So it is the first day of Ramadan, or is it? When I look around me, there is no Ramadan. Nothing around me tells me it is except for the facebook statuses of old friends and of course the call to my mother where we chat about the ritual that is the first meal in family. There are no Ramadan decorations, food stalls with Ramadan specials, or any of the other signs that it is Ramadan today. If you are wondering where I am, I am smack in the middle of a Christian neighborhood in Beirut.
Nothing really changes here, offices hours remain the same, banks stay open and operate with the same hours and restaurants continue to serve food throughout the day and it is not against the law to eat on the street. Many of the people I know think this is all cool and great. But me, well, I grew up for 33 years in countries that rearranged public life to accommodate Ramadan. I grew in a home where I was taught to fast and it was a struggle to unlearn that. I grew up in countries where shops, restaurants, schools, banks everything really ran on a different schedule for a month. I was surrounded by things that only appeared during Ramadan like atayef stands, amareldin juice, Big charity food tents for iftar and an overall sense of something different. At night people divided into three groups: those that prayed taraweh, those that played cards (in Ramadan tents or at home), and those that stayed in and for 30 days watch Ramadan specials on TV. Sometimes people mix and match between the three evening activities. But here I find none of that, and it makes me sad and nostalgic.
Growing up I went through phases of dealing with Ramadan from believing to questioning to disgruntlement to acceptance and today living in a place where there is no Ramadan I am in a phase of missing it. I have no issue with being told not to eat or drink on the street during the day, or any other “restriction”. For a month there used to be an atmosphere of community even if that atmosphere was one of disgruntlement at all the angry drivers or the nicotine withdrawal shouting. For a month our social calendars would be full of invitations to share and break our fasts with different groups of friends and family. Ramadan is not just about the religion and the farida of fasting, it is a social event with it very own rituals and rules, and it lasts one whole month.
This is my second year of Ramadan away from Ramadan and I am going to try to recreate some of it in my home , even just a little bit. Happy Ramadan to you where ever you are… and when you breaking your fast this month and you are having atayef, have one for me.