Wednesday 10 October 2007


Today was the last day of Ramazan (or Ramadan), one of the three holly months for Muslims, the month that good Muslims are supposed to fast, one of the fundamental duties imposed by their religion.
Eating, drinking, smoking, nothing is supposed to pass their lips, from sunrise till sunset. In addition to this, sex is forbidden during this month, as well as the drinking of spirits.

The idea behind this is, that everybody learns to know what hunger and deprivation is, to feel compassion for the poor and hungry, and besides, to learn self control. A very noble intent, by all means.
The daily implementation, however, is another story. People do fast, that is not the issue, they fast religiously from sunrise till sunset, and then, from sunset till sunrise they gorge themselves in a way that belies all the good intentions of frugality and solidarity with the poor.
People love Ramazan. Life is upside down and everybody participates in this food orgies in the middle of the night, like children in a picnic. All the advertisements on the press and television are about food, and the profit of the food industry triplicates in this month.

Other than eating, not very much gets done in this month. People leave work early, to be ready, with the spoon in the hand, to attack the meal at home at the very moment when a cannon shot announces the setting of the sun. The pre-cannon shot traffic jam in the streets is of course a wonder to behold, you just imagine all the people that have had nothing to eat or drink or smoke in many, many hours and how heated their tempers are. Don’t you dare to antagonize a hungry driver with the smell of food in his nostrils.
After the meal, the more religious go to the mosque, while the rest lounge in front of the television gathering their strength to do much more serious eating at midnight. The Ramazan sofrasi, the lavish Ramazan table can easily contain twenty dishes and big families and neighbors sit together and love it. For the poor, the city halls organize meals in enormous tents set up on squares, so that also the indigent eats best during the fasting period.

About an hour before sunrise, a drummer with a very big and loud drum, walks the streets to wake up the believer (and non believer alike), again courtesy of the city hall, in time to do a fortifying breakfast of soup and some six dishes with lots of tea. Then, again, to bed, till is time to go to work. See than if you can work, of course, with broken sleep, an upset stomach and terrible thirst. Where we live, is still over 30C during the day.
Needless to say that the emergency rooms do overtime on Ramazan, this unhealthy regime goes not unpunished. In this world, of course, and rewarded in the next (??). In many small cities life revolves around this system and shops open only after sunset. Quite practical, of course, you are an even good Muslim when fasting and sleeping at the same time.
Less fortunate are school children. They are expected to attend school as usual, but also encouraged to fast as long as they can keep it up, from the age of eight. They also love, of course, the nocturnal feasts and they feel like grownups when allowed to participate. This year the beginning of the school year and the beginning of Ramazan come together, Ramazan following the moon calendar, and so beginning ten days earlier every year. So, the poor kids, fresh from a school holyday long enough to let them forget every thing they learned in the past year, will bring the first month of the new school year dozing and being zombie-like.

Interesting detail is that school cantinas are closed this month, taking for granted that pupils and teachers will fast. In the meanwhile, students or teachers wearing a headscarf are not allowed at school, because a school is supposed to be a non-religious place and the country one of laity.

It maybe clear that I profoundly dislike this month, with all the doe respect to the honest people that are trying only to fulfill their religious duties. All that can be postponed, is postponed till the end of the month, the tempers are short, and of course is more evident than ever that we not belong. Nevertheless, we kind of like it here, so, here is where we are, sometimes bemused and sometimes enchanted, but always very much alive.

1 comment:

  1. A great post!
    I enjoyed reading it and I learned some new things. Thanks.