October 20, 2006

Ramadan , Food and Satellite TV....

It has been over a month since I wrote anything here . Work, travelling and other preoccupations have prevented me from sitting still long enough to put thoughts on paper. Then came Ramadan, the Holy Sacred month for Muslims , like myself .
I remember the first time I fasted was when I was 12 or so . It was a real challenge not to eat .
I was the only one who fasted in the family and my paternal grandmother who was a Christian would wake me up before dawn and prepare me some food . Years passed and my motivation to fast simply evaporated . I do not know what was the exact turning point but I somehow felt that fasting was no longer something for me . In retrospect , having spent quite a few numbers of Ramadan in Middle Eastern capitals , I may know why .
Ramadan is welcomed with both apprehension and enthusiasm. It is after all a stoic act not to eat or drink when the temperature is above 35C . For smokers and coffee drinkers , it is a nightmare .
I saw a worker the other day carrying a heavy load , perspiring under the sun , and I said to myself , God bless his endurance . Ramadan is also a time of gatherings .There is a certain feel to it , something that one cannot describe in words , like a sacred celebration of something intangible . People become very generous too . Boxes and boxes of food are given away to charity , as for the remaining 11 months - well the poor have to fend for themselves . Money is spent freely - something that food merchants simply relish as they happen to increase the prices by about 20% during this month. There is also a constant obssession with food and drink - what to cook, what to buy , whom to invite for breaking the fast . Then the minute the Muezzin says "Allah Akbar" from the minaret , at sunset , people's frenzied rush towards the table makes me twirl with diziness.
This is at least what I have observed from the numerous invitations I have been getting for Iftar . Eat, Eat, Eat .... Some approach food gracefully and others just throw themselves on their plates with such gluttony akin to locusts . And once the main meal is finished , another table is set for sweets and people simply don't stop eating . This bulimic gargantuan binge goes on for 30 days .
Now I did not mention people's attitudes when they are fasting . Try crossing a street , or driving during Ramadan . Try having some official paper done . People are either too tired , hungry, thirsty or simply in a foul mood . My nerves are constantly on edge during fasting time , specially if I need to go and run some errand . I don't know if I am going to have a car accident, get insulted or have someone run over me .
Then you have the general atmosphere , the excess zeal of piety that suddenly befalls everyone and trust me , most of it goes out of the window once Ramadan is over and people return to their old habits .
Since evenings seem so long , Satellite TV next to food , provides " The Entertainment" for the month. Syrian and Egyptian serials , endless religious talk shows that makes you feel either very guilty (even if you are not a sinful per se) or simply numb with so many sermons .
And whilst watching TV , you eat and eat and eat and listen to more sermons and watch more serials until you drop dead from an indigestion or from utter boredom or both . And amidst all of that , you hear news of hundreds of dead in Iraq , Palestine or Afghanistan and you wonder what Ramadan is like for them and how can you really call yourself a muslim when these people not too far from you are being killed like flies .
Then comes the Eid and everyone looks very happy and possibly relieved but of course no one dares to admit it . And I just sit in a corner and observe this daily madness for 30 days and pray that next Ramadan I will finally muster the motivation to fast .