"So wait, you don't get to eat any food?"
"Well, OK, but at least you can drink water."
"Nope, no water either."
That's how my third explanation of the week was going — this time with Tiger, one of my long-time students.
"But teacher," he spluttered, "if you don't eat or drink any water for a month, you'll die!" His big 11-year-old eyes widened. Surely, one of his favorite teachers wasn't attempting to starve herself.
So I explained.
No, I couldn't eat or drink anything — between 2:38 a.m. and 7:42 p.m. After that, I could eat and drink as I liked until 2:37 a.m.
Welcome to Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which ended Saturday evening.
And now to answer the questions all adults asked.
No, I do not practice Islam. I am not Muslim, nor was I raised to be.
No, I have no plans to convert.
Yes, I still observed Ramadan, and yes, it was all my choice.
Allow me to explain.
This all started with a conversation with Manfriend, a man who'd spent years observing Ramadan with his family.
When he announced his plans to fast, I was shocked. He didn't observe most other traditions. Sure, he didn't eat pork, but that suited this vegetarian just fine. So why this? I mean, were we really discussing how an Islamic tradition would be carried out in our daily life in China?
He made clear he never expected — or even thought — I'd fast, too. He just wanted me to know. He explained his reasons, and I listened, eager to understand.
Ultimately, though, I realized I couldn't understand what a month of fasting did for a person — what it taught them or how it felt. How could I? The longest I'd gone without eating was during an ill-fated juice cleanse.
So, in a rather stubborn sort of way, I made my choice.
A choice that surprised (but I think delighted) Manfriend. A choice I diligently and carefully observed every day for the past month.
Folks in China had plenty to say — comments on how thin I was getting or questions about why I wasn't eating dinner. In this largely atheistic country, my students were most confused. They knew zhaiyuè (Ramadan) only as a facet of some religion they understood academically at best.
Mostly, people — here and back home — were left wondering about the woman who would do this without even being a member of that faith.
I get that. But as I'd made my choice, for my own reasons, I didn't need anyone to understand. I simply asked that others respect it as my decision.
As Ramadan neared its end, I told Manfriend about Tiger's mother over a late dinner. Tiger had told her I'd been observing Ramadan, and she knew Eid al-Fitr was near. Tiger's mother called to say she'd love to take me out for dinner to celebrate, as she knew many Muslims would be doing.
I smiled, too. I, an admittedly nonreligious woman, had nearly made it through my first Ramadan, all while living in a country as foreign to me as the tradition I was celebrating.
And I'd found plenty of (unlikely) support along the way.
Follow Alexandra's adventures overseas: coloradodaily.com/columnists. Stalk her: instagram.com/wildeyed_wandering.