Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ramazan Bombasi

Being the insomniac I am, last night was no exception to my sleeping schedule. I toodled around online until 2:30am, drooling over the latest shoes and dresses from my favorite store (Anthropologie), finally surrendering to my bed. No sooner had I fallen asleep was I awakened by what sounded like someone had moved their construction site outside our bedroom window. BANG BANG BANG. silence. BANG BANG BANG. silence. Then it occurred to me that the noise was actually moving around our neighborhood. Then genius here remembered what time of year it is: Ramazan. The noise was a man who has been appointed to awaken believers (and non-believers alike) for Sahur, the last meal of the day, at 3:30 in the morning, before the fast during daylight hours.

The Holy Month of Ramadan is a symbolic month in Islam when the faithful are required to fast from sunup to sundown. That means--no water, no food, no smoking...nothing past your lips. Its intent is to remind Muslims of self-restraint, patience and spirituality. A fine idea in practice, a greater challenge than one could imagine, seeing as Ankara has witnessed record breaking heatwaves these days! Fitting, seeing as the word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root "rmd" (anyone I've subjected to my fascination with languages knows how interesting I find the concept of Arabic "root words"), meaning "intense heat, scorched ground and shortness of rations." They probably couldn't have picked a better root word.

I had forgotten that it was Ramadan, seeing as I am a spoiled brat and have been on vacation along Turkey's amazing seaside for the past six weeks (maybe I'm the one who needs a little self-restraint in my life!). A majority of that time was spent around the Izmir area. Now, why would Izmir be any reason to forget such an important holiday, you may ask, in a country that considers itself 99% Muslim. That's because "Ramazan doesn't come to Izmir," as the Turkish saying goes.

Izmir is often affectionately called "Gavur Izmir," or "Infidel (non-believer) Izmir". During the Ottoman Empire, the Izmir population was primarily Christian, due to the large number of Greeks, thus eliciting the name. The epithet remains today, seeing as many Izmirians (is that right? I'll use the Turkish: Izmirliler) are perceived as more "liberal"(in very broad terms).

The first night of Ramazan this year, I was in Ayvalik, 2 hours north of Izmir, at my in-laws' house. My in-laws are very modern, liberal people, yet are still spiritual--very similar to my parents as Christians. My mother-in-law was not fasting, due to the fact that she has a form of diabetes (there are exceptions made for individuals in such cases to be relieved from fasting), but my father-in-law was determined. He explained to me that he had fasted since he was 14 (if I remember correctly), and wasn't about to let the blazing heat get in his way. They both woke up the night before (the morning of?) to prepare Sahur, and I joined them in the kitchen after hearing the rustle of pots and pans. I was worried about him, though, in this heat, but relieved that he consumed a good 2 litres of water. We went back to bed. My father-in-law (let's stop this father-in-law dancing--I call him "baba" (father)), is not one to sit at home. As the day rolled on, I started to see him wavering, sweating like mad and a glazed look in his eyes. I was more than eager to urge him to give in for his own sake and drink water, but who was I to play the hand of God? Finally, we heard what I call in Turkish the "Ramazan Bombasi" (the Ramadan Bomb--I don't know its real name), at 8:35 pm, and he could surrender to gulping heaps of water. I saw him return to himself only a few hours later. At the urging of the rest of his family (myself included), we convinced him that this is not his time to observe, and he agreed that a larger donation to a charity would be more suitable (which is how those who don't fast acknowledge the Holy Month).

It was interesting to see the interviews from the spiritual leaders on TV about what is and isn't permissible during this Holy Month. The local news, applicable seeing as we were near the sea, posed the question as to whether it was ok to swim in the sea during Ramazan, not to break ones fast. Yes, the Mufti (spiritual leader), long as you don't accidentally (?) drink sea water. I'm a pretty good swimmer, but I can't remember a time when I was swimming where I didn't nearly inhale the entire sea--on accident! Maybe that's why in the first days of Ramazan I saw fewer of the ladies in the recently-fashionable swimming Hashemas, a particularly modest "swimming suit" that covers the pious from head to toe (literally), allowing even the most modest of women to enjoy the beauty of the sea.

Gavur me, I humbly continued my own daily pilgrimage to the sea, in my bikini, no less, to drink in the most beautiful sea in the world, literally and figuratively, wishing those fasting: "Allah kolaylik versin"--may God make it easy for you.

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