Friday, September 10, 2010

The Lanterns of Ramadan

Cameron standing with a Ramadan Lantern

The Lights of Ramadan on trees and buildings

Tonight is the last night of Ramadan.  Cameron, Jeff and I went for a long walk in a part of Cairo that was new to me.   The street looked so festive with colored lights on the trees and lanterns hung all around.  It was a really interesting evening.  We headed out around 6pm or so and the sun must have just gone down because there were people eating in groups here and there.

One group of three men was sitting on a piece of cardboard on the grass with newpapers spread out to sit on.  As we were walking by, one of the men said, "Come, come" and motioned for us to join them.  I was a bit reluctant at first (not wanting to intrude, noticing there wasn't much food in front of them and they were three men who had been fasting all day, and concerned about how the guidebooks had cautioned about eating food cooked and sold in the streets, which this wasn't, but I was still worried considering Jeff had just been sick for two days and Cameron for one).  Fortunately, Jeff said we should join them and said it would be rude not to join them, so we did.  It turned out to be a really good experience.

They handed some food to Jeff and a piece of fried chicken to Cameron, along with some homemade bread (like pita but thicker).  We speak almost no Arabic and the man who invited us spoke almost no English, but we still communicated with the few words we had.  His name was Wahil.  I tried out the couple sentences I had learned in my Arabic class.  I told him where we were from, our names and then tried to say the equivalent of "Nice to meet you" in Arabic, (phonetically:  tasharafna), but I got the word confused and instead said "tafarashna" which he nonetheless understood and thought was very funny.  (I wonder what I was really saying with my mispronounciation...)   Later when I was trying to teach Cameron  to say the word correctly to Wahil, Wahil jokingly corrected me with my own mispronounciation and we had a laugh.  Wahil knew the word "family" in English and asked if we were a family pointing to Jeff, Cameron and me.  We nodded.  He pulled out his cell phone and showed us photos of his two children, a baby and a toddler.  At one point he said "one family" motioning to us and him and his friends.  I guess it doesn't get more fundamental than that.  The whole thing experience had a depth of generosity that seems to be the essence of  Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is a time for Muslims to refrain from eating and drinking all day, every day, until the sun goes down.  It's really quite amazing whole countries do this for 1/12 of the year, every year.  The heat is so hot this time of year... simply not drinking for one day would be excruciating for us.   A couple people who are fasting have told me it's both religious and to empathize with people who don't have enough to eat.  Ramadan ends tonight and there will be a three day holiday this weekend as people feast to celebrate.  

Latterns are part of the festivities of Ramadan and colored lights decorate the streets as they do during our Christmas season.  It's said that the lanterns date back 800 years to a time when lanterns were held outside the city to welcome the ruler when he arrived.  Below are more photos of the lanterns which decorate peoples homes as well as businesses.  

To the right is a photo of a couple wonderful desserts we picked up to have our own little celebration.  I don't know the name of the dessert in the front, but it is a delicious traditional Egyptian dessert that tastes like some kind of spice cake soaked in honey. 

One of the shopkeepers gave Cameron the yellow balloon after playing toss with him for a while.  Cameron was very excited about the festivities and especially the balloon.


  1. Great pictures and commentary, enjoy the Eid holiday.

  2. Thanks Jonathan! Tell me sometime about the time you spent here!