PIKAS-BALAY: Looking Back at the Ramadan in Cairo. By Anabelle Ragsag

CAIRO (MindaNews/13 September) — From a whole afternoon of coordinating an organizational evaluation exercise, I was ready to call it a day.  The first cab I flagged down stopped in front of me. But a lady cut me off. “Ow-kay, go ahead”, I thought, “In no time, another will come along. I give five minutes, tops.”

Thirty minutes later, the crowd not thinning, I was already flagging taxis as if they were the last flight out of a war zone. And then it dawned on me that I was caught in the midst of the pre-Ramadan shopping rush. This was the Monday before that Wednesday’s Ramadan.

Ramadan is the holy month in Islam where participating Muslims fast from eating, drinking and sexual activity starting at dawn until sunset. But fasting also means a spiritual exercise of consciously abstaining from saying or doing anything offensive.

I did manage to get a cab – after an hour of waiting, in my two-inch pumps.  But I didn’t care anymore – my feet may had been complaining but my eyes were enthralled by the array of colorful Ramadan fanous (lanterns), luminous decors, and the pulsating downtown crowd carrying shopping bags and packages. Picture the Christmas rush in the Philippines, and you were almost there with me.

So how was Ramadan like in Cairo? At daylight, the city went to a crawl (certainly not the best time for customer service).  Most participating Muslim Egyptians had an air of solemnity and tiredness in their looks. After all, not eating anything during the day, in the height of summer! Days of Qur’an recitations took the center stage, with remembrance of God, the driving force behind all these.

I knew of course, that Ramadan is the holy month of fasting in the Islamic world. I never knew that Ramadan is more than just about the fast, it is also about feasting! And count on Egyptians to throw a real feast. And count on me to bask in the rhythms of a Cairene Ramadan – even as an outsider to this great religious tradition.

Working people start going home at 2 or 3 pm, either getting ready or waiting for a sumptuous iftar (breaking of the fast) at sunset.  Customarily, eating dates and taking a drink transitions the fast and the meal for the evening. If the days were for fasting, the nights were for feasts!

Food tents were set up on the streets or sidewalk by generous  patrons for a mass iftar. Homes go on nights of partying that carry-over in the morning for the suhoor (morning meal before day-long fasting).

Shops are open until past midnight, or even until the next day. The empty tea and ‘ahwa (coffee shops) in the mornings, turn into vibrant, crowded meeting places at nights.  Teenagers go in groups at night to places of worship, Year 1154-built Al Hussein Mosque, being one of the most frequented.

International news reports described how consumption in Egypt goes up and so does time spent in front of the TV during Ramadan. But I wonder, so what? You must give it to my Egyptian neighbours. All these fasting and merry-making despite frequent power blackouts (confession: I still refer to them sometimes as brown outs) and despite being fried in the Arabian summer.  These power cuts could have chosen a better time, but no. They descend exactly during iftar, like gatecrashers stealing all the thunder.

Besides, these news about Egyptian ‘peculiarities’ during Ramadan, I wonder if this is like poverty research. You know, the kind that makes it “easier” to gather news in Egypt because relatively it does not have the “gated communities” of its Gulf neighbours? Just saying.

(Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ way of linking with fellow Mindanawons abroad who wants to share his/her experience in his/her hometown in Mindanao or where he/she is currently based abroad. Anabelle Ragsag, a native of Panabo, Davao del Norte currently lives in Cairo, studying Arabic while doing development consulting.)