazy humidity of the summer. Sucking all moisture out of you, the weather made things a tad more unbearable. And then there was the first time I saw a meal box from McDonalds and my little American host brother happened to be munching on its content. Putting a fasting African fresh off the plane in the same room as a kid devouring French fries is cruel and usual punishment!!!
Fasting away from home is hard not only because of the hours and economics of it but the lack of family in it. One of the joys of Ramadan is sitting down for Iftaar surrounded by family and friends. The food can be chef cooked or bought from the roadside vendor but that sense of camaraderie seeing family happy is golden. You do not want to trade that for anything.
Last summer, I happened to be in the states but this time working odd jobs. The long vacation is the opportune time to make money and increase your street cred with the Borga nomenclature appendage. Waiting tables at an Indian buffet restaurant, I was the victim of the biggest mind stressing scheme ever. How do you survive in close proximity to Biryani and every other divinely inspired culinary and not get a bite off the plate? It was the most demanding Ramadan ever for me. Added to that was how little time I got to say my prayers. Everything is time measured so the less you work, the less you earn. So you might earn all the money you could, but you got little time to say Tahajjud prayers. When you do have the time, your sored up legs from standing for 10 hours during work prevents you from giving your best. And of course, you do not get to stand side by side with family in prayer or even break bread with your sisters.
Sometimes you do get the luxury of time and some family members being around but what of the food? No matter how good Indian culinary is, the African tongue would always want kooko and kose for Iftaar and jollof after the Tarawih prayers. No amount of modification is going to make Biryani look or even taste like proper Jollof: Ghanaian Jollof.
The entire experience is totally different. From the food, duration of fast, temptations around you and even down to the Tarawih prayers. In Ghana, we have a standard number of ten raka’hs which do not last beyond 45 minutes in the non-express mosques. American mosques have 20 long raka’hs spanning an hour and a half. And the closest thing to an express mosque are 8 raka’h mosques who also spend the same amount of time as the 20 raka’h places. So Tarawih ends around 11 pm and when the last ten days come around, Tahajjud starts at 1. That gives you barely an hour of quality sleep. Not forgetting that mosques are not as ubiquitous in America as they are in Ghana.