Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Observations of Ramadan

This is how shwarma meet is cooked, it is shaved off in small
chunks and then put in a pita with french fries, sauces,
 tomatoes, and all sorts of other delicious things.
Ramadan, the holy month in Islam where every devout muslim will refrain from water, food, cigarettes and getting angry at people from the first prayer call in the morning (about 3:30 AM) until the last prayer call at night (about 7:30 PM).  In a country composed almost entirely of Muslims this means that there are some huge changes.  First of all, work hours change or cease all-together.  All of the restuarants and coffee shops are closed for most if not all of the day and only open after the evening prayer call and iftar (it literally means breakfast and is the meal that is eaten right after the last prayer call of the day).  Secondly anyone who eats, drinks or smokes in public can be fined according to law by the Police so there's no use in using the excuse that you were a dumb foreigner.    Work hours are shortened and there are way more people in town as all the people come home for the Holy Month.  So in addition to everyone being hungry and thirsty in intense heat, there are more people, things are closed and traffic is horrible.  Overall it is quite different to be in a country where EVERYTHING changes because of a religious observance.  Coming from the secular western culture into a country of mostly homogenous religion is quite a wonderful experience.  Overall, I have spent a lot of time indoors because I don't want to travel around, get thirsty and not be able to drink anything, working on last reports and preparing for my weekend in Aqaba Scuba Diving.  However, last night I did have an interesting experience that I will tell you about here:

This is a lamb or lahma shwarma and is one of my favorite foods
  Yesterday at about 7:00 PM I decided that I was extremely hungry (I'm only eating about one meal a day now so that was about time to eat) and wanted to have a shwarma from my favorite place just a kilometer away. So I got dressed, walked up there, and bought two large shwarmas, a mountain dew and a donut for desert (not as good as American Donuts but still adequate).  Of course since the final prayer call hadn't sounded yet I couldn't eat in public so I had to walk back to my house with my food and my growling stomach.  Interestingly enough, people were headed everywhere and every food place I saw was packed with people trying to get food for their iftar or the first meal they eat after their fast.  Anyway, on my walk back home I passed a Pizza Hut/Popeye's restaurant conglomeration that had outside dining that was packed.  As I walked by I noticed that everyone was sitting there with piles of food from the buffets and drinks poised with straws up and caps off, simply waiting.  Can you picture over a hundred people and an eating establishment poised and ready to eat and simply waiting for the go-ahead?  It was quite surreal.  So, since I didn't have anywhere pressing to go I decided that I would stick around and see what happened when it was time to eat as I would only have to wait about 15 minutes.  I was really excited and wondered if they would play the Ahdan (Call to prayer) over the intercom or if someone would come out and tell them and also what would happen after it was ok to eat, would they devour their food in a hungry binge or calmly begin eating like nothing had happend.  Well at 7:42 and employee of the restaurant came out and kindly informed everyone that the prayer call had gone on and that it was now okay to begin eating.  It was a little anti-climatic but it was a cool experience and one that I will definitely not forget.  I have to say though, if you ever come to the Middle East I would not recommend visiting during Ramadan, it makes things a lot more difficult for foreigners traveling!


  1. that's how shwarmas are made in romania. makes me miss it so much!

  2. Is that a tomato I see in that shwarma?