So, a lot of people are wondering what to do during Ramadan. It’s quiet, boring, slow, things shut down, our routines are disrupted and it seems like there is nothing to do! The other part of this is money, everything costs a lot of money to do… so here is my list of things to do during Ramadan, in Amman, for under 10 JD.

1- Go to Turtle Green for a coffee and manousheh, hang out on your own, or with friends with an internet connection and a chilled out atmosphere. Don’t forget to check out the original artwork on the wall downstairs- It is really cool.
Cost= -about JD 5

2- Walk down a side street at sunset and revel in the silence, enjoy it… Amman only becomes this quiet at this time during Ramadan. Alternatively,  take a walk in with Fast Walk – or do your own walk in one of the old neighborhoods of Amman and smell the fabulous jasmine bushes that waft round the corners. This is a whopping zero to do and lots of fun with the right persons.
Cost = ZERO

3- Experiment with your atayef – make them from from scratch or buy them ready made and just stuff them with different things. I’ve done cream and jam, dried fruits, nutella, labneh, pumpkin pie stuffing, bananas… try  anything you like, its fun to experiment.
Cost = about a dinar for a kilo of atayef  and the cost of stuffing. It really is cheap, fun and yummy.

4- Go to Citadel Nights– you can stroll around and have some evening fun in an amazing setting and cool night breezes. Cost= entrance is JD 5 and  if you see a Qalaa kid hanging around and can’t get in buy them a ticket and let them in (makes it an even 10JD).

5- Feed someone: check out Tkiyet Um Ali, smile in a box, under my olive tree, or just do your own thing…
Costs= the costs vary depending on what you do… and it is very rewarding a lot can be done for under 10 though.

6- Hang out with one of the kids in Jabal Al Qala and ask them if they can teach you to make a kite- they will love it and so will you.
Cost=  about 3 JD tops.

7- Goto one of the art galleries in Amman – there are many and learn about the Art. Jacaranda is happy to talk to you about the Jordanian Artists they exhibit and are open from 12 pm- 5pm.
Cost= ZERO

8- Check out one of the ramadan tents that have argileh, cards and other great things…
Costs= The costs vary depending on where you go, but I am sure you can manage to get a nice cup of tea for under 10 JD somewhere… just make sure there are no cover charges or minimum charges.

9- Downtown Amman is a must, before iftar go to the vegtable market and stock up, the closer it is to eid the more you want to check out the craziness that is Italian Street, great buys and lots of fun. After iftar you can have a ramadani juice at any of the juice stands, Creme caramel at al quds, S7our at Hashems, or buy yourself a DVD for a fun night in with your friends. You can also check out the new lights of King Faisal Street- I am told they are really cool.
Cost= anywhere from 1 JD for a DVD and upwards depending on what you do and what you buy. The walk around the hood is free and very energizing 🙂

10- At su7our, go out and talk to your local musa7arati- you know the guy with the drum (He’s like santa only comes out once a year and is hard to catch).

Feel free to add your favorite thing to do in Ramadan for under 10 JD… and watch for the Arabic version- It is coming soon.

Ramadan Kareem.

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So really I am not big on organized religion or religious rituals but there is something special for me about Ramadan. It is if anything a family time when my dysfunctional family puts most of its dysfunctionality aside and we gather for the iftar meal around one table. Sometimes we are passive aggressive yet most times we are civil. It is a time for me to bring friends to the family home, to break bread to commune together. It has been the norm for 33 years.

The first of Ramadan is especially special because we as a family have our ritualistic meal of all white dishes to kick off the month. We don’t accept invitations on the first of Ramadan but I have always cheated and invited some to ours on this day because I truly believe no one should be alone on the first of Ramadan- especially if they are fasting! The first of Ramadan meal is the one meal throughout the year that we can count on. It consists of sweet corn chicken soup (for its milky white color), chicken fateh (for the white yogurt it has on top and the white meat), fatoush (with white radishes in it), and cheese burak made from scratch and cheese atayef (both stuffed with white goat cheese). Everything is white for good luck and to start off the month with the symbolism that white embodies.

This year though it doesn’t feel like Ramadan. Nothing on the streets, in the shops or even on people’s faces says it’s Ramadan. I actually had to double check with friends if it is so! This saddens me for not only am I missing my favorite meal of the year, I feel I am missing out on the great excuse to come together with friends and family to eat copious amounts of food, complain about the boredom and restrictiveness that is Ramadan, among other things. Ramadan is to me ingrained as a cornerstone of the year a cultural marker of my life that is changing and slowly slipping away. I know that some of my friends will be envious of my stay in Beirut where nothing will change and the restaurants, bars and banks all stay open for business as usual. But you know I miss the business as unusual, the good, the bad and the ugly of it!

