Ramadan is about the purification of spirit and soul. It is about reflection, self assessment, prayer, reading the Quran, and ceasing of verbal sins (gossip, lying, swearing). It is about self control. It is about feeling with the less fortunate. It is about detoxification. Above all this, it happens to be about fasting from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset.
It is a great opportunity to getting one’s body accustomed to less food than it is used to and, more importantly, less than it usually wants. Coincidentally, in Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (which I didn’t read by the way), it is mentioned that it takes 30 days to build a habit. Ramadan just happens to be 30 days.
When the moon is sighted people rush to the supermarkets and push carts full of food to the checkout counter. The checkout counters beeping seem endless. People buy everything there is that goes in the mouth. The month of stomach cleansing, detoxing and dieting has begun.
Come sunset, a cannon is fired to declare the kick-off to eating time (an Ottoman habit to ensure that the loud bang of the cannon can be heard in all fasting neighbourhoods), a suitable start to the state of panic that overcomes everybody. The radio broadcasts announcements asking people to slow down at traffic lights and intersections. Police hand out dates and water at traffic lights to contain the turmoil. Phones ring off the hook telling the fasting individuals who aren’t home yet to hurry home! It is time for eating to begin! Going on for 15 hours without food was bearable, but these 10 minutes it would take any person to get home would kill them if they don’t eat the minute the call for maghrib prayer is heard. The sounds at the dinner table is like that at a mining field with the cutlery banging on the dishes.
The breaking of the fast starts with a humble date and water, or milk, or yoghurt. Then the soup with the bite size samosas, or kobe. Then the salad with bread crumbs. A juice made of dates, raisins and rose water with floating pine nuts called jallab, or apricot juice, or tamarind juice. Then a traditional layered dish of with humous, or stuffed eggplants, with yoghurt and garlic, bread crumbs and pine nuts. Then the main meal which has to be rice and meat/chicken. Never fish though, it makes one thirsty. If it was a buffet then it is a completely different issue.
In about 30 minutes from the first meal, and shortly after the caffeine hit that everyone would be craving since the morning, comes the desserts. These desserts are Ramadan specific; not found anytime else in the year. They consist of a pancake or a crunchy crust, stuffed with cheese, or cream, or pistachio, or walnuts, or any combination of those mentioned, and drenched in sugar syrup.
For the health conscious, pulling back on food is not an option. One would be coerced into indulgence for fear of dying out of hunger. “Stop drinking too much water!” They would exclaim. “Enough eating soup/salad!” They would demand. “You will get full now!” …. Isn’t this the point of eating?
Shortly after the dessert most will make their way to tents where people will get together and talk about what they have eaten. They will nibble on lupin bean or fava beans. They will drink more of the juices, but no matter what happens the chewing motion must not stop.
Shortly before sunrise, another main meal will be eaten to prepare the body for the tough situation of going through the day not eating, half of which is spent in sleep.
29 long days of bloating, over eating, and the seldom case of food poisoning, the whole world turns their gaze up to the sky for a glimpse of a new moon to indicate the end of the month of fasting. When the moon is sighted people rejoice, “Thank Goodness the month ended! Now we can go back to eating again.”