Ramadan has always been a month to look forward to
In Egypt where I grew up, Ramadan has its own unique taste, and even though I have been living in Australia for 11 years now, childhood memories of our cultural traditions will never be forgotten.
I remember as a kid, the first thing I would ask for in Ramadan was my special cool lantern, which is still a must have for each child in Ramadan, they used to come in different sizes and colours and mine was always a red one.
Decorating the streets with special lights across buildings and hanging big lanterns in balconies is another tradition in Egypt .. It makes you feel like you are walking into a festival.
Living in Australia now, obviously Ramadan is not the same for me anymore, I miss my family gatherings and every little detail about it, the whole spirit was just magnificent.. but you know what? although Ramadan is different here, it’s quite interesting too..
I will tell you how shortly, but first for my non-Muslim readers who don’t know much about Ramadan.
Let me give you a brief and I will be quick..
Ramadan is a holy month in the Islamic calendar, it marks the period in which the ‘Quran’ was completed and revealed to the prophet Muhammad, so its basically a celebration of this significant Islamic event, and that’s why this month is considered a spiritual journey that over 1.4 billion Muslims engage in worldwide.
The core of Ramadan is its religion obligation really, as it is compulsory for healthy Muslim adults to fast through the daylight hours. I get asked often by non-Muslims if fasting affects our health in anyway and the answer is always yes it does! but in a damn good way indeed!
It’s really not as difficult as some might assume, I call it a detox program. Yes, you get the headaches the first day or two but that’s just because your body is cleansing itself, and it adjusts to the routine before you know it, you just have to do it right though, and by right I mean eating 2 main healthy meals; one before dawn and the other at sunset, re-hydrating your body with water, when you can, and staying active.
Other than cleansing the body, fasting cleanses the souls. It’s simple you see, by depriving the soul of life’s basic necessities for only some hours during the day, one is able to teach the soul self-control especially from such evils as lying, anger, revenge, sexual immorality, bad habits such as smoking and so on..
Moreover, the temporary feeling of hunger and thirst experienced by someone who can afford food and drink, cause one to realize how fortunate he is and bridge the gap between rich and poor, inspiring compassion, mercy and generosity, and that’s why you will notice that giving charity to those in need is a very common act during the month of Ramadan, as it comes naturally.
In short, fasting is a humbling experience for mankind, as they say
“false pride and arrogance can never live side-by-side with sincere piety“
So back to Ramadan in Aussie land..
What I love about Australia is the fact that it’s based on a multi cultural environment, which you can’t ignore even if you try, and this gives it a unique identity and spirit. There is a huge population of Muslims here from all different backgrounds and cultures, and more than any other time of the year, during Ramadan I see them come together and engage by fasting and performing special Ramadan prayers every night in different mosques around the cities.
For me it’s quite a challenge to go to the mosque every night since we don’t live close by, but I had the intension this year to make Ramadan a fun experience for my kids, and show them some thing different, so they can build good memories just like I did when I was little.
So what happens is, every night we break our fast at home and then start getting ready to drive to the mosque to attend the night prayers. It takes about 30 mins to get there by car.
A couple of days ago, I decided to bring my camera along, so I can share some photos here with you and have memories recorded in an album which I named ‘My Ramadan 2015’. On that night we had arrived a couple of minutes late, when they had just started praying .. I took permission and then started taking some quick shots outside and inside the mosque.
So now we are in the lady’s praying section, which is located at the back of the building .. People are in the middle of the prayers as you can see in the photo. It was very quiet at this moment that my camera shutter sound was so obvious.. oops! ‘ok, may be I should stop now ‘ I thought .. I then took my shoes off and caught up with them..
Alongside the common religious stipulations of Ramadan, always comes a rich fabric of traditions which brings flavour, culture, and life to communities. In Sydney this is well illustrated through street food.
For my kids especially ‘Malek’ the little one, praying in the mosque is only one part of the fun , but the other “real” fun part, is when we finish and go for a walk in the streets of the surrounding suburb ‘Lakemba’ where the population of Muslims is the biggest and specifically in the heart of Lakemba and that would be on Haldon street..
Honestly, I don’t blame them because O M G ! this place is on fire during Ramadan, and for my kids it’s as if I’m taking them on a trip overseas every night.. lol .. they just loooove it ..
Watching people selling food and drinks on the side walk, calling out loudly for customers to come and buy their food, (which by the way is either being cooked on food carts, probably built to last for only one month or on huge charcoal barbecues or even on fold out tables carrying huge pots of boiling water.. I dare you to go too close!!) and this partaaay stays on till midnight!
Talking about a multicultural environment, this is a perfect example. The variety of food and culture on this street speaks for itself.. we ‘ve had charcoal grilled camel burgers, Lebanese kebabs, Indonesian food, Pakistani desserts, hot belilah (middle eastern porridge), fava Beans, middle eastern desserts, Iraqi food and the list goes on!!
And here are some Examples ..
This is a father and his son working as a team one selling sahlab and calling out for people the other is selling fava beans, they saw me with my camera and thought I was a tourist, so they started to show off their talents … lol
Yes !! These are grilled Camel meat burgers and they are delicious !!
And this is the moment Malek has been working so hard for ..
Sahlab with coconut and cinnamon on top please !
That’s what I am talking about, this is probably the world’s biggest pot filled with boiling water sitting comfortably on a portable single gas burner! FREAKY!
Another food cart selling corn cubs boiled and grilled, the boy making them knows us so well now !! I can imagine him calling us “the hungry family who shows up every night”
Charcoal grilled corn is an Egyptian street food that I always crave ..
Another common drink that you would find selling really well along this street is
‘fresh carrot juice’ and it comes in all sizes ..
This one is a Pakistani dessert called ‘Jalebi’. I was watching this guy who had set a food stall outside his humble restaurant for Ramadan, he was confidently squeezing his dough mixture out of the plastic bottle creating a swirly shape, which holds its shape as soon as it touches the boiling hot oil, then he removes each one and dip it in this huge sugar syrup.. and just for watching and taking photos the guy kindly offered us free ones .. oh! that was nice and delicious
‘Shawerma’ is the Egyptian version of a kebab sandwich, made out of beef or lamb, mixed with tahini sauce and grilled diced tomatoes rolled in pitta bread .. really delicious stuff !!
And of course, it wouldn’t be complete without a sip of some aromatic Arabic coffee ..
And after a good hour of walking around, we head to our car and back home to get some sleep..
That was it for our nightly trips to Lakemba .. hope you enjoyed it!
There are only few days left in Ramadan so all this will be over very soon ..
looking forward to sharing another different Ramadan experience with you next year, perhaps from another spot on the map ..
for some popular Ramadan food recipes please check the following links out