Once the sun has set, Muslim families gather in their homes for the Iftlar, or the meal in which the fast is broken. This is a celebratory hour, in which many special foods are eaten that appear on the table only at this time of the year! (For more details as to what these traditional Ramadan foods are, see the Flickr pictures posted below :)). Once the Iftlar meals are finished, families continue on in a festive spirit--venturing out to visit friends and relatives, and staying up late to enjoy a final dinner before going to bed...knowing another full day will pass before they eat again.
One of the things that surprised me most about life "during Ramadan" was observing how the holiday affects the scheduling of virtually the entire city (and country!). Not only do families stay up late, and then often sleep in until mid-day, businesses follow suit: shops, banks, restaurants and even the post office open their doors later (usually around 10 am, as opposed to 8). Many then stay open through mid-afternoon (instead of taking the usual late afternoon siesta), but close up shop for good around 4 or 5. Then, once everyone's enjoyed Iftlar and had time to relax, it's back to work--many shops will RE-open around 9 (the time when they usually close, having been open post-siesta 'til then), and stay that way til late in the evening--11, 12, or even after. So essentially...the "out-and-about" hours of the day are flip-flopped. Rather than being active in the morning, when it's cool, people sleep through the morning, get up in late afternoon, and come out in droves at night!
On the other hand...
There are many types of people who's jobs and schedules remain (unfortunately) unaffected by Ramadan...most notably, in my opinion are the poor taxi drivers. These guys are still up early, and driving around ALL day long in the heat (with NO AC), with nothing to eat or drink. Many of them resort to driving around with sopping wet towels on their heads (not joking!), just to get a little relief. You can imagine how tempers may flare just a little in these situations... and somehow, that seems to spill out onto the streets. I'd been forewarned that as Ramadan goes on, I could potentially bear witness to a few fist-fights--we'll just say I've seen that, and then some. :) Thankfully, I've yet to see anyone come out so far with more injured than their pride...
With a little more than a week to go, I'm saying my prayers and keeping my fingers crossed! :)
On a more serious note, this has been a great opportunity to dialogue with my host family and other friends about the significance they find in Ramadan, and their faith system as a whole. I've enjoyed learning and discussing these topics with them, and look forward to continuing the conversations.
CLICK on the link below to see photos of how the Ramadan fast is broken in my home!