There are a lot of things that have building up in my brain lately that I realize I must write about, but have no way to find the words for it all.  I believe the best way to start is to talk about this month, which is considered the most important month for many Arabs: the month of Ramadan.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this holiday, it is the biggest and most widely celebrated in Islam.  It is a month dependent on the Islamic lunar calendar, so it begins on a different day every year, this year starting July 20th.  This month is a time of spiritual reflection, and historically, the Prophet Muhammad first received revelations in the lunar month of Ramadan. Therefore, the month of Ramadan is considered to be the most sacred month of the Islamic calendar.  Ramadan consists of fasting from sunrise to sunset, where Muslims refrain from food, drink, sexual activity, and smoking.

Watching the sunrise go down on a Falooka boat before we eat Iftaar

This is a time when most people stay in doors (especially when Ramadan takes place in the summer!), sleeping and laying low.  The women spend all day preparing special dishes and huge meals for their families.  As soon as the sun sets, everyone gathers for the evening feast, called Iftaar, and spend time in celebration late into the night with gifts, food, music, special t.v. shows, and of course family and friends.  Before sunrise, everyone will eat again around five in the morning in preparation for the long day of fasting to come.  Although children are not required to fast, many of them do in order to practice later in life.  Here in Egypt, most Muslim women wear the higab, or head scarf, to cover their hair.  During the month of Ramadan, even young girls, sometimes five or six years old, wear the higab as well, in order to respect the sacredness of the month.

Inside a mosque for the first time

Having Iftaar on an island off of the Nile river

Keeping all of this in mind, I am experiencing Ramadan in the Middle East first-hand for the very first time.  The best way I can describe my environment here is by telling you that night is day and day is night.  During the day, the normally crowded streets are practically deserted, and many shops are closed until sunset.  However, as soon as the sun goes down, the whole world comes alive.  Women quickly prepare to go out with their friends and families, every shop is filled with people buying helowiyat (desserts, sweets), colored lights line the windows of countless apartments, and people laugh and talk together.  It is a wonderful feeling, and very similar to the days before Christmas in the States.

During the late night hours, many people eat helowiyat and fruit of all kinds, like Kanafa, Atayef, watermelon, mango, grapes, apricots, and bananas.  My personal favorite is the delicious kanafa, which can be made with raisins and nuts, custard, or a type of creamy cheese (custard is the best!).

Kanafa with custard, made with shredded pastry dough and delicious honey.

Best of all, it seems that the music and atmosphere of the late night hours during Ramadan only increase the constant hustle and bustle of the streets.  This light-hearted, joyous feeling that takes over people simply after eating a delicious meal drowns out the grave political tone that resonates on the streets of Egypt lately.  With the new Egyptian president after over 30 years of the same dictator and centuries of corruption, the streets are tense with political anticipation and expectation.  During Ramadan, however, all of this seems to slowly disintegrate in the wind by the pure joyousness of tradition and holiday spirit.  I wait in anticipation of what the social mood might be like at the end of this holiday good cheer.

A group of us girls about to enter a mosque


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