Monday, October 10, 2005


We were invited last night to iftar at some friends' house. For those of you not familiar with iftar, it's the dinner (literally, "breakfast," but let's not get into that) that happens at sundown daily during Ramadan. Iftars typically are major spreads where people who've been fasting make up for all that food they've missed during the day by shovelling everything within reach in their mouths at a breakneck pace. Generally, about five minutes afterward, one is so full that all he/she can do is make it to the closest cushy chair and crash out for the night. At least in Jordan that's pretty much always the case.

My first introduction to Ramadan and iftar was in Yagoua, in Cameroon, and breaking the fast definitely did not involve as much brouhaha and huge amounts of food. People always broke fast with bouillee, an excellent porridge made from rice flour that I've never been able to duplicate. Every evening, people would bring me huge bowls of it, despite the fact that I lived alone and couldn't finish even one of the bowls, much less four or five.

Speaking of brouhaha, Ramadan in Jordan is hilarious. Fasting all day (no water either!) is killer, but the funny thing is how people are so melodramatic about it. When I worked at the British Council, we were always slammed with work in the months before and after Ramadan. However, it was nearly anathema to attempt to get anything done while everyone was fasting. Sure, we'd have meetings, but people were way out on other planets. I could relate in a way, usually, because I nearly always fasted, but work was essentially just going through the motions ("No! We can't hold that workshop/meeting during Ramadan!" "Wait until after Ramadan!")

Anyway, last night's dinner was lovely. We ate a whole huge piece of lamb, a yummy eggplant dish, meat pies, fattoush, and a number of other things I can hardly remember because I was eating like a fiend. Samer and I had decided to fast (iftars are more fun if you fast before them), and for about an hour and a half before time to eat I was pretty out of it. Headache, grouchy. It also didn't help that the blasted sun doesn't go down until around 7.

Probably the best thing about going to iftar last night was the way it duplicated the iftars at family and friends' houses in Amman. First of all, Ramadan in Seattle and Ramadan in Amman are two completely different affairs. In Amman, the whole atmosphere changes. Plus, we get to see family and friends nearly every night and stay out late playing cards and smoking argileh (Samer's the argileh guy, not me.) Here in Seattle, it's just another month. 'Ammo Abed, whose house we visited last night, said that when he happened to mention to some of his tennis partners that it's Ramadan and he's fasting all month, they responded with a collective "That's nice." We all found this falling out funny--and not many Americans would, I suppose--because we know not only just how harrowing the act of fasting so much is (not "nice" at all) but also what a huge big deal the month is in terms of specialness and community.

The iftars that I spent at Samer's family's houses probably did more than anything for me to feel like I belonged. There's always a feeling of laid-back ceremony to waiting together for the moment when we can start chowing down, the shared lethargy of having full stomachs, and the excitement when the hot qatayief is brought in. Ramadan was certainly never my holiday; I'm not Muslim and not expected to fast. But nobody ever acted like it was weird the years I did fast. Not only that, they acted like it was the most normal thing ever. Perhaps it was during those lazy evenings that I started to realize I wasn't quite the outsider I thought I was.


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