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04 August 2013

Ramadhan Birthdays

Tonight (the eve of 5 Aug) would have been my Father's Hijri (Islamic) birthday.

And today (5 Aug) is my birthday! What a great coincidence! :)

The reason we used to celebrate my Father's Islamic and not Gregorian birthday is that his birthday falls on what is considered the most religious night in the entire year - Laylat Al Gadr (Night of Power). Laylat Al Gadr's exact date is not specified in Islam beyond the belief that it falls on one of the final 10 days of Ramadhan. Most people accept that it's the night of 27 Ramadhan.

This is going to be the final year in a while that my birthday falls in Ramadhan. Next year, I'll hopefully be stuffing my face with cake as soon as I wake up (or refuse to come out of my room like Rachel in Friends when she turned 30, haha!).

Ramadhan this year has been unusual for me. While I missed Ramadhan in Yemen when I lived in the UK, being in an Arab country that wasn't Yemen and not recreating all of Ramadhan's traditions magnified the nostalgia. Having said that, I have to admit that I haven't spent Ramadhan in Yemen in a few years, so perhaps my sentiments are a little skewed. Still, every evening when the Maghreb prayer got closer, I could almost smell the samosas frying (actually, could've been the neighbour's samosas...).

So, Ramadhan in Sana'a, Yemen. With the entire family. Let's start by saying that blood sugar levels ran very low for approximately the last hour of the fasting day. Gathering round to wait for the call to prayer, we'd squeeze around a tiny round coffee table, not much larger than 1 metre in diameter. One of us would pour the tea, so that it would be cool enough to drink as soon as we could break our fast. Get this timing wrong and you get some disgruntled "who poured the tea today?" questions and efforts to balance the temperature out by pouring more tea over it and then it being really hot and then not having time to drink it (cue more disgruntled grunts)....timing is everything really.

When you break your fast after a day of not eating, everything tastes so much sweeter. This year I've been craving a lot of the food we have at fatoor (or iftar as it's known in some places) so I'm gonna tell you what we used to stuff our faces with in the 10 minutes of eating before praying. Dates. Tea with mint. Samosas (meat ones, chicken ones, cheese ones, veggie ones). Potato cutlets (mmm). Ma'asuba - which is Sana'ani bread pieces, smothered in butter (or ghee, traditionally) and honey. Absolutely delicious.

Then my father would rush off to start the Maghreb prayer, and we'd chase after him while Praying Maghreb together is a Ramadhan tradition. It's only that one prayer of the day that we share, but every year we do it. After that? We sit down for dinner - which is an ultimate fail since we're stuffed (four types of samosas remember?!). Ramadhan dinners for some reason have to have a soup and at least 3 different kinds of juices. Even though, for the other 11 months of the year, we manage just fine with a few dishes. Never a truer time to apply "eyes bigger than the stomach" saying.

After dinner (Ramadan is focused around family/food, at least in our household!), we'd sit down for dessert (baklawa or cheesecake or konafa or  something equally sweet :D). And with our sweets we drink Yemeni dark coffee, to help wake up from the imminent food comas. When there were a lot of us living at home, we would play cards every night. And then we'd have a different type of Yemeni coffee, one brewed from the shells of the coffee beans (sooooo yummy). Once we were sufficiently caffeinated, the house would slowly empty out as everyone went off to start their evening's entertainment (seeing other friends, watching tv etc).

My family's Ramadhan evenings were quite different to those of my friends'. First, we never had dinner in front of the TV. In fact, we rarely watched or followed any of the series released specifically for Ramadhan. Also, we rarely stayed up late. Bed time was around 12 or 1 am (especially if it was school time, I'd sleep around 10!). We'd usually wake up to eat sahoor rather than skip it or stay up and eat late. And, we rarely slept in until anytime after 12 pm (and that was if my mom didn't wake us up!).

When we celebrated my Father's birthdays in Ramadhan, we'd always invite my aunts, uncles and many cousins for dinner, cake and an evening of family fun. I loved those nights. While the "adults" would sit in the deewan chatting and chewing and drinking tea, my cousins and I would rush outside to play the yearly hide'n'seek game in the dark. It was the only time we were allowed to play in the eerie garden at night. And it was always so much fun. We'd run around our garden and hide in the trees or on the other side of the house (so creative). And we'd buy fire crackers and light them up. For hours and hours.

Ramadhan is really wonderful, especially around family. But, as with many things, there is a sadness that surrounds it. Remembering family members and friends that have left us is inevitable. So many of the memories I have for Ramadhan, Eid and my Father's birthdays contain many family members that have sadly left us. And since Ramadhan is also a time for reflection and prayer, thinking of them and missing them makes the month very bitter sweet. I guess now is our turn to make our own traditions.

I'm very lucky and fortunate to have these memories of my family. One thing that I really want to do more of is to take more photos, since I couldn't find a single picture on my computer of spending Ramadhan when I was still in high school.

So here's to another year, hopefully one full of family gatherings, birthday songs and photographic memories. 

Happy birthday Baba.


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