Dubai: An American school principal who is new to Dubai is fasting this Ramadan for the first time so she can share the experience alongside Muslim students and teachers who are observing the holy month.
Lisa Johnson, head principal of American Academy for Girls, has been fasting all the 15 days of Ramadan so far and aims to fast the remaining days also. Johnson, who is from the state of Oklahoma in the United States, joined the Dubai school last November after arriving here from Thailand, where she had lived for five years.
‘I wanted to share this experience’
“I’ve never lived in the Middle East before, so I’ve never lived in a country that had large numbers of people that celebrated Ramadan. Most of our students are Muslim, and as we began planning for Ramadan, I saw how many of our girls were fasting and following the Ramadan discipline. Even our younger students, in the second grade, are trying to follow the Ramadan fast. So I thought this is something I should do to share this experience with my students and with my staff who are fasting,” said Johnson.
‘It changes your view’
Fasting turned out to be less difficult than she expected and has put certain things in perspective for her. “I really recognised that even as a Christian, the spiritual experience was really beautiful. It changes the way you view food and drink — the things in life that we take for granted. Sometimes when you remove those, I think it clears your mind, and you’re really able to appreciate that you have that privilege of being able to eat and grow spiritually.”
Johnson added: “Even now [while fasting], if I feel hungry, I just remind myself that there are millions of people in the world who live in a constant state of hunger. And so it puts things in perspective and fasting doesn’t become so difficult.”
Still, this being her first Ramadan, Johnson has told herself she “won’t be upset with myself if I’m not able to follow it for the full month”. She stays busy at school on weekdays, which helps pass the time. Weekends are “definitely a bit more challenging” as the day goes by slower.
As an “avid cyclist”, Johnson doesn’t mind taking “a gentle two laps” once or twice a week at the Meydaan bike track while fasting, waiting to hear the call to prayer at sunset from a mosque there, which signals the end of the day’s fast. She then has iftar at a restaurant there. Sometimes she has iftar with friends and colleagues (some of whom are also fasting even though they are not Muslims) at their homes or at restaurants. Her school’s primary principal and secondary principal and several teachers are also fasting alongside the Muslim staff.
Johnson has also been able to wake up around 4am for suhoor, the pre-dawn meal traditionally taken to help with the coming day’s fast. She said she is a very early riser anyways, so having suhoor has not been hard.
‘Slow down a bit’
Ramadan has brought a change of pace for her, as it has for virtually everyone in the UAE with working hours reduced by two hours and many activities put on hold for a month. “We’re very fast paced in school and during Ramadan, everybody has kind of caught their breath. With the pandemic and everything, it’s been very intense at school. I just feel like it’s kind of been a blessing for us to catch our breath and to slow down a bit, and for our families to slow down a bit as well and be more gentle with themselves.”
She added that here, in the UAE, western friends are surprised, naturally, to hear that she’s fasting during Ramadan, while Muslim colleagues and students “really appreciate that I’m sharing this practice in Ramadan. And it’s made me more sensitive to the demands on their study and work”.