MY FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH RAMADAN …

It is a number of years back. I was invited by very dear friends of mine in Amman and as I was “in the neighbourhood”, I decided to visit them. We are almost like a family … my friend Salwa and I, like sisters. Whenever we are together, we have so much fun and even she does barely speak any English and my Arabic is as poor, we understand each other. There is an international language without words but instead, with hands and feet … and in particular with the heart – that always works wonderfully. It is enough if we look at each other in the eyes … somehow we know what the other means … it’s almost like telepathy. I enjoy her company so much … she has a most beautiful soul! Her daughters and I are good friends as well … just like her husband. I love them all … they are wonderful folks indeed!

The month was travelling was Ramadan … I was aware of that. I knew as well that it was the Muslim’s holy month, that they abstain from eating and drinking as well as smoking during the day – but that was about it.

At my friends’ home we played the “come on why don’t you”- game all day long … they felt uncomfortable that I, as guest, did not eat nor drink. The game went: “Come on, drink at least the coffee and eat a little sweet” and I “sure, I’d love to – but you join me!” Salwa ”noooooo, you know I can’t, we have Ramadan” … and I “ Ok, no problem, then I have Ramadan as well”. And off she went with coffee and sweet. A short while after that she would come and try the same with tea … and maybe some lemonade or juice. Till the evening, time of iftar, again and again. I remained steadfast, I never took a bite nor sip. Then came the evening …

Already during the afternoon-hours there was heightened activity in the house and all kinds of smells, one more tempting than the other came out of the kitchen! Salwa and one of her daughters would stand there, armed with an apron, and cut, fry, cook, bake, and arrange. There were large pots standing on the gas with chunks of meat bubbling in a most aromatic broth, another one with a fantastically smelling rice, a third one with vegetables. Aside the most fantastic salads were chopped up, pickled vegetables in all kind of colours neatly arranged in little jars and the table set.

I remember myself standing around and watching kind of helplessly yet baffled and perplexed .. I felt there was something in the air, something I could not pinpoint nor grasp, something unknown to me, yet very pleasant. It was an increasing feeling of anticipation , something everyone shared … and I just love it.

At iftar time then, after the call of the muezzin and the prayer we all sat around a table which was bending down from the large varieties of different and most delicious foods and enjoyed … it was absolutely wonderful.
The abundant meal was followed by Arab coffee (which I adore!) and sweets, and when I had the feeling I can not eat one single bite anymore – we took off …to the neighbours! They knew me already so it was a bit HELLO and hugging and kissing … and right after we sat down, the next load of coffee and cakes came, one more delicious than the other. I remember in particular a sweet called Qatayef, small pancake-like rounds, some ten cm or roughly three and a half inches in diameter, filled with nuts, cinnamon and sugar and baked while dotted with a bit of butter and glazed with a sugar-icing. They smelled incredibly delicious and tasted absolutely heavenly! One piece had certainly the calorie-equivalent of a whole regular meal and made every attempt not to gain weight nil and void but hat was besides the point – they tasted wonderful, that was the only thing what counted!

After the neighbours there were other neighbours who had to be visited, and after that, friends on the way … in short, we were busy eating and drinking till well after midnight! It was simply out of this world!

If I think back to those days today, I remember an incredible warmth, a feeling of belonging, of giving and sharing, of compassion and happiness, of honesty, of devotion to a higher being. These sensations were new to me back then as here in Europe they are rather rare, to say the least … and with every call of the Muezzin I felt goose bumps – it was as if I was supposed to understand something which, back then I couldn’t quite grasp.

I can say for sure today that anyone who did not participate, did not feel this sensation in the air him/herself, is unable to judge what it is like! Europeans consider the keeping of Ramadan as something .. well, strange to say the least, even exaggerated, but today I know better, much better that is. I guess it is the unknown which makes many people insecure and instead of dealing with it and trying to find out – it is upfront rejected. It is a sad phenomenon but only too common. Once I got asked why, as I observe Ramadan, I hadn’t kept the fasting time ahead of Easter in previous years. It sounds like a legitimate question but I can attest today, it is something TOTALLY different. Everybody observes Ramadan (with maybe FEW exceptions) but close to no-one does the same before Easter so all these wonderful feelings I previously described, would be missing, this most beautiful part would get lost entirely.

I have come a long way since then … but still remember these days and dearly miss my friends, in particular during this time of the year. They are always in my heart … and as soon as I’ll succeed to get to talk with them by phone, it will be I who will surprise them. They will be more than happy to hear about my shahada

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