While I was living in Cairo, Ramadan, the month of fasting, was also an exciting time for me as a German. I had planned to fast on the weekends together with my Muslim friends, on the one hand out of solidarity with them, on the other hand to simply try out and experience this kind of fasting. I felt a bit nervous already. Fasting the whole day meant nothing to eat and nothing to drink. My friends encouraged me.
Diary – September 2007
Off to the suhur before dawn
On Friday morning, just before dawn, we went to a nearby café and had our suhur, the last meal before lent day. We ate little salted food, e.g. yoghurt, fruit, scrambled eggs, bread and foul, which is loved by many Egyptians. I lovingly call this dish ‚bean mush‘. Properly spiced, with tomatoes, onions and parsley it tastes really very good. But without salt and with few spices foul was really not tasty. But what could it be? Take it off! The reason for the unsalted food is that salt makes thirsty. Of course, you want to avoid this on a long day of fasting. Then my friends went to the mosque for the fajr prayer (dawn prayer), afterwards everyone went home to sleep.
Now it meant to hold out – no coffee and no water
Shortly after 5 o’clock in the morning I was home and fell into bed tired. Around 1 pm I woke up again. Now I had to hold out, no coffee and no beloved breakfast after getting up, but wait until sunset at about 18.30h. Granted, it was only 5.5 hours left, but even those could be long. My friends had given me a tip: ‚If you can’t stand the thirst anymore, you can do two things: brush your teeth or take a drink of water in your mouth and spit it out. Since it was not easy for me to bear the thirst in the hot temperatures – it was around 30 degrees – I used these two little tricks. I was thankful for this short-lasting ‚refreshment‘ of my mouth. Some of my friends called me and asked how I was doing. I said, „Thirst is terrible, but hunger doesn’t bother me. The hunger is indeed quite easy to bear, the thirst to bear is really hard…
Waiting until sunset
How did I distract myself? By sleeping, reading, watching TV. On top of everything else, I was useless today. I wondered how my friends did it when they were at work during the week. Most of them said, „It’s a matter of habit. The first few days are hard, but then it gets easier.“ In addition, one must not forget that in Islamic countries during Ramadan the closing time is already between 15-16h. This means that during Ramadan people usually only work around 6 hours. This is of course a small relief, which by the way also benefits non-fasting people, they are also allowed to go home earlier.
Iftar among friends
Around 6pm my cell phone rang and I was picked up for iftar by one of my friends, Hassan. Almost there! Joyfully I stormed down the stairs and sat in the car. I was proud of myself that I had held out until now. We drove to a restaurant to enjoy the long-awaited iftar with my friends. Rehema, Mahmoud, Hassan and Amir laughed at me and said: ‚Great, Annette, really great that you have held out until tonight. We are proud of you‘. And I was proud, too. It was really a feeling of success to experience such a day of fasting and to hold out. First we ate some dates and drank lots of water. Oh, what a relief after all those hours without water. The served food tasted especially good after a long day of fasting …lazis qawy… After the iftar the boys went to the mosque next door for prayer. Rehema and I talked. Later we all went to a nearby café to smoke shisha.
So I spent my first Ramadan in Cairo on weekends fasting… Ramadan was a really exciting and fun time in Cairo. Many of my friends had been looking forward to Ramadan for weeks and some even said: ‚Best time of the year‘ – despite fasting 😉