While the idea that I have different “lives” across the world is something I resist, It’s true that it’s often hard to forge connections between lifestyles, friends, scenery and activities, which are vastly different. Life as a novella, sometimes seems more fitting.
Showing Jess my street, apartment, favorite juice stands and Sudanese restaurants, (where I can never order quite what I want) Boston, the choices I made to be here and the continuity of my life and identity felt more tangible.
Seeing Jess accept the anomalies of Cairo, hang out in my office and flat, and laugh and argue with my friends, my world felt smaller.
We learned an important lesson in Alex.
Being a tourist during Ramadan is rough.
After catching a bus arriving and enjoying a delicious fish lunch, we set off for the two “touristy” destinations Jess was interested in. The first, Fort Qaitbey, is a citadel built in the 1480s and revamped by Mohammed Ali. According to my guidebook it’s the site of a lighthouse, which was one of the ancient wonders of the world, but was reduced to rubble by earthquakes in 1303.
Remembering the views of the city, fishermen, vivid green algae and salty fresh breeze, I was eager to return too. Upon arrival we learned it had abbreviated hours and we couldn’t enter.
Off to our next destination, Alex’s famous $355 million library, we hoped the guidebook’s 7 p.m. closing time would not disappoint. Hopping out of the cab, unlit windows and closed doors greeted us.
Though our day of being touristy turned into mostly coffee and conversation, it was one of the best. Unlike back in Cairo, where I feel at home, in Alex we were genuinely traveling and exploring together.
Come back to Cairo.
I miss you Jess!!
My Arabic teacher, Nancy, has asked us to keep our eyes open. You’ll notice all sorts of changes as Ramadan approaches, she said.
From a growing amount of pastries, dried fruit, and special Ramadan lanterns, to clothing vendors shouting something, of which the only word I could decipher was “Ramadan”–Cairenes are seemingly in a frenzy preparing for the month-long holiday.
Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is the holiest month because it’s when Muhammad Hussein, the prophet of Islam, is believed to have revealed the Koran.
Thinking a month long holiday sounds fun?
From what I’ve learned thus far, a theme of the month is discipline.
“In Ramadan, we don’t only abstain from food, drink, smoking, marital sex, but also we abstain form all kinds of immoral acts and obscenity,”Wrote Dr. Muhammad M. Abu Laylah, a professor at Azhar University, on Islamonline.net.
“Our social, religious, charitable acts are combined in our fasting. So, the month of Ramadan is an intensive course in physical and spiritual hygiene.”
Ok. Really think about this. No water in the 100+ heat and no cigarettes for the chain-smoking taxi-drivers. Though just to clarify, “In Ramadan,” refers to the fasting period–sunrise to sunset only. The prophet specifically permits marital sex outside these hours.
While the fast is a personal challenge, in the land of bowabs (doormen) who monitor all comings and goings, neighbors who all know each other and generations of families who live together, or course the holiday is very community oriented.
As fasting is not an option but required of Muslims (there are exceptions for illnesses, travelers, pregnant women, soldiers and young children) it becomes an obligatory social, as well as religious event.
“(Fasting) for a fixed number of days, but if any of you is ill or on a journey, the same number (should be made up) from other days. And as for those who can fast with difficulty, (i.e. an old man, etc.), they have (a choice either to fast or) to feed a poor person (for every day). But whoever does good of his own accord, it is better for him. And that you fast, it is better for you if only you know.” (2:183-84)
The countdown until August 22nd is on.
This is just the teaser