Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ramadan, day two

I am starting to think that this will be a very long Ramadan.

Everything slows down here. While that is hardly surprising given the lack of food and water for all Moslems during daylight hours, it also seems to affect the expectations of things that might be achieved. There is an odd sense of hanging in midair until it is over. Staff come in as usual, but hours are shorter. The Embassy closes an hour earlier. The day seems to slumber until it stops completely as the fast breaks. There will be no-one on the streets. You almost have to know Cairo to know how really extraordinary that is.

The day turns itself upside down with evening. Egyptians party in Ramadan. There is a free and vibrant buzz of expectation in the night streets. They look wonderful. The lamps are vivid, and after the meal people pour out to see others, stand and eat in ice cream shops. Food sales double in Ramadan, and considering how few hours eating is permitted that is very surprising. Most Moslems actually gain weight.

There is a ritual to breaking the fast. It is considered unwise to wolf down food. People pray first, and at the call to prayer they are sitting in front of food and drinks. I would head straight for water I think. The usual drink though is called Kameruddine - made of apricot leather soaked overnight in water and swirled to a darkish orange, thick, sweet and tangy drink. It was explained to me that this is a match for the salts in the blood and causes no shock to a body kept without liquid all day. Then they eat dates. In most other Moslem countries I have lived in these would be plain. In Egypt it is more common to soak them in milk or to cook them lightly in milk with a little sugar. Sometimes the milk is thickened with dessicated coconut.

There is a wait for a while at this point. After ten or fifteen minutes a little salad is eaten, slowly working up to a main course which will be rich with meat and vegetables and rice AND bread.

Desserts are essential, syrup soaked, always Middle Eastern in style and very very sweet. This is like a carbohydrate packing after the meal - a way to boost calories to get them through to the end of the next day whould their resolve fail to get them up at three am to eat a meal that they often do not really want. There is a drummer who drives the streets of Zamalek on the back of a truck, playing a very very loud DUM dum did did did DUM DUMMITY....as he goes at three am. Thank goodness he misses this street.

Last night just as the fast broke I realised that the neighbours had been washing their balcony for a good half hour - and it was a very odd time to do it. I could hear water pouring out and splashing onto the drive at the side of our house. At this point I got up to check.

Our house is strongly floodlit at the side - a blaze of bright whitish-yellow light that shines through the huge etched glass art deco window to wash down the stairs so I never need to turn on an internal light to see as I move around the house. As I walked out onto the tiny balcony off the study I looked up into an amazing mist of light - myriad points catching the light and dancing slowly in the beam. Water cascaded from a pipe up near the roof level, but under such pressure that a fine spray filled the air around the stream. It was a waterfall complete with mist.

I have to say I was less than entranced. I rang our admin officer and he made the necessary calls and rang back to say they would be here in half an hour. I had realised that the basement might well be filling up - but between calls had checked to find it was fine. There was a very large drain just below which was managing to dispose of most of the water. If it had found its way into the basement I would have had the swimming pool I have lusted after - right in the house!

Both the Admin officer and I knew the half hour was probably a joke and it was. About two hours later I had three people here. There was a lot of hammering and talk, and an occasional new cascade of water when they turned on the taps to check progress. In the end they hammered a wedge of wood into the end of the pipe and left, promising to be back to finish the job 'bukra' (tomorrow).

They have been but it is not finished yet - and they will be back again tomorrow.

I have some photos for you to finish with. I know wall images are now so old and almost cliched - but I love the sense of buildup on Cairo walls in the older areas. It is a surface with a history and a sense of palimpcest - the term used (for those not into art) to describe the scraping back of vellum skins so they could be re-used - which always left a bit of the previous writing behind.

So - nothing to do with Ramadan but just for fun.


The handprints from last year's Eid - not the one after Ramadan but the next, when the sheep are sacrificed and people print the blood from their hands around the doorways. It is so strongly reminiscent of passover that I am sure there is a common base.

Behind Tentmakers'

Behind Tentmakers'

Behind Tentmakers'

Behind Tentmakers'





Blogger Helen from Canberra said...

Hi Jenny,

The tradition associated with Ramadan fascinates me, I think I could go all day without food but not water. I wonder is it still very hot in Egypt? This morning we were treated to -2o, however it soon went up to 10o and the expected max is 18o, it's a bit cloudy outside.

Cheers Helen

10:18 am  
Blogger Liz Needle said...

Fascinating stuff, Jenny about Ramadan. I never cease to be amazed at your observations on life in Cairo. The colours in your photos are just brilliant too. I love reading your blog. Thank you


10:31 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello, im an art student and i had a lot of trouble finding anything on "palimpcest" and i found your site. Do you know anything else about the term?


ps great writing :)

8:49 pm  

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