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.

 

Ramadan Kareem.

 

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I have a love hate relationship with Ramadan. I love it because throughout the year this is one month where I am guaranteed a home cooked meal around a dinner table with family. It’s also the  only time in the year I actually stay home and chill out. Me and my mom have iftar together every day I am not out doing random stuff in the community, and that’s actually nice. However, I hate how isolating that time of day is in Ramadan if you are on your own or without family. Everything goes quiet. The silence is so deafening after the magreb call to prayer. If you are alone during that time of day it is a piercing sense of isolation.

I love the atayef, and if you follow my facebook status then you will definitely notice the atayef mania. This year I have decided to come up with crazy combos- I’ll be posting the 30 days of atayef at the end of the month for those that missed any. But I really don’t like how we are wasteful, over indulgent and excessive in our foods. Why? We don’t eat like this on normal days, and this “reward” only means belly aches and increased waists. Cant we make do with simple meals. I personally like soup and salad and maybe a few hours later something more substantial or nothing at all. How can an empty stomach take so much.

But my biggest gripe with Ramadan is TV you have three types of programming in Ramadan: Religion, Food, and Entertainment. I love learning about religion, I’ve always been curious about Islam and how it is interpreted, yet you will never catch me watching one of these shows. I refuse to be abused by these TV Sheikhs who invariable have one of these techniques when talking about religion: They either scream and shout and try to scare you into submission; or they over dramatize, and want to cry and have this image of repentance and sorrow and faked humbleness that they get on your nerves. Why does religion have to be either be a wagging finger in your face or a tear rolling down your cheek? There really was one great religious orator who I loved to hear: Sharawi- he was witty, funny, entertaining and made his point! From a purely public speaking perspective, he was fantastic! I even use him as an example in my Public Speaking Trainings and everyone can relate.

Moving on to the food shows, my mother is a great fan and over the years I have seen some fantastic recipes gone bad by modern intervention. I am a traditionalist in very few things, and food is one of them. Don’t mess with my grandmother’s recipes. Every time my mother or aunt tries to pull on over on me and say this is a new way to make an age old dish I ask “Is this how my teta would have made it?” If the answer is no then they know what I think already. This doesn’t mean I wont try new dishes- just don’t mess with my Magloubeh! And all these shows do is pass on the “new” way to make these dishes. I’ve seen wheat instead of rice in some, I’ve seen lemon replaced with onion and vinegar, I’ve seen short cuts and replacements to key ingredients and condiments and I say enough. TV food has made my mothers kitchen go 21st century and I hate it! So you can imagine my anxiety every time my mother writes down the recipe to some weird connotation been conjoured up on TV during Ramadan. Ramadan is about tradition as much as religion so please leave the funk till after Ramadan. (Yes, yes I know I am doing the same with atayef… but you will always find atayef biljibneh right next to them).

And finally the entertainment. I remember when I was a child there was one channel with one set of Fawazir which you had to mail in and find out if you won after Ramadan, there was one or two shows everyone watched and that was it! Today you have all these silly call in shows that offer nothing really but big prizes, you have some other silly show full of bad comedy that is supposed to fill the time between Iftar and digestion and then the marathon of TV shows begins. One after the other, after the other, after the other… I am sure you get the picture. And even if you try to escape and go out for the evening you are bombarded with the shows in all the cafes and they turn up the volume and everyone is glued to the show and their argileh! If you really don’t want to miss it- stay at home! I guess you’ve guess I am not a fan of the TV in general, let alone during this month.

However despite all these gripes after more than three decades of dealing with this month. I have come to terms with all these things and others. I respect what it is and what it means to people, whether it is about religion, tradition or spirituality or none of these even. I tolerate the crazy traffic and bad tantrums or just avoid them. I enjoy the food and tune out the TV. And say to everyone Ramadan Kareem- after all its only a month and we are more than half way done!