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Pacer Notes columnist Ava Eucker says that during her five-day fast, 'I learned a great amount about Islamic culture and hunger.'

EUCKERIt is 5:21 a.m., and in the past 21 minutes, I have managed to gorge myself on two eggs with cheese, two slices of bacon, a piece of toast, an apple, summer sausage and two full cups of water.

It will be a long trek toward understanding the motives, reasoning and enlightenment behind fasting. But hey, there is no better time to learn than today — at 5:21 in the morning. Sunrise is at 5:30, and there is still a cup of water, another piece of toast and spiritual awakening to be had.

I like to think of myself as an educated creature. Shouldn't I, after 11 years of schooling? Yet there are many things I do not comprehend, and recently one in particular came to mind: Hunger. It is one of the world's biggest killers, yet in the Islamic calendar there is an

entire month dedicated to fasting and therefore experiencing hunger.

How could I say I am well-rounded if I don't even understand the inner workings of other cultures?

In order to quench a thirst for a deeper understanding of both the Islamic culture and to gain a greater sense of empathy for those suffering from hunger, I decided to fast for five days.

If 22 percent of the world's population fasts each year, then it can't be that difficult. At least that is what I told myself the night before I began. Then I woke up.

Following the rules of common Muslim fasting, I woke up at 5 o'clock each morning to eat before the sunrise, then I ate nothing all day until the sun rested beyond the horizon around 9 p.m. More than 15 hours without a single cracker or crumb. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.

It was especially painful to fast when all those around me were constantly eating.

Our culture revolves around food. It is seemingly impossible to have a good time without it. In America, we live for excess. We eat because food tastes good and because going out to eat or getting snacks with friends is a fun pastime. Often, the food we eat isn't directly targeted toward stopping hunger — we don't let ourselves feel real hunger.

Hunger hurts. It feels as if your body is wasting away, weakening slowly. I only fasted for five days, yet already my body became weaker. I had to stop exercising due to fatigue; sometimes it was a challenge just to walk up stairs.

Muslims who fast during the month of blessing, the ninth month of the islamic lunar calendar, fast for 30 days. I have a lot of respect for anyone who has the mental toughness to deny food for that long.

Though I ate very little, I did not starve. I ate two meals a day, and the truth is that if I were in serious need, I could have simply grabbed a meal from the pantry at any time. Others aren't so fortunate. It pains me to realize that what has been one of my biggest challenges would be a blessing to less-fortunate people, who go to bed on empty stomachs and who wake up to find an empty cupboard.

I didn't fast to lose weight or to cut down on calories. I fasted to generate a greater understanding of another culture and to feel what it is like to suffer. Even though I didn't follow all the general rules of meal sizes and I did drink water due to the heat, I learned a great amount about Islamic culture and hunger.

I found that the mind is a powerful tool that can overcome physical pain if you allow it. I have also acquired greater empathy for those deprived of food and I understand that our bodies are strong enough to endure what seems impossible if we are committed to learn from our hardships.

Lakeridge High School senior Ava Eucker is one two Pacer Notes columnists for The Review. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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