This will be our first Ramadan in the Middle East. For those who don’t know, Ramadan is the month of fasting in Islam, and begins on August 1st this year. I have mixed feelings about spending Ramadan here. On the one hand, it will be interesting to get a closer look at one of the five pillars of the Muslim faith. As a Mormon, I fast for one Sunday each month. Almost every month as I am preparing to break my fast, I think of my Muslim friends and acquaintances, and how impressed I am that they fast every single day for an entire month (and this month it’s the month of August too!).
I have a little bit of Ramadan anxiety, though. Many of my Western expat friends in the Middle East speak of Ramadan almost as if it were an oncoming cataclysm, to be endured only if it cannot possibly be avoided. (And it’s not because they’re planning on fasting too.) I’ve been told that the already “creative” driving style here is only exacerbated by hungry drivers rushing home to break their fast at sunset. Shops supposedly don’t open until after lunch time. And people stay up eating and partying till all hours of the night, as well as being woken by drums in the wee hours of the morning to eat one last time before sunrise.
Everything slows down (or grinds to a halt) during the entire month of Ramadan. That’s why I am pretty ecstatic that our air conditioning, oven, internet, and washing machine ALL miraculously got fixed last week. A lot of my Ramadan anxiety was fueled by the fact that I knew if it didn’t happen now, I would have to wait till September.
Our expat friends in Tunis (who plan to spend the first two weeks of Ramadan in Italy) were warning us on Sunday of a Ramadan food shortage. Although nobody eats during the day time, apparently studies show that more food is actually consumed in the Middle East during Ramadan than at any other time. So far, all we’ve noticed is a lack of milk and butter. We went to four different stores searching for butter the other day, and were unsuccessful. Of course, whatever Ramadan shortages normally happen in Tunisia are also exacerbated this year by the fact that Tunisia is shipping lots of food over the border to hungry, war-weary Libya.
So we were a bit worried about potential food shortages. We eat barley porridge for breakfast every morning (in lieu of our normal oatmeal, which is difficult to find and prohibitively priced in Tunisia). We usually buy it out of a bin, but lately it’s had too many rocks in it (and last time we went to buy it, I saw bugs crawling around in it too, which was enough to scare me off, even though Tony thought it was no big deal). We like to buy in bulk, since we eat it every day, but the little corner stores where we buy our food only carry a few bags of any given item at a time. So we were thrilled when yesterday we found a whole unopened case of barley bags. Not only did the store proprietor sell it to us without grumbling (just like stores in Italy, they’re often miffed when you buy a more than normal amount), but he actually gave us a discount for buying 18 bags at once. We felt a little conscience-smitten at how cheap it was, and almost went back and asked him if he had made a mistake (you know, like when you notice the cashier has given you extra change at the grocery store). They don’t really make mistakes like that here, though, since prices are unmarked, and they always just make up a price for us on the spot.
Our Tunisian neighbors thought it was hilarious when we came tramping up to our house with our stack of barley and proclaimed ourselves “ready for Ramadan.” But we really did feel better. Here’s our awesome find (in my immaculately organized cupboard):
Tony also decided to stock up on toothpaste, since we’re almost out of that too. I’m not sure if there’s a toothpaste shortage also, or if he was just confused, but here’s what he came home with (look closely!):
We missed a hilarious slapstick comedy moment by his just-in-time discovery that his “toothpaste” was actually shaving cream. Oh, well. On the upside, at least we can exchange the unopened shaving cream for real toothpaste.
Happy Ramadan! I think we’re ready.