Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Expat's Guide to Ramadan

It's that time of year again, when Egypt and the rest of the Muslim world come to a virtual standstill for the holy month of Ramadan. The majority of Egypt will be fasting, and this blog aims to provide expats and visitors with some quick and easy tips to help you understand the significance of this period.

For a brief history of Ramadan, check out my previous blog here.

A traditional Fanous Lantern
If you're new in Egypt, Ramadan can feel a bit hectic. To begin with, the first few days are met with jubilation and celebrations throughout the country. In this time you can expect a lot of post-sunset firecrackers, loud music, traffic on the streets, and if you're in Hurghada hours of power outages (hehe).

With the temperatures this year soaring to 41 degrees in the shade fasting becomes more difficult for many people. Most Muslims admit that not eating during the day is not the problem, it's not being able to drink (or for some - to smoke a cigarette). Accordingly, the hour before the adhan (prayer-call) announces the end to the fasting day, you can expect heavy traffic on the streets and extremely irate drivers. One thing that always struck me during Ramadan were the people that would stand in the heavy traffic and hand out dates, bottles of water and boxes of juice to the drivers passing by. An important aspect for fasting Muslims is that they must break the fast the moment the adhan announces it, so for drivers that got caught in traffic this is a God-send.

Of course the advantage here for expats is the hour of sunset and just after, the streets throughout Egypt are virtually empty. Everyone is inside having their iftar (breakfast), praying, and spending some time relaxing before the night's festivities begin. Essentially, once they have filled their bellies most Egyptians will spend the rest of the night until 3 AM eating, drinking, and socializing with their friends at cafes.

One of the big disadvantages that many find during Ramadan in Cairo (as here in Hurghada we do not have this problem) is that the night clubs and bars / locations that serve alcohol will close. If you manage to find a few places that are still serving alcohol and you have an Egyptian with you in the group, you will face the very awkward conversation with managerial staff refusing to allow your Egyptian friend to enter - regardless of whether or not they are fasting.

Another disadvantage is the level of productivity dwindles to virtually zero during Ramadan. For those that actually go to work fasting, their work-level is no where near what it usually is. Construction work comes to a virtual halt - even if they are mid-construction (wait what am I talking about, this happens even when it's not Ramadan) and if you have a project that you need completed, expect it to take twice as long.

It is customary to provide tips during this period; whether you choose to give it in the beginning of the month or at the end just prior to the Eid feast is up to you. Many people opt out of tipping money as there are many other things you can also gift. A Ramadan bag presented to your bowab (doorman) will be graciously accepted. These bags are sold in most supermarkets, or you can make your own and include things like rice, pasta, cooking oil, sugar, spaghetti sauce, lentils, etc. For the end of Ramadan period you can gift clothes (as Muslims will wear new clothes during the Eid) or you can also gift meat for the huge feast that comes in the Eid.

If you're ever invited over for an iftar dinner (which I highly recommend), go very hungry! Remember people are fasting during the day and will fill themselves come iftar. Often the meal begins with milk and dates to line the stomach, followed by a wide variety of Egyptian dishes.

The Khan el-Khalili in Cairoduring Ramadan
For expats in Egypt, Ramadan can provide a fantastic opportunity to really immerse yourself in the Egyptian culture and to soak up the lifestyle here. I've previously blogged about some of the things you can do around Cairo at this time of year, and similar events are also held throughout Hurghada.

Finally, find here a blog about tips for driving during Ramadan. Stay alert and conscientious on the road and you can avoid accidents, the responsibility lies with you.

And as they say in Egypt, Ramadan Kareem!

No comments:

Post a Comment