Two years ago, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Egypt for two weeks with some of my closest friends. That experience was incredible and more than I could put into one blog post. In time, I'd like to continue writing about my time in Egypt over the course of a number of posts. And since we're to the last few days of Ramadan, it feels like the perfect time to talk about the beginning of that trip.
When we started planning my trip to Egypt, we decided it would be really cool for me to experience Ramadan in Egypt. However, since I was only able to take two weeks of vacation for the trip, we didn't want to spend the brunt of our time at home fasting. There are so many things to see and do in Egypt and it can be challenging to actually see those things and experience all of it during Ramadan. So we decided that I would arrive in Egypt for the last few days of Ramadan.
I arrived in Egypt very late in the evening and between of the excitement of being in this beautiful country with my friends and the jet lag I was experiencing, I was wide awake. More accurately, I was wired. So rather than go to sleep right away, I stayed up until the early hours of the morning. And it was in those early hours of the morning that I heard someone coming by with a drum. It was explained to me that this was a person waking everyone up for suhoor, or the pre-dawn meal. Some people would stay up all night long, but for those who slept, this person would come around and alert everyone that it was time to wake up and eat something before starting their fast. And then when fajr arrived and everyone was to start their fast, everyone was alerted. In Egypt, there are mosques all over the place, very similar to how there are churches all around here in the states. The call to prayer is played loud enough for everyone in the area to hear.
Those little details that first night brought me a lot of comfort and excitement. As a Muslim in the states, I am a minority. And so while I am up in the middle of the night eating and drinking before the sun comes up, there are very few around me that are doing the same. But there in Egypt hearing everyone being woken up for suhoor together and hearing the call to prayer echoing around me made me feel a part of a greater community and not like the odd one out. In a lot of ways, Egypt felt like another home to me for reasons like that.
Since a large portion of the Egyptian population is Muslim and observing Ramadan together, there are some things that change across the board during Ramadan. Essentially, it's as though people's days are flipped around. People are out at restaurants and shopping and socializing through the night while resting during the day. Mind you, there are plenty of people who are awake and doing things throughout the day. Life doesn't stop just because it's Ramadan. But rather than being out and socializing with others during the day, all of that happens at night. In fact, in some areas people set up tables in the street to have tea together and the roads become packed with people out to get their shopping done and to see their friends. When I think of the phrase, "night life," that is what I think of after having experienced it.
Another thing that happens at night is the taraweeh prayers. Every night during Ramadan, there are extra prayers that take place. And so while there are droves of people going out to do their shopping, there are also droves that are making their way to the mosques in the area to pray. Throughout the evening, there are people out and about for a variety of reasons. While it is chaotic, there is also this upbeat energy among everyone that is a part of this thing together.
Since becoming Muslim, my experience of breaking my fast had always been something that was done at my home or a friend's home. It really wasn't very common in my experience for people to go out for iftar at a restaurant. However, on one of my nights in Egypt, we went out to a restaurant to enjoy their buffet. The restaurant was absolutely packed and they had an incredible spread of food for everyone to enjoy. In addition, they had designated prayer areas for everyone to go and pray during the evening. It was yet another way that I felt included in this community. I wasn't the only one in the restaurant fasting and waiting until it was time to break my fast. We were all there doing the same thing together. Even though I was a foreigner and hardly knew any Arabic, I still felt comfortable and felt like I fit in just fine.
Toward the end of Ramadan, it's very common for Muslim families to make sweets for everyone to enjoy together during Eid. Much in the same way that many will bake Christmas cookies and candies and treats, Muslims will bake Eid cookies and various treats. So during one of the last days of Ramadan, we went to my friend's parents' house where I was taught how to make Eid cookies. They reminded me a lot of one of the cookies I grew up making with my family for Christmas. In the same way that baking Christmas cookies often gets people excited for Christmas, baking Eid cookies got us ready and excited to celebrate Eid together.
Eid in Egypt was also an incredible experience and one that deserves a post of its own. Ramadan this year is nearly over and Eid is upon us. And while this Ramadan has been radically different from my Ramadan in Egypt, reminiscing has brought some light into this admittedly challenging Ramadan.