Ramadan used to be during the winter when I was a kid. I used to stay up very late. We didn’t have school and we would stay up and play with the neighbor’s kids on our roof. I remember that the most. And we would always be outside: playing outside, being sent to deliver food…
I remember sometimes, close to iftar time, we would go to the kitchen to see what our mother was cooking that day. Sometimes we’d help her, especially making pizza and things like that: you know, we used to brush egg wash on the pastries and fattayer just to make them look nice. Around three or four in the morning my mother would make jelly or custard, and when she was finished, I would sit and eat the rest from the bowl. No one else was allowed to touch it! I wouldn’t let my brother touch it, I wouldn’t let anyone have any! I remember that when I was young.
I liked Ramadan when I was a kid because it was a change in the routine of daily life. People change the time they eat their dinner and wake up early to eat: it’s different. So as a kid, this change is fascinating. We felt like it was a celebration; it was a time of fun for us. On normal days, they would make us come home early and we weren’t allowed to play after dark, but during Ramadan, we felt free, it was like a month of holidays and we could do whatever we wanted and no one even asked. It was a special month because you saw a change. It’s a period when people tend to do things together. It’s a more collaborative environment: the whole system of how people behave and live and work, so for us to experience that was something we looked forward to. Children just really feel that, I think. I mean, as a kid, I would feel that change and being—feeling—that you were a part of something, an event that is going on, because it is something that people commit to doing. Daily life just doesn’t feel like that. Even though you are committed to things all year round, it doesn’t feel like it, but during Ramadan, you do: that commitment and change of lifestyle.
We just fasted. We didn’t do everything, praying and things like that, we didn’t understand everything. And you know, when we were kids, we didn’t understand that we were sacrificing something, that fasting was something difficult to do and that it was meant to be hard. Sometimes they would let me to fast, like a few times during the month…I wanted to do it because everyone else was doing it and you felt more part of the thing, part of the commitment.
You’d sneak away to the bathroom, drink some water, eat something small.
And when you go out into the street to play, you would talk about your fasting experience; kids would make up things, like if you eat with your front teeth, it’s ok…or if you drink with the right side of your mouth, it’s fine. Things like that—that was funny that we used to do that. I used to torture the younger kids during Ramadan. I would line them up and make them stick out their tongues to see who was fasting and who wasn’t: whosever tongue was red wasn’t fasting. And straight away, I’d run to my mother, “So-and-so isn’t fasting.” “Ahhhh you’re not fasting…” Once my cousin was eating cookies, he had the packet open and was just sitting there eating cookies. So I jumped up, “Ayman is eating, Ayman is eating.” And they would be fasting, and it was always me who wasn’t fasting. I really remember that.
It’s amazing, kids still do the same thing now. My nephew does the exact same thing to his sisters. Yesterday, he had them sitting there, “Show me your tongue, show me your tongue.” “Khalti Nadya,” he told me, “I don’t think they’re fasting.” We would go to the mosque with our families and we would pray a bit and then go off, come up with plans, go, come back, just be kids. And I still see kids doing that now. Someone would pull out their bicycle outside and show it off to their friends.
And you wait for iftar with excitement because everyday is like a big family dinner and for a kid it’s enjoyable, it’s something fun. I think the last time I sat down with my family for lunch and dinner was probably last time I took annual leave, because during regular working days you don’t have time; but during Ramadan, everything changes, you sit down together for iftar and suhoor, you spend a lot of time together. People would come from all over the community, not just our families, everyone, the neighbors, families from the area and we would all get together in our house to have iftar together: everyone together in one house. The women were on one side of the house and the men on the other side. I was young and I used to eat with the men; my sister is the oldest and then there are five boys, and then me. So I used to go sit with the men.
You woke up in the middle of the night and saw all the lights on and everyone was awake and preparing the table to eat, it’s just crazy as a child. I always wanted to see everyone eating suhoor. I never wanted to sleep before suhoor. I had to, but every night I would beg them, “Please wake me up for suhoor, please please please wake me up for suhoor.” I always asked them before going to sleep, “Please wake me up, please wake me up,” and they would wake me up once or twice a week. And they wouldn’t wake me up, you know, I was young. And every morning: “Why didn’t you wake me up, I wanted to have suhoor with you?” So still, till now, it sticks out in my memory. And then on those days when they would wake me up, I didn’t get to eat breakfast again later, because we already ate suhoor together a few hours before, and as a kid, I didn’t like to have breakfast, so it was such a nice escape from that.
There was something I used to love very much; I don’t know if I actually remember this or if it’s because people used to talk about it: the musaharat. I remember those people with the drums who would walk through the streets—it used to be an old man—to make sure everyone is awake for suhoor.
They would sing: “es-ha…” I don’t know if I really remember it— it’s as if I only remember the sound. They used to sing something…something like: “es-ha ya nayyim…” I didn’t always hear it, because as a kid you wouldn’t always wake up from your deep sleep, but when I did, it was a completely different thing, hearing drums in the middle of the night. There was drumming and singing, it was one of those things that I would say: “Please wake me up to see the musahar.” That we miss. That doesn’t exist anymore.
It’s different now, as an adult. It’s more about spending Ramadan with yourself. Before it was about spending time with your friends to have fun, now it’s more…you know, from the first day of fasting, you start to think about things, remember things, about what you believe, your actions, things you need to change about yourself. Not just religious things. Everything. I teach my kids now, even though they’re young, the meaning behind Ramadan: feeling with others that don’t have as much as us and to thank God for the blessings He has given us. That’s the message that I’m trying to communicate to them. You know, the spiritual feeling during Ramadan is different. As a child, I was afraid of certain things, I would never go downstairs at three in the morning for example, I would be too afraid; but during Ramadan, we’d feel different. They’d tell us that there are no devils around during Ramadan, only angels. So you’d play and go wherever you wanted and if your mother asked you to deliver something, you’d do it and you wouldn’t mind, you wouldn’t be afraid.
When Ramadan is over and you finish fasting, you get this period of depression, on the first day of Eid, I mean. You miss it and you feel that something has changed. You go from having a nice life, where everything has a meaning and then you’re back to reality…the first day feels…and then you just get back to normal life. I remember one year, on the last day of Ramadan, my grandfather past away, on the last day of Ramadan, the night before Eid, just two hours before iftar. He was upstairs and then came downstairs to take a nap and when we went to call him for iftar, he was dead. I remember that. I was the one who went to wake him up. That was when I was older.
In the winter, it was amazing waking up in the middle of the night when it was cold and everything was quiet—It was even more amazing when it was suddenly raining outside. The nights were longer in the winter. We used to sleep in the living room, not in our bedrooms because it was easier to wake up—and the television would be on in the background.
Thank you Nadya, Raja, Koray and Nasser
Written by Yazan Kopty, first published on Art Dubai Blog.