Ulcers, arthritis and hypertension but Yusuf Harrison is still fasting at 88

YUSUF HARRISON may be 88 years old, but he still has the strength to fast through the holy month of Ramadan. On a wintry afternoon at his residence in Haven Old Age Home in Woodstock, Harrison – who little family and has outlived most of his friends – shared his memories and experience of Ramadaan with Ra’eesa Pather.

My earliest memories of fasting are during apartheid. During that time, fasting was all right, because we were always running around, keeping out of the police’s way. But when we got home, we’d be so hungry we could eat a cow.

I don’t know if the children today are like we were at that time. There were six of us in my group of friends, and we all lived in District Six. We did our duties during the day, but after Iftar, we were out on the road, going to nightclubs and playing in our band. I was the lead singer, and also performed on lead guitar, drums and bass guitar. I knew one day that these legs, these feet, this mouth and this body was going to get a hiding, because I used to go out dancing. Our outlook on life at that time was completely different than what it is now.

I still fast at my age, but there are times when I can’t. I suffer from hypertension, I’ve got stomach ulcers, and I’ve got arthritis. But if I can make it, I make it. I believe now that Ramadaan is a time when I can thank God for every gift I have been given. I have plenty to be grateful for: my life, my health, and my knowledge. I can still go down on my knees in prayer, but many people my age can’t. A lot of people, even as old as I am, think that their duty ends with prayer. But it doesn’t stop there. I know first hand what it’s like to live in a bad situation.

Before I came here, I was living in another old age home, but it was a cruel place. For breakfast, at suhoor, we used to get a little bit of porridge, if we were lucky. Otherwise, it was just two slices of bread and a mug of coffee. At night, if you were lucky, you might get a bowl of soup. Eventually, they turned some of us out and I had to sleep at a night shelter.

When I came to this home, in the first few days I said to the staff, if I was ever happy in a home, it was here. It’s completely different here: we have enough porridge and sandwiches for breakfast. For supper, I buy what I want or I can prepare whatever I like to eat for myself.

Ramadaan has been difficult for me for a long time, but this place makes it easier. I’m an orphan for many years now, and I don’t have any family. So, Ramadaan is me and my Creator all the time.

I can’t say I miss Ramadaan with my family. I’ve been an orphan too many years. My mother’s gone about 40 years now, and since then I’ve been living from one friend to the next. I have no living relatives, just friends, and I miss lots of my friends because they are deceased now – I just outlived them.

The family I have now is two women and two men – friends of mine who I can call if anything happens. If I have a problem with my doctor, one of them will take me to theirs.

I try to fulfil all my obligations, but there are certain times when I can’t go to mosque for taraweeh prayers, because it’s too far from here. If I’m not feeling well, then I also stay indoors and I can’t go to mosque. That’s when I miss my friends. But going to the mosque and sitting in taraweeh is a different experience for me every year. There are different people reciting the Qu’ran all the time and I never get tired of it.

I don’t know how many Ramadaans I have left. I think about it every day. But for as long as I can, I will keep my fast.

– As told to Ra’eesa Pather. 
– Featured image: By Ra’eesa Pather.