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October 13, 2005

Ramadan in Lebanon by Nadia


(The nicest time of day...)

The last ten minutes before a Ramadan sundown are the longest you will spend as a child. Twelve or thirteen, I am fasting the whole day through for the first time, and now my cousins and I am staring hard through the window for a sign, any sign. The Koran says “when you cannot tell the difference between a white thread and a black thread” but there are more reliable ways. The mosque lights will come on, the call to prayer will sound, and most importantly, the cannon will fire. Amazing smells have been coming out of the kitchen for the past two hours, my aunts and uncles are joking and carrying plates to the table, and I am so dizzy with hunger, thirst and excitement I can’t imagine waiting any longer and then…boom!


Shrieking kids run to the table, we practically inhale spoonfuls of warm clear broth because we know we will be yelled at if we try to drink cold water first (“you’ll give yourself a stomach cramp!) We eat and eat, and somehow the unthinkable happens and we are full. We clear the table, the adults greedily light up their cigarettes, and then gather in the living room to watch the Ramadan quiz shows from Egypt.

This particular one, “Sharihan”, features an elaborately long and involved opening credit sequence with several dance numbers and costume changes, including a dress with a violently undulating skirt that breaks away and turns out to be a bunch of dancers. My cousins and I find this brilliant. The show itself is based on a nominally Islamic theme, some stories from history or A Thousand and One Nights, ended by a riddle. If you guess all the riddles you can send in your answers and win some grand prize but as kids we really only pay attention to the opening sequence. The adults finally give in once the program has ended, and take us out to the most important of Ramadan events, ice cream.

We drive to the port, and the normally sleepy streets of Tripoli are for once packed full of people walking on the beach, eating, drinking, listening to music, just driving around. You can buy ice cream, but also iced drinks made from carob, mulberry or tamarind, my personal favorite. Once home our parents try hard to calm us down for bed, since life goes on the next day, we all have school and work.

We fall asleep but the night is not quite over. A few hours before dawn the sound of drumming and a beautiful singing voice can be heard through the quiet streets. There is a family whose job it is to wake the town up for their pre-dawn meal, “Suhur”, and they make their rounds on foot, with a large bass drum. Eventually as the month wears on they will have knocked on the door of every house in the city, to be invited in and given small gifts and money. There is an older man with his sons, the oldest is learning the songs and has a sweet voice. I wish I remember what they sang.

My parents gently wake us up, and we sleepily share milk and sesame bread in the kitchen before going back to bed.


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Thanks for sharing your experience with us. It's very nice to read.


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