Ramazan officially began this past Saturday, which means that the majority of my friends and colleagues are fasting from about 2 am in the morning until 8:30 pm at night. No food, no water or other drinks. I was in Skopje for the weekend and returned on Monday night to the sound of drums and a large iftar meal (the meal eaten to break the fast). Children play the drums, walking from neighborhood to neighborhood. They are provided with some gifts (money) as go. Sounds like a pretty good gig , right?
Onions are the prominent vegetable in the iftar meal. The most traditional dish is made of onions that have been cooked down for at least four hours, ground beef is added, and once the four hours have passed, eggs are cracked over the hot mixture. My host mom purchased 15 kilograms of onions to prepare this dish – which will be served at every iftar meal. I was hesitant to try it at first, given my stomach issues, but I threw caution to the wind and prayed that the water had not been shut off (it usually is shut off for a few hours every day in the summer) in case I had a need for the toilet *ahem*. It was absolutely delicious – the taste reminded me a bit of sloppy joe filling.
After dinner, my host mom offered me coffee as she joked that she had not missed eating food all day, but missed coffee. I politely declined as I was uncertain of how my stomach might respond to this volatile combination.
It is interesting how the dynamic of the town changes during Ramazan. The coffee bars and sidewalks are usually packed with people during the day, but during Ramazan the streets are empty. Most people are relaxing and sleeping at home. The real party begins after the sun sets – after the iftar meal families, children and teens spill out of their homes to walk around town and to meet with their friends for coffee. During Ramazan the activities of day and night are almost reversed.
This morning, I decided that I would try to fast, which was a short lived experiment. The office that I work in does not have air conditioning, and while the floor to ceiling windows surrounding the office are beautiful, they also insulate the room – creating the sensation that you are baking in an oven. I admitted defeat, filled my water bottle and grabbed a banana. I am impressed by those of my Muslim friends and coworkers that do observe the fast for Ramazan – it is an especially difficult time of year to abstain from drinking water.
I should mention that not every Muslim fasts for Ramazan, for a variety of reasons, and the fasting portion of Ramazan (to my understanding) is only one facet of observance. Indeed, it seems that this month is a period of particular spiritual and religious observance for Muslims, when expectations for striving to follow the tenets of the Islamic faith are high.
Now, I am off to meet with some friends to go out for coffee after finishing my vezë dhe qepë (eggs and onions). Gezuar Ramazani! Happy Ramazan!