Ramadan in Umm ad-Dunya

Cairo can be daunting any month of the year. From the flashy, high-rise hotels that hug the Nile, the city stretches for miles upon miles in all directions, crammed with dust-coated apartment blocks, enormous mosques and crumbling slums as its twenty million residents ply their way through, under, over and around the lot in buses, cabs and metro cars. Add the sweltering heat of July to the swarming crowds, as well as an overall sense of chaos, and you have an especially challenging city to traverse. Ramadan made conditions even tougher.

During daylight hours food was scarce, restaurants mostly shuttered. In the few that remained semi-open, staffs, menus and hours were all severely cut. Downing water in half-closed kiosks, our backs half-turned to the downtown streets, no amount of discretion seemed enough to deter disapproving glances. With empty stomachs, parched throats and spinning heads, the tension of post-revolutionary Cairo seemed to thicken in the air. As long mornings marched on into long afternoons, the sun weighing like a ton of bricks over Cairo's sprawling concrete jungle, moods soured and patience at times wore thin. Scuffles broke out among crowds of dehydrated men. Home to some of the brightest, jolliest characters on earth, in those dark hours Egypt seemed nearly devoid of smiles.

As the end came into sight, moods lifted. Tables across the city filled up just before sundown, stretching well into the streets, food and drinks served but not touched. Millions in transit on metro cars and buses sat ready, Iftar stash in tow, some in silent anticipation and others mumbling scripture over little pocket Qur'ans. Exhaustion and, at times, a touch of frustration, melted away into the serenity of a fast nearly complete, and the heated arguments of the afternoon turned to warm, friendly chatter. When the first dates and juice were finally raised, the entire city exhaled as one. Late into the night, lit by colorful fanawees and tacky Christmas lights, Cairo kept wide awake, much the way it does during less holy months.





Shery said...

I love your description of my city and your pics are stunning.Downtown buildings are among few things that I miss about Egypt. They will remain beautiful whatever happens.

Valerie said...

Wow, had no idea how beautiful Cairo is. Thanks for blogging, Joey! Looking at your blog reminds me of my priorities in life in terms of travel and planning.