Ramadan Kareem to those of you that celebrate in every which way you do. Please have an extra piece of atayef for me.

Last week I had the privilege of dinning with the unprivileged. In a group iftar for some 200 kids from various orphanages and centers, five toastmasters (myself included) volunteered with Action Committee and Family International to help with the kids and entertain them. We were all hosted by Al Isra’ University.

 

I must say when our club circulated emails about the event I dismissed them. I had no inclination to do this. The our club president called and we discussed it over and the conclusion was we needed to help and supervise activities for the kids and he had me slated to story tell. That pretty much sealed the deal. And off we went to the university.

 

We walked onto the football field to find kids as young as 5 and 6 years old and young adolescents that were 16 years old. They had with them their surrogate moms and dads from the centers and everyone was having a good time. We were all running around playing games, learning dabkeh, playing ball among other things.

 

We then broke fast for those fasting and had dinner for those that weren’t together. The energy in the hall was lovely. Everyone was having a good time. I was impressed with how organized, well behaved and obedient the kids were. One of the groups came from a center for juvenile delinquents and contrary to my image of how these boys behave they were a joy to be around and such fun.

 

After dinner I put on my costume, and prepared myself to tell a story. I got up on a stage, put on a mic and pranced around with different voices, different characters and a story to tell. I had such a great time, and the kids as well as the adults were all having fun. For 25 minutes I was able to put a smile on 200 kids faces.

 

It was such a feeling of euphoria, I have done this kind of thing before but usually at parties for the privileged. Parties with spoilt kids who are thirsty for pop culture not history or fairytales. That night though it was I who was privileged.  The lives of these kids are so removed from ours that we forget them. We forget that they exist, we forget that they need love, care and attention not just from individual but from society. And if there is one thing I am grateful for Ramadan for it is the remembrance of these kids. It is their inclusion into our lives. It is the spirit that we lost.

 

I am glad that I was able to recapture the lost spirit of Ramadan, even for one night. And as Ramadan comes to an end this week I would like to wish all those that partake in the month a Ramadan Kareem and a Happy Eid.   

When tolerenace only goes one way and is expected and cooreced from others closures happen…

So for those that choose not to practice what few havens exist are slowly being mowed down by illegal closures. This behavior reminds me of KSA and its Mutaw3een. Is it a matter of time that the “haven” Jordan is becomes another extremist, fundamentalist state? The government is supposed to protect its citizen and their interests, but is that truly the case, or is Ramadan an excuse for personal agendas to take precedence over the law?  

It is disappointing when we have made so much progress in many arenas including social freedoms that this happens.

 

If you are wondering what I am talking about read here:

http://www.7iber.com/blog/2008/09/18/closing-of-bookscafe/

It’s official. I hate Ramadan. It is my least favorite time of year. I know this now because I recognize a pattern of behavior and mood swings that comes with it every year, and this pertains to both the community and to me personally. It is a month that does not bring out the best in people but their worst too. This realization comes with a lot of disappointment and sorrow. A month that is meant to be such a powerful positive force is instead a month of bigotry, intolerance, gluttony and family friction.

Some of you may be wondering what I am on about with this wonderful month of cleansing, purity, giving, and sharing. It may be the case for some, but what I see of this month is unfortunately not so pretty. I don’t fast, I don’t pray, I don’t practice any religious obligation. That’s who I am. Yet I am asked to be respectful and tolerant to those around me and abstain from eating, drinking and general merriment because I too have to suffer in their chosen suffering. Well, I am sorry but last time I looked Islam was a religion of tolerance. It is tolerant of freedom of choice, freedom of religion. It recognizes free will and so each person is judged individually as the sum of their actions and not collectively as the sum of the communities actions. So why is it OK for the office cooler to be turned off, the water bottles not replaced, restaurants closed and closures of those that are legal opened to take place? Every year there is a loosening of the morays and attitudes of people only to be backlashed by aggressive behavior of those more fundamentalist. I ask those where is the tolerance that this religion preaches?

I have been to some iftars this year that have been few and far in between, and at each one it has not been a meal but a feast. Where is the empathy in that? How is this cleansing to the soul or the body? We become such gluttons, that with bellies full and minds numbed we sit and do nothing but watch soap opera after soap opera till there is nothing left of the persons we were at the beginning of the month.

The whole month is a disruption of our regular habits and schedules, and not in a good way. Life and people go crazy just look outside a window at 4:30 or 5:00 and then at 6:30. Traffic becomes chaotic and scary with people rushing to fill their bellies. And then the city becomes a ghost town not a soul in the street. I’ve gone out at this time of day only to be met with a great feeling of aloneness that is amplified by the sound of silence. The city doesn’t sleep, it dies. And then again wakes from the living dead in the evening to nights of worship. People who worship their God in a mosque or worship of the argileh, food, cards… or whichever vice that comes at this time of year. The hours of the day and night are messed up and it is reflected in our daily lives and used as an excuse in our offices.

