Over the years I have come to really love Ramadan in Algeria. I love the totally different atmosphere created by the fact that the vast majority of the population are fasting from just before dawn to dusk. This year it started on 18th June just in time for the end of the main school national examinations, the Cinqueme, the BEM and the Baccalaureate, and for the summer to really begin. Women start stocking up on food weeks beforehand before the prices go up, and they also restock their kitchen cupboards with pots, pans, crockery and anything else necessary to ensure as easy a Ramadan as possible. I was pleasantly surprised, this year, that main foodstuffs did not noticeably go up in price Alhamdulilah.
As I go out and about for my shopping I’m so amazed at the good humour of most of the Algerians I have to deal with…..they almost all serve you with good humour and more often than not send you on your way with an ‘Allahinourak’ or Allahiyahafdhak’ ringing in your ears. I love the way they ask children in the age range of 10 - 12 if they are fasting and if they reply in the affirmative they are always greeted with an ‘Allahibarek’ and praise, and sometimes even a small gift. If they’re not fasting then that’s ok too..’they’re still young’ is usually the opinion of many.
The shops are full of foods that no self-respecting Algerian table would be without on this Blessed of all months – dried prunes and apricots to make ‘laham halou’ (sweet meat), frik (bulgar wheat) or vermicelli and tomato puree to make ‘chorba’ (soup), vol au vent cases, different type of cheeses, cold drinks, water etc . etc. and then the vegetable shops do a roaring trade on all kind of vegetables for the various ‘jeu-ess’ dishes (dishes with a lot of sauce/soup) and salads, and there are always customers around the back of small lorries selling huge water melons and cantaloupe and melons that melt in your mouth straight out of the fridge. Then there are the small stalls that suddenly appear out of nowhere, cropping up here and there on streets outside people’s houses selling ‘mutalou’ (Algerian bread), ‘diol’ (the Algerian homemade samosa pastry) and bunches of parsley, coriander, mint and eggs.
One of the most wonderful things to happen in Ramadan is the closure of the coffee shops during the day – no longer do you have to walk out on the road to avoid walking through a coffee shop which has spread out across the pavement. I never cease to be amazed at the number of men working out in the sun, fasting, from early morning until mid afternoon. The workman who put the protective covering on our wall said he actually preferred to work during Ramadan, and he did work on our house all the way through the month last year. His brother was working with him for a little while until, one morning, my husband returned to the house with the workman and found him stretched out sound asleep on the ground with his head on the doorstep! His wife had given birth to their first child the night before….no surprise that we didn’t see him again for the rest of Ramadan!
My husband went to England at the request of the Muslim community to which we belonged when we lived there. They invited him to be their Imam, leading the Taraweeh prayers in the evenings, giving the Friday khutba and generally leading them in the prayers throughout the month of Ramadan. So it was just the 5 children and me on our own for the month and so many sisters said to me that it must be a lot easier without him, not having to cook all the special Algerian foods. To be honest, neither here in Algeria nor when we lived in England has my husband ever insisted on Algerian dishes, and neither did I feel less restricted with him gone. I missed him….for himself…but I managed fine without him Alhamdulilah due to the fact that my kids are grown and know their way around all the convoluted systems of paperwork here.
We had a few sisters for iftaar and there wasn’t a bowl of chorba or bourek in sight! It was lovely to sit and sip coffee and cake in the courtyard outside under the star studded sky with the Qur’an recitation wafting across the air from the nearby mosque. We also went to my mother-in-law’s and another good friend’s house another night which broke the routine nicely Alhamdulilah. But we had our own lovely routine throughout Ramadan – breaking the fast at 8.20pm and starting to fast again at 3.30am left little room for anything more than eating, praying, reading Qur’an, relaxing and breakfast. We all found it easier to stay up than to go to bed and wake up a little while later, as this made it easier to eat and to pray Fajir properly. So this meant that we often slept until Dhuhr time. The girls and I split up the cooking between us so that none of us spent a long time in the kitchen each day, and whereas I preferred to get all my preparations and cooking done between Dhuhr and Asr they preferred to do it afterwards. Having all day to cook one meal and some side dishes meant that the day was free to do other things, and I felt a new sense of freedom and serenity Alhamdulilah. Jumuah (Friday) is usually a very busy day for me, and suddenly it was as relaxing as all the other days.
One of the girls washed up after iftar while the rest of us relaxed a little, and then the boys went out to the mosque for Isha and Taraweeh prayers. The girls and I preferred to stay at home and pray on our own giving us a chance to revise our Qur’an and, for me, to understand what I was saying and so help with my khushoo (concentration). The boys often bought ice-cream on the way home from the mosque and then we sat down with snacks and left over food to watch the Omar Ibn Khattab series from MBC. It is in Arabic with English subtitles and I absolutely love it – it brings up so many interesting subjects to discuss, and it helped to boost my Iman no end Alhamdulilah. I have written my own thoughts on the series in more depth which I will post soon inshallah. Then we all went off to do our own thing, coming together for suhoor.
In the last week or 10 days I baked various goodies and put them in the freezer for Eid day….doing a little every day meant that I didn’t spend too much time on them, especially during the last 10 most precious nights…the Best of All nights.
The days flew by so quickly and before we knew it the month was up andI was sad to see it end. As my kids are older now I have more opportunity to read the Qur’an, say dua, pray Taraweeh and night prayers, and the peace it all brings is something unfathomable mashAllah. Of course I didn’t do nearly as much as I could have done, and the peace I experienced was just a ‘taster’, but I pray that Allah will help me to continue at least one good habit beyond Ramadan inshallah.
As usual we went to my inlaws for Eid day and I must admit that Eid has become more entertaining in recent years as my husband’s nieces, their children and his sister-in-law come from England so now I have someone to talk to in English, and don’t feel so much like a heap of clothes plonked in the corner. Of course that is my own fault…..it’s certainly not theirs that I STILL cannot speak their language. When we first came to live in Algeria, Ramadan was a quiet affair at my inlaws, but as my husband’s nieces and nephews have all married, it has become a busy and social occasion once more with my husband’s mother and sister right as the central pivot of it all. For me it is wonderful to have dinner served up to me and not have to lift a finger to help (I have tried in the past and there are so many other willing hands among the younger generation who enjoy the chatting over the dishes, that I don’t even pretend to argue any more). We left in the early afternoon and came home to a lovely quiet house, a rest, a DVD and some edible goodies. The next day we were planning to go to the sea but….we were all so exhausted that we just rested for the day instead. And then the next day….we were all fasting again……