Initiation into the rite of fasting
CAIRO: At 3:30 a.m. on Thursday, in the pitch dark, I tripped over my shoes, banged my knee on a chair and with hands outstretched I found the kitchen. Opened the fridge and flipped the lid off a plastic tub of fruit salad my lovely wife had prepared for my first sohour.
Back between the sheets, I looked forward to the morning and the challenge of observing the Ramadan fast. My mind ticked over and I began to worry about functioning without my five cups of coffee. I began to feel anxious about missing my daily carrot muffin and I considered that I wouldn’t be able to take one sip of water. Did I have what it takes to make it to iftar? I began to doubt it.
But things often seem worse in the dark. In the morning I awoke feeling excited about fasting and not having to worry about breakfast, I was out the door, arriving early to work.
By 10:30 a.m. I was purring along. My body was burning adrenalin, fuelling my labor as I bounced from one task to the next. But the tank ran dry and by 11:30 a.m. a headache was pounding at the door of reason inside my mind. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and washed my hands. Temptation stared back, ‘go on, a little sip won’t hurt, no one will know.’
By lunchtime I had developed a cough, as I found it necessary to clear my throat before speaking.
I joined colleagues in the common room and watched as they ate sandwiches, koshari and homemade pizza. My headache was now gone and I started to feel a little pious with people eating around me. I didn’t need to eat, I was observing the fast, and I was stronger than them.
But within the hour I was feeling very weak, the dry mouth persisted and waves of nausea passed over me. There were still four hours until I would break my fast at Al-Hussein Square, Khan Al-Khalili.
I had spent my day in air conditioning and I now had a new respect for those who worked outside, or drove taxis or ran laps around the Nile Hilton pool fetching patrons tall ice cold drinks and bowls of fruit salad and ice cream – it was 3:00 p.m., I was now hallucinating.
I feel a strong attachment to Al-Qahirah and like many foreigners it is the opportunity of experiencing the uniqueness of the Islamic culture, like now during Ramadan, which makes life such an adventure in the theme park that is Cairo.
My taxi scooted across the 26th July Bridge, down the corniche and around Tahrir Square. We zoomed up Talaat Harb and I kept an eye out for the Yacoubian building. Over to Ataba where you can have a suit tailored for LE 175, then up and over the fly-over to be set down outside Al-Azhar mosque. No traffic, it was bliss.
At 5:05 p.m. I had taken one of the few remaining chairs outside Diwan Café in Hussein Square and I watched the package tourists, they looked wiped out, hot and dusty. Maybe they had been observing the fast too?
Prayers could be heard from Al-Hussein Mosque and the rousing reply from the faithful echoed through the square; it was now 5:07 p.m. and there was a real urgency amongst the waiters as they delivered plates of salad and baladi bread.
I heard a crack, a bang of some description, and wondered if this was the Ramadan cannon being fired? But no cup of water touches anyone’s lips.
At 5:18 p.m. I remember that I am really hungry. But I also feel balanced; I am not suffering from sugar or caffeine withdrawal, I am feeling calm.
The rice and liver arrive at 5:22 p.m.
My taxi driver said sunset was 5:20 p.m.; my watch says 5:25 p.m. Plates of kebab arrive covered in foil. A burly manager appears, sweat pouring from his face, he shouts at the waiter and the plates of kebab disappear. My new friends and I all look at each other rather concerned. A cat weaves around the legs of the table and chairs, ‘no tasteless jokes,’ I say to myself.
Many people have also brought picnics that they have spread out on the edge of the gardens. My LE 39 iftar seems expensive in terms of the people around me. And I think yes, this is a special occasion when people splurge on a restaurant with family and friends.
A call from the minaret crosses the square at 5:28 p.m. and to my surprise I notice people beginning to quietly sip from their plastic cups. I join in; my fast is broken.
Peter A. Carrigan studied journalism at New York University and has been fortunate enough to have traveled widely and married wisely. Having lived in Egypt for three years, he counts amongst his best experiences hiking in the Sinai Mountains, seeing the total eclipse of the sun on the Libyan border and being harassed by dolphins in Dahab.
Coming this week
BCA Mohandiseen are holding an Indian food night on Oct. 19, televising the ICC Champions Trophy (cricket) every night this week and a Christmas Ball has been scheduled for December 8 at the Marriott Hotel – further info: email@example.com
The Cairo Rugby Club will be playing Alexandria in November and traveling to Dubai for the 7s Tournament in December – further info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Information on events for the expatriate community can be forwarded via email to email@example.com