Historically, the last Wednesday before Ramadan has always been a busy time in Bahraini homes… Bahraini’s, being the cool holistic cats that they are, cleansed and detoxed their systems to ring in the coming holy month properly. They used to drink a strange combination of leaves, roots and branches called “ishrig”, mixed up by the local Hawaj (apothecary) and brewed into a god awful drink to help cleanse your system. In other words, a diuretic with the devastating outcome reminiscent of a raging cyclone steriods, nice enough picture for you?
A couple of years back, right before the start of Ramadan, I jokingly mentioned to my father about wanting to cleanse my system before fasting. He replied with giving ishrig a try, and I said, why not. My why not was met with a very disdainful scoff and grave statement that will forever ring in my ears, “if you do take ishrig, you will not leave the house for a while, and you will feel pain, insurmountable pain”. He then regaled me with stories of his childhood on attempted escapes from the clutches of his house to avoid drinking the stuff. Let me tell you, the ol’man has a pretty high tolerance for weird herbal remedies, and if he’s adding a disclaimer to ishrig, then this stuff was pretty bad.
But of course me and my father have this very XY chromosome chest thumping dare double dare contest perpetually going on, and we agree to drink ishrig together and deal with consequences (a previous contest between us was betting the waiter at an Indian restaurant on how hot they could make their lamb vindaloo and then who was man enough to eat it all – end result, a very painful evening with no real winner). His claims of me not being able to handle it were met with my pointing out his old age and inability to re-hydrate fast enough.. In keeping with traditions and all gentlemanly rules, we set the date for the last Wednesday before Ramadan to cleanse our systems, and see who’s made of mettle and who’s a yellow belly baby..
The day of the test: the Ishrig arrives at our house in a sealed bag which looked as though someone walked through a forest, scooped up a bunch of leaves and branches and roots from the ground and placed them in a bag, dirt and all. The instructions were there and the ol’man and me decided to get ready. Brewed up for our pleasure, a massive jug of black water gets placed in front of me and I must’ve had this worrying look on my face because my dad let out a mocking snicker. A quick sniff of the jug and I pull my head back in disgust. It was as though someone fed a goat everything from spoiled fruits & vegetables, to meat that’s been left out in the sun, to tin cans that previously housed baked beans, to sewer style garbage; then cut the goat’s stomach open and that’s what you smelt, absolutely rancid. But this was no time to show that I was already considering chickening out, soldier on I must.
Two glasses poured in front of us and he turns to me, “listen, drink it all in one shot, the entire glass, if you don’t, you will not be able to keep it down…” Wrapping my fingers around the glass, the warmth of the recently brewed ishrig reminded me of how real this was. But after all this is a tradition of my country and I wasn’t going to live my life without having tried it once. Breathing from my mouth, I applied my lips to the rim of the glass and began to chug.. my dad, looking at me starts chugging too and his eyes widen with that frat boy look “oh yeah come on, lets see what you got frosh..” I cannot tell you how bad this stuff tasted because it was so traumatically horrible that it’s been blocked from my memory, but I did manage to knock a glass back. Wiping my mouth, remnants of some black stuff remained on my arm, the aftertaste was painful, but at least the hard part was over.
Then my father pours me another glass and the fires of fear get stoked once again. “what are you doing?” “there’s half a jug left, what do you think I’m doing, we have to finish this” “ you must be mad, I can’t do another glass, isn’t one enough?” “Come on, you want the experience don’t you? this is it, the experience is in the second glass”. And with that, I again feel the warmth of the glass on my fingers and again take a succession of deep breaths to psyche myself up. We start chugging again to see who can drink faster, but this time the aftertaste of the ishrig and the bottom of the jug sediment is starting to catch me off guard. Midway through my chug, I drop my head down and stop drinking.. He was right, the minute you stop drinking, the idea of throwing up becomes invitingly plausible… I don’t have to put up with this disgusting flavor, I could throw up, wash this all down with a cola and be fine.. But my pride got in the way and I had to be satisfied with one and a half glasses. I understood how traumatic this would be for a child having this forced down his throat back in the day.. so I gave up.
Victoriously forcing the final gulp of his second glass, my father wipes his mouth with his sleeve.. His bellowing laugh is enough to crush my hopes of triumph - yes he won the drinking ishrig contest, but I was still in this race, all was not lost, maybe I could rouse an upset with the final outcome, just maybe..
So we sat there waiting, in the living room, watching tv but not really focusing, both wondering when the turbulence was going to start. When the pain was going to come, and when it did, I traversed across the plains of detoxification cleansing with little ease.
I will spare you the details, because this is not an essay in scatology so to speak, but more about the experience. You will feel pain in your stomach as though someone was trying to squeeze your intestines into a ball and shoot some hoops. Your body will push out junk that has been in your system that has been there for ages and it will not smell good. Magazines, crossword puzzles, and lots of bathroom reading will help you through it all. Yes it was dehydrating, I was wiped out, the more water I drank the more water I lost.. But end of the day when everything was all said and done, and the sweat from my brow was wiped.. When I could actually sit down for a prolonged period of time without having to hear strange noises from my stomach, I looked over to my dad and gave him the winning thumbs up.. All his years of yoga and careful eating made his experience a lot easier than me.. He gave me a supportive nod and we vowed to take it easy with our male ego contests…
It was that day, that after many years of abuse, junk food, and other unspeakable acts that my tortured body was set free. I was lighter, I was happier and I was healthier. The journey was a tough one, but the end result was worth it all. Ramadan came and went, and I felt fantastic for quite some time.. Until the burgers and fries found their way back into my belly, and the processed sugars along with the preservatives and artificial flavorings...
Overall experience, I highly recommend this detoxification.. a little bit of history with a little bit of taking care of yourself.. I’m just wondering if I can relive the horrors and go through it again next week before Ramadan comes along..