And lets take a look at families. We all come together and so there is more friction, more tenseness, more boredom, more feuds. Even though we quietly put aside our differences for the couple of hours we share a meal the amount of passive aggressive behavior I see is scary. I heard somewhere in reference to the holiday season in the west, it is the time that emergency room visits increase because all that family time causes so much anxiety and depression. It made sense. Maybe it’s because I come from a dysfunctional family, but done we all at some level suffer from dysfunctionality?

When I was a child, Ramadan was an exciting time. It was a time that was made fun by our parents, it was a time to fast, to work hard, to learn, to become spiritual, to be one with the community, a time for family to connect. I hear that from many people around me. So what happened? Where did that spirit go? Has it disappeared into the Ramadan lights covering the city in glitter and glitz? Who stole Ramadan?

Yes it’s that time of the year again when the world stops turning and we all focus on the one thing that really matters. FOOD. Ramadan Kareem (Ramadan is generous) is a common phrase that we all say, hear and try to embody. Or so we think. Now before I go off on my rant and rave about the holy month I need to make a couple of disclaimers: one, if you are overly sensitive to the spirit of Ramadan this may offend you. What I say here has no bearing on the beauty of what Ramadan is or the respect due it, but rather a commentary on our modern interpretation of what our lifestyles have been like in this month.

Let me first start with the pre Ramadan craze and how that affects people. The weekend before Ramadan sees people lining up and standing in long queues to get their Ramadan supplies. It looks like they are constantly worried that there will be no food or toilet paper sold during Ramadan. I mean come on, why do you suddenly have the need to buy 19 cans of corn, 12 chickens, 5 boxes of milk, 3 bags of flour, 4 kilos of dates, 5 bags of noodles (you know the ones, (شعرية …etc all at one go? What is it about Ramadan that makes people need to buy in bulk? Prices are not cheaper, supplies are not going to run out, and how much storage space do you have in your house anyways? I truly think that the essence of Ramadan is to continue your life as normal, and just focus on the spirituality of the month rather than its gluttony.

Speaking of gluttony, how many times have we heard people talk about fasting being a cleansing of the body as well as the spirit? Well how do you manage that if at iftar you wolf down a 5 course meal? There is soup, salad, dates, pastries, main dish (if not two), and desert. How does your body cleanse itself if you let it run on empty then put ALL that stuff in one go? There is a saying in computers, garbage in, garbage out! Mix all those elements in and it’s a sure fire way to cause indigestion.

And can someone please explain to me how eating a 5 course meal, followed by a continuous stream of food all night is considered empathizing with the poor? A central theme of Ramadan is empathy with the poor. Yet we over eat, over spend, work less, and complain about it! If we really want to feel with the poor, shouldn’t we keep to our regular lifestyles, cook simply, work a same amount and really get in touch with the less privileged?

One of the things I really like about Ramadan is how we all suddenly find God and find our pockets. We all suddenly remember our prayer mats, the Koran, and don’t get me started on what we all stop doing! We do remember to give to charities, we do feed people, we do donate clothes and money though and that is wonderful. So wonderful that I would think that the beneficiaries of all this charity and giving would love to have some consistency throughout the year.

And please don’t get me started on the Ramadan tents and the TV shows. It’s like we are deprived of any entertainment throughout the year and we need to make up for it in 30 days!

I guess what I am trying to say is that what I see and experience in Ramadan these days is so far away from my understanding of Ramadan and what it stands for. I also have issues with people who consistently behave one way for 11 months and then for 1 month they change. If you believe in the ideals that Ramadan embodies, shouldn’t you strive to be that person throughout the year? God is around ALL the time not just in Ramadan! The poor are hungry and need clothes all the time not just in Ramadan and during Eid. The spirit needs to be tamed and we should be patient, understanding, polite, always not just in Ramadan.

I really don’t understand why we get crankier, ruder, louder, more gluttonous (and yes I know all about nicotine and caffeine withdrawal), when Ramadan is a time to get quieter, calmer, more focused, more spiritual. It is a time of rituals and traditions both cultural and religious. It is a time for families to come together, to share between themselves and others. It’s a time to feel with the less privileged. It’s a time to respect and understand our own privileges.

Alas I feel that these lessons are lost. You don’t have to fast to understand or learn these lessons. But I think you should respect them and give space to understand them and be given the space to practice the rituals of Ramadan or not. So next time you say or hear the phrase Ramadan Kareem think about what it means to you and how you will embody that phrase. I know I have already started my journey into the Ramadan Spirit.