Wednesday morning, and it is Eid al-Fitr, the feast marking the end of Ramadan. It is a holiday for most people, so I was not expecting to be woken at 5.00 am by a sermon broadcast from the mosque (it was as if there had been a speaker was under my window, it was so loud and clear!). It has been a long month for our Moslem friends here. Ramadan is a holy month, in which they fast during the daylight hours (I can’t imagine what it is like for a Moslem in, say, Shetland with long summer nights, though they may be given special dispensation to follow the hours when the sun rises and sets in Mecca). In Cairo this meant between the hours of 05.00 in the morning and 19.00 in the evening, so a long time without eating or drinking even a sip of water, though children, older people and pregnant women are exempt. It also coincided with a particularly hot spell where temperatures were regularly hovering about the 40 degrees Celsius mark. I have been far more aware of Ramadan here in Cairo than I was when I lived in the Galilee and certainly more sensitive to eating or drinking in public during the day. Even though a tenth of the population is Christian, all restaurants and cafes are closed during the day (apart from those in tourist areas). When dusk falls, people prepare to break their fast and have iftar, breakfast, and suddenly there is a surge of activity. I found it interesting to be on the metro at that time as people began to pass bottles of water round the carriage or in one case give out small cartons of juice to whoever was there. At the exit from the station, there was even a policeman at a table handing out cups of juice and little packets of dates.
But it has also been a colourful month, and many of the streets are decorated with lights or tinsel, and often there are big lanterns, so it is far more atmospheric at night. But it has meant adjusting my routine, as shops and businesses close around the middle of the afternoon and only re-open after 20.00, so I find myself having to shop late or go for a haircut at 21.00! It has also been a month of giving, as Moslems are encouraged to give to charity, which is of course one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and by giving during Ramadan, you are more blessed. Ramadan finishes with the Feast of Eid, which is a noisy time with families coming together and going on outings and buying new clothes, especially for children. The streets are apparently packed, and it will be good to enjoy the atmosphere. However, it will be also be good to get back to some kind of normality.