Ramadan endeth... cometh my pithy retrospective

Trip Start Oct 13, 2005
Trip End Dec 22, 2006

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Flag of Yemen  ,
Tuesday, October 24, 2006

'Eid Mubarak',

Yesterday I completed my month-long fast for Ramadan and I have to say it wasn't a particularly onerous task for the most part, in fact quite fun at times. For one, I enjoyed the feeling of being part of something so universal here, thus bringing me closer to the local culture. I also really enjoyed the process of both Ramadan meals: 'suhoor' and 'iftar'.

It was really unnatural and, thus, kind of exciting with it (like a child on Christmas eve), to stay up until 3.30am then head out to the implausibly bustling streets of the Old City in search of a hearty meal for 'suhoor'. For the first half of Ramadan, 'suhoor' consisted of kebabs wrapped in pitta bread and garnished with a spicy tomato sauce. Come to think of it, this is a similar meal to what I would eat at the same sort of time of the night back home, but for the rather different reason of arriving back drunk from a night on the town! Plus these kebabs were rather more authentic.

Having got sick of kebabs after a couple of weeks (literally and figuratively speaking) 'suhoor' consisted of 'fuul' (sort of lentil curry) and 'baidh' (effectively spicy scrambled eggs). Watching people stuff themselves full at four in the morning was a strange sight indeed; as strange as the feeling of going to bed on an uncomfortably full stomach as the first traces of sunlight crept their way over the watchful mountains that shroud this beautiful city.

By the evening, 'iftar' brought with it a feeling of anticipation and then satisfaction. The dead streets suddenly came to life at around 5pm as the city's populace poured out to buy their foods for the breaking of the fast. The sudden rush painted daily a hectic scene in the souqs of the Old City, the busy sounds of buying and selling almost drowned out by the haunting melody of pre-'iftar' prayers that echoed mellifluously from the mosques that abound the narrow streets of Old Sana'a, where the last embers of sunlight cast shadows and shapes over the bustle.

Far from the experience of last year where I ate 'iftar' with a kind Yemeni family who prepared such nice traditional food everyday, this year I ate in a our mafraj with other fasting students while watching re-runs of 'Malcolm in the Middle' on a Saudi cable channel. Not quite as authentic, but, for me, probably more memorable in a sense because this time I was actually fasting and thus it had more meaning and resonance. Each 'iftar' was like its own little celebration of that day's mini-success of fasting. Our 'iftar' usually consisted of dates (you should always break fast with an odd number of dates), samosas, bread, grapes, bananas, and sometimes something more substantial if someone had bothered to actually cook something.

Ramadan wasn't all fun and games though, and I would hate to give the impression that I'm belittling the sacrifice that it demands of most Muslims. For one, it was only manageable for me because I adjusted my entire body-clock to a nocturnal schedule so that I was effectively only awake for about five hours of daylight. This is in itself a sacrifice of sorts I guess, but it sure made Ramadan easier. Had I been back in the West (or probably anywhere but Yemen) and had to maintain a 9-5 schedule, I'd have probably not made it.

I also have to confess that I had to break my fast for about four days in the middle after a rather nasty bout of food-poisoning. It is stated that you do not have to fast if you are sick, so at least I didn't break fast through temptation or anything. Plus I was really ill. At one point I spent an entire night on the toilet simultaneously pissing from my arse and projectile-vomiting blood in equal measure and ferocity! The following day, I went to the toilet a total of 23 times, expending an entire roll of toilet-paper in the process. Not very pleasant let me tell you! Besides which, in those four hellish days, I actually ate a lot less than I would have done on my Ramadan schedule, at one stage eating just two Yemeni bananas (equivalent at most to one normal banana) in 48 hours. It was more just a matter of needing to drink lots of water during the day as well as the evening while I was sick.

So, Ramadan is over and it is now Eid. I kind of miss my Ramadan routine already, and seeing as the city is deserted for Eid (all the Yemenis go back to their villages), I'm pretty much still fasting anyway because there's no food to be found.

Signing off still hungry,

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