Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Living within Ramadan

I must begin this entry that the information I provide is from my experiences, cultural lens, and conversations. I did go to one website: for some information that I needed to check. I do not claim to have a strong understanding of the religious and cultural practice of Ramadan- my point of view is obviously biased.

When I ask my colleagues about the purpose of Ramadan, they tell me something inspiring: Ramadan is a time to remember and reflect that God, Allah, provides all through the year. By fasting and praying, people remember to be generous to the poor, and to give thanks for what they have. To do this, they are required to fast (from food, drink, and sexual activity) from sunrise to sunset. Some seem to take this very seriously, others seem to resent the fasting. (You see, one cannot choose to not be Muslim if one is Moroccan).

When sun sets and it’s time for the Iftar (the breaking of the fast), a man sings on a loudspeaker that we can hear from our homes. People gather and enjoy huge meals together. Some stay up late into the night.

What’s fascinating to me is what it’s like to live surrounded by fasting and praying people:
• There are more beggars on the street, and people seem to give generously.
• We tip our maids and our guardians with money, sugar, or oil.
• The streets are eerily empty of all but criminals during the Iftar (interestingly enough, this is also when my internet speeds up), and become very busy at about 9:00pm- this is the time to do one’s shopping, get around town, etc. Tom and I went on a walk on one of these evenings, and noticed a large group of people praying in the street outside a mosque, to the sound of a man singing on the loudspeakers.
• People are more tired and grumpy, for obvious reasons. My staff lounge has become a place to nap. Offices, students, everyone slows down in the afternoon. Traffic getting home from work is insane, with more honking than usual as people are trying to hurry home to get ready to eat.
• Indulgent breads and sweets are made fresh everywhere at about 5:00, meant for the Iftar. I especially enjoy the fried honey bites (I don’t know what they’re called) and the Moroccan flat breads.
• Some women and men dress conservatively, often in Djellabas, any time of the year. I notice more Djellabas on the street close to Iftar, worn particularly by women. I asked a non-Muslim co-worker about them today, since she was wearing one. She mentioned that if one goes to a nice meal (such as the Iftar), it is appropriate to wear one.

I’ve learned to live with the Arabic expression Inshallah, which means “If Allah wills.” Whether this expression gets abused is another conversation, but I’ve learned to mix frustration with humor when things don’t go as planned. We still wait for salary advances (promised 2 weeks ago), the boxes we shipped in April (which should be here tomorrow); we laugh as our friends receive furniture deliveries at midnight.

As I write this, I can hear my neighbor snoring.

Salaam, peace be upon you.

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