Yesterday was the first day of Ramadan and from the moment I stepped outside I could feel a change in the air. The crowd of men usually eating fool by my door had nearly vanished and those still present were no longer eating, but sleeping and quietly chatting. While there is still a bit of the hustle and bustle on the streets, things feel more at peace. There are less people out, the kahwas are empty, fruit sellers have dwindled and only kids who aren’t fasting roam the streets. People seem calmer, more serene.
Ramadan is an important time of religious observance for Muslims. A time in the year that old and young look forward to because it means family get-togethers, social gatherings and a time for reaffirming their faith through prayer and fasting. People are more generous. At grocery stores, bags donated by shoppers and full of essentials, are piled high, ready to be distributed to the poor. In the evening, tents are set up near mosques to feed those in need; People may even hand out food as you walk the streets.
The weekend before Ramadan, you’d think people were afraid Egypt is going to run out of food. Shoppers are out in full force, making sure they have the necessary staples for Ramadan. Sons are sent out on last minute shopping trips to pick up things forgotten in previous outings. The queues at the supermarkets stretch on and on and so do the lines of cars stuck in traffic on the streets. Mothers and grandmothers start cooking up a feast with all of the typical Egyptian fare – mashi (vegetables stuffed with rice), molokhia (a soup made of jute, a green leafy plant), rokak (meat pie), and hamam mashi (stuffed pigeon) just to name a few. Dried fruit like dates and figs, and baked goods are sold in mass quantities and are beautifully displayed in baskets on street corners.
As the sunset approached the first night of Ramadan, I wandered around, taking in the smells of grilled meats as restaurant owners prepared for Iftar, the first and most important meal of the day. A line of men formed at Al-Nour Mosque waiting to pray. As the sun lowered beneath the horizon, I watched the fireworks illuminate the sky in celebration and colorful strings of lights and fawanees brighten up apartments and shops downtown. Cairo slowly awoke after the first day of fasting. The streets remained relatively calm this evening as most people spend this first meal with their families.
Egypt is a magical place to be during Ramadan and I will be sure to share more of my Ramadan experiences in the coming weeks.