Arabeyes: Daily life during Ramadan

In this post we look at different experiences of everyday life across the Arab world during Ramadan. We hear how Palestinians are coping in Gaza, how an Italian deals with Ramadan in the West Bank, have a glimpse into a Saudi household about to break the fast – and get tips from Bahrain on how to curb profanities during the holy month.

Heba explains what Ramadan is like for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip:

This holy month comes to Gaza with the situation still deteriorated. However, this does not discourage people from celebrating Ramadan in their special manner as they do every year. […] I saw this woman in one of our centers who kept complaining about not finding a job whilst being a university graduate. I suddenly interrupted her and asked, “Well how are you going to manage Ramadan shopping?” She brightly smiled in my face and said, “I make my own qataif (Ramadan special dessert) and fawanis (Ramadan special lamps). So my kids do not feel they lack anything.” This simplicity and seeking alternatives have always made me highly respect Gazans’ resilience and determination to survive.
Generally, I cook a lot in Ramadan. I think all people, relative to their resources, cook a lot in Ramadan too :). […] What I really noticed is the extremely high prices of food items due to the siege. […] They joke in Gaza and say that from now on you can get a gas cylinder filled if you show your marriage certificate at the station to prove that you have a family and, thus, are entitled to a gas cylinder once a month. […] The context might appear to be bleak and unpromising but it will not prevent us from enjoying this beautiful month with our kids.

We turn to a different perspective on Ramadan in Palestine. Elena is an Italian who has just gone back to the West Bank to work:

beh, tornare a Ramallah con il Ramadan appena iniziato ha una serie di risvolti pseudo-comici:
-innanzitutto l'orario: c'è un'ora di differenza tra Israele e la Palestina, per cui quando a Ramallah sono le 15.00, a Gerusalemme sono le 16,00 (ma almeno l'ora di Ramallah è la stessa dell'Italia). Ovviamente questo complica le relazioni tra chi gestisce un progetto da Gerusalemme, da gli appuntamenti e viene a lavorare a Ramallah presentandosi un'ora in anticipo. …
-il digiuno: digiunare è un'ottima scusa a qualunque cosa… sono in ritardo, sbaglio la strada, non ti ho telefonato, mi sono dimenticato di qualcosa, ho perso le chiavi, non riesco a concentrarmi, non so più chi sono/dove sono/cosa faccio…. perchè sto digiunando…. ok, è vero, non è facile lavorare durante il Ramadan (anche se gli orari vengono ridotti) ma magari non è sempre il digiuno che crea questi imprevisti :-)
-il non digiuno: se anche non digiuni (e c'è un sacco di gente che non digiuna, oltre ai cristiani) non ti metti a mangiare e/o bere davanti agli altri… quindi se alle 14.00 ti trovi a Nablus fuori dal check-point in un parcheggio sotto il sole cocente ad aspettare che il tuo service parta per riportarti a casa e ci sono 37 gradi all'ombra (molti di più nel mezzoi pubblico) e per caso ti viene voglia di bere qualcosa perchè hai un po’ di arsura… te la tieni!

Well, returning to Ramallah when Ramadan had just begun has a series of pseudo-comical implications:
First of all the time: there is an hour’s difference between Israel and Palestine [because of a different schedule for daylight saving time], so when it’s 3pm in Ramallah, in Jerusalem it’s 4pm (but at least in Ramallah it’s the same time as Italy). Obviously this complicates relations between those running a project from Jerusalem, arranging appointments and coming to work in Ramallah, arriving an hour in advance. …
Fasting: fasting is an excellent excuse for anything… ‘I’m late, I took the wrong road, I didn’t call you, I’ve forgotten something, I’ve lost the keys, I can’t concentrate, I don’t know anymore who I am/where I am/what I am doing…because I am fasting.’ OK, it’s true, it’s not easy to work during Ramadan (even if working hours are shorter) but perhaps it’s not always fasting that causes these unforeseen events :-)
Not fasting: Even if you are not fasting (and there are a whole lot of people who don’t fast, besides Christians), don’t start eating and/or drinking in front of other people… So if you find yourself in Nablus at 2pm outside the [Israeli military] checkpoint, in a car park under the burning sun, waiting for your service taxi [shared taxi between cities] to depart so you can get home, and it’s 37 degrees [99 degrees Fahrenheit] in the shade (much more in public transport), and in case you feel the desire to drink something because you are parched…hold it!

