AaSiyaam - Fasting
Algafaf - Dehydration
Written a month ago and promptly forgotten. Posted now, while in Germany, one day before going home. Whoops!
It's Ramadan in Egypt and true to what i've heard on Al-Jazeera specials and read in snippets of Arabic textbooks here and there.... Egypt does Ramadan RIGHT. The extent to which Egyptian Muslims ALL seem to be fasting, as well as the shifted rhythm of the day, is all rather fascinating. The energy in the street, or lack thereof, is palpable at certain times (all is dead calm from 4 to 10 AM, then normally but sleepily continuing throughout the afternoon, the lull in energy and break in good moods at 5 pm is obvious and can result in scuffles in the street, and at 6, as people are buying food to prepare for breaking the fast at 7, all is excitement and anticipation). It seems to revolve around food (SO MUCH FOOD in fast-breaking meals!) prayer and improving one's relationship with God, time with family and evening gatherings, and acts of charity for those in need. (Though there's a fair amount of grumpy, less-than-courteous or charitable behavior going on in the heat of the day, when unsurprisingly, people get thirsty and snap a bit quicker.) I was honestly dreading Ramadan, thinking everything would be closed and that everyone would be unavailable, and what would it matter anyway, since I don't live with a Muslim family. Buuuut I do have Muslim friends! Who invite me to their homes to eat with their families (so so lovely and just like a pre-Christmas December meal with family), and to restaurants, and more than that, I have a roommate who loves to cook and loves to serve those she cares about with good food, particularly this time of year. The times Kelsey, Enas, and I have shared meals and stayed up at night, laughing and drinking cups of green mint tea are something I never want to forget, thank you.
Officially, the month of Ramadan commemorates God revealing the Qur'an to the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). According to what I've been told, God desires that Muslims fast to remind them of those who have little to nothing all year round. As such, any sort of consumption is abstained from throughout daylight hours. Added prayer times in the evening, after the fast-breaking meal, provide opportunities for men and women to meditate and "draw closer to what God wants us to be," in the words of one of my muslim friends.
In terms of aesthetics, at certain times of day, Ramadan has a hushed, calm, and pretty quality of I've become an immediate fan. Other times of day can be, uh, stressful. LIke when you're in a large group ordering the fast-breaking meal at a restaurant and EVERYONE is starving and not thinking straight and the restaurant is a zoo. The cycle of energy throughout the day easy to get sucked into. When the evening call to prayer sounds, the maghreb, the silence and calm is unimaginable (everyone and their mom is eating, yo). Lanterns are lit in the streets and in the minarets and Christmasy lights adorn just about everything. It's beautiful. Soon thereafter, the streets begin to buzz with activity, as people freshly sated with an evening meal head out to expend some energy, walk along the corniche, go shopping, buy sweets and juice, and look fly in their new Ramadan outfits. It's pretty sweet. (Except when they set off full-size fireworks from the balconies next door. And keep doing it until 2 or 3. Whyyyyyyy!)
I'm not fasting, and most of my American friends aren't either. I thought this would make me feel guilty, but if anything, it's a helpful reminder that while this is my current home, I am not a muslim Egyptian. Outside of my apartment, I've only eaten food at the lounge of the building where we study, and furtively in the locker room of the gym where I work out. I don't feel comfortable guzzling water in front of a bunch of fasting women walking on treadmills, so my usual habit of sipping on a whole bottle while working out is completed in a few chugs in a bathroom stall. [EDIT: THIS WAS A BAD IDEA. I ended up getting severely dehydrated the second week of Ramadan and the pharmacist who was getting me electrolytes said "why on earth are you not drinking more? You're not fasting! You're not used to this!" Yeah, uh, he was right. Whoops. SECOND EDIT: I've since learned that even fasting people break the rules, for a whole realm of legitimate reasons. You just don't talk about it if you see someone breaking their fast. Don't hate me, muslim fasters who might be reading this, I'm not trying to bust you, I'm just sharing what I've heard and what I've seen!]
The return to Austin approaches, and while I'm content about that, there are delightful Egypt things that no Austin afternoon can emulate, and those things (those ridiculous, bedraggled, adorable cats that hang out in Camp Shezar, buying fresh mango by the kilo with a scale dating from 1940, sitting with friends smoking shisha and drinking tea until the wee hours, being dragged by Egyptian girls into the center of a dance circle at parties to uproarious laughter when they realize, yep, that foreigner really DOESN'T know how to belly dance) have convinced me that a year in America, or a bit longer, depending on that master's, is a great pit-stop on the way to future periods of living abroad, if God wills it. Preferably in Tunisia, in a beach-side villa. Just sayin'. [EDIT, written one day before I fly home: leaving is not as hard as I thought. It's time to go home!]
It's my 3rd to last Friday in Egypt. Off to go make a cup of al-arosa tea and sit on my dusty balcony and drink in the joyful cacophony of Ramadan evening Sporting noises.
Some Ramadan stuff:
Basia and Kaylea cooked a Tex-mex iftaar in our apartment. Note the Ramadan decorations above our dining room table and the mango she's slicing to set on a bowl of perfect mango pico de gallo!
A street decorated with Ramadan swag.
Pre-iftar with classmates and professors, for our final celebratory meal
A particularly scenic iftar overlooking Islamic Cairo (al-azhar mosque is the most obvious building)
Learning how to make homemade atayif (pancakes stuffed with coconut, raisins, and nuts, deep-fried and soaked in lemon sugar syrup. Yes.)
Atayif assembly line
Eating a DIFFERENT sort of atayif and drinkin' that tea with Ghada
Lanterns, or fawanees, are a big part of Ramadan tradition
(I wish I had a picture of some fights and of the empty streets and of the power outages and of the other things that have characterized Ramadan, but those just wouldn't be as pleasant to browse through. :)