Thursday, September 5, 2013

Lessons from Ramadan

By: Shanelle Sorensen, Hinckley Institute of Politics International Internship, Amman, Jordan

Part of my internship in Amman, Jordan happened to take place during Ramadan.  Ramadan is a holy month in the Islamic calendar.  Observant Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day for the entire month.  In predominantly Muslim communities, you’ll notice a lot of changes during this time.  For anyone visiting a Muslim country during Ramadan, here are some of the things I learned during that month to fully enjoy the experience!

1) Drink water any and every time you leave your apartment.  Even if you’re not Muslim, it’s very rude to eat or drink in public when most people will be fasting.  So drink up (and eat a nutritious meal!) before you head out for the day.

2) It’s a bad idea to stop at the bakery to get bread twenty minutes before iftar/fatoor (the breaking-fast meal). It’s crowded and a bit crazy. That’s when all the wives panic that they don’t have enough food and send their husband to get more, and to get the bread while they’re out.  If you go about an hour before fatoor (close to 7:45 p.m. during summer months), however, you’ll find the bread is hot, fresh, and delicious and you won’t have to wait long to get it!  (Just remember not to eat it until you’re back in your apartment or hotel!)

3) It is a very good idea, however, to enjoy fatoor with a family (if you get an invitation) or at a restaurant.  Make sure you arrive plenty early, though.  Restaurants fill up quickly for fatoor, and they have food out to you before the call to prayer that signals the end of the day’s fast, so get there early.

4) When you have fatoor at a restaurant or someone’s house, you’ll notice most people break their fast in the same way.  Want to fit in?  Start by taking a swig of water very first and then a date, if one is provided.  Then dig into your meal.

5) Times when shops are open are rather sporadic during Ramadan.  I gave up trying to make sense of them.  For the most part, don’t plan on doing much shopping until after fatoor.

6) It’s hard to get a taxi during Ramadan.  Give yourself extra time to get places.

7) The city turns slightly nocturnal during Ramadan. You hear people out walking and talking well past midnight.

8) And then there’s the drummer guy that comes around to wake people up at 2:45 or earlier so they can eat before the sun rises. Don’t be alarmed. It’s not some tribal war starting outside in the street.

9) If you want to sound authentic, you say, “Ramadan kareem,” which is like wishing them a happy/generous Ramadan.  Towards the end of the month, you say, “Eid Mubarak,” which is like congratulating them on a successful Ramadan.

10) Most importantly, just take it easy.  Things are generally more relaxed and informal during Ramadan.  Just enjoy it and chill.  Like this camel in the middle of the street in Aqaba, or this horse in Petra.

Ramadan kareem!

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