In Saudi Arabia, Shari’ Alatayef paints a picture of a family preparing to break the fast on the first day of Ramadan:

يقترب المغرب ويبدأ الشوق للإفطار بالمائدة التي تتزين على الأقل بثلاث أنواع من التمور حرص أبو عبدالعزيز على تواجدها في المائدة وطاسات ماء زمزم الذي أحضرها أبو مزيد من مكة عندما أعتمر في رجب الماضي ورائحة القهوة الطازجة المحموسة خصيصاً لهذه المناسبة وأيضاً طاسات اللبن البارد والمزين بقطع من القشطة والتي أحضره أبو صالح من نخل آل أبو أحمد والكل يهلل ويدعي ويترحم على الشيبان الذين توفوا ولم يلحقوا على رمضان هذه السنة والنساء يتذكرون جداتهم وتبدأ تذرف بعض الدموع على استحياء وهي مشاعر مخلوطة بين الحنين للمتوفين والفرحة بالصوم هذه السنة. أما الشباب فهم على أهبة الاستعداد أمام الباب أو الزلفة لسماع الآذان والتسابق لتبليغ الرجال بالفطور والدخول للنساء للاستراق بعض النظرات على بنات العائلة.
Sunset approaches, and the longing for iftar is focused on the table. It is arrayed with at least three types of dates that Abu Abdul Aziz wishes to find on it, and cups of Zamzam water [from a well believed to be divinely blessed] brought by Abu Mazid from Mecca when he performed the umrah [pilgrimage] last Rajab [the seventh month of the Islamic year]. Then there is the aroma of fresh coffee ground especially for this occasion, and bowls of cold laban [fermented milk], topped with a dollop of cream, which Abu Saleh had brought from the farm of the Abu Ahmed family. Everyone is invoking God and saying prayers for the two old men in the family who died and did not witness Ramadan this year. The women remember their grandmothers and begin shedding some tears in shyness, the feelings a combination of missing those that have passed away and joy at fasting this year. As for the young men, they are in front of the door on the alert for the call to prayer, competing to inform the men that it is time to break the fast and enter the house where the women are – and steal a few glimpses of the girls in the family.

We end on a humorous note, with a post from Bahraini blogger Yagoob; he points out the things that change during Ramadan:

1- Our sense of time:
During the whole year, we’re accustomed to using ‘clock time’ i.e. 1:00pm, 3:30am etc… But in Ramadhan all time is converted into Islamic time i.e. After Dhuhur Prayer, After Iftar, After Taraweeh etc…or alternatively to TV show time: “I’ll see you after Baab Al-Haara” etc…
2- Anger Management:
During the whole year, cussing and cursing (especially when driving) is normal in everyday life using crude yet witty and colourful vocabulary i.e. F***(-ing-ass-tard-er-face-hole-mother+er) and sh*t(face-hole-monkey)
In Ramadhan, your anger is magnified by the fact that you’re hungry and thirsty (and hot!) yet you do not want to ‘ruin’ or ‘hurt’ your fasting so you use alternative language including ‘Allahoma ini sa’im’ [By God, I am fasting] and ‘La howla wela qowa ila billah’ [There is no power and no strength save in God] in an angry tone.
3- Sense of taste:
Eating beef, chicken, fish and shrimp anytime during the year would feel a bit over the top, but in Ramadhan not eating both red and white meat at the same meal is disappointing and some may fear for themselves from under-nourishment.

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