We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!


So Ramadan begins tonight. That’s the plan, anyway. It officially begins when Egypt’s Grand Mufti (who has the best job title in the world) looks at the moon and says, “It’s Ramadan!” In the old days they’d also shoot a canon off from the Citadel. Too bad I missed that (the shooting of the canon, as well as the canonball itself).

For those of you unfamiliar with it, Ramadan is the holy month of fasting. When I first learned about it in tenth grade, I remember thinking, “How on earth do they go an entire month without eating?” It was only in adulthood that I learned the answer: they don’t!

Let’s talk about fasting for a moment. I think the Jews have this down. When they fast, they actually don’t eat. Shocking, I know. Catholics? They fast by having a fish fry or pasta. And Egyptian Muslims? They abstain during the day and party all night.

The word amongst expats is that the first few days of Ramadan are rough as the Egyptians suffer caffeine and nicotine withdrawl. So that should be fun. And apparently everyone gets a bit cranky in the late afternoon because in addition to being hungry, they also haven’t slept much!

Plus all the schedules change. The official working hours at my employer are 8am-3pm or 8:30am-3:30pm (I know!), but during Ramadan it shortens to 8am-2:30pm, not for expats like me but for the local staff. (Maybe everyone is just useless after that?) And then people rush home for dark, for iftar, so they can have some food and celebrate with the family. And have sex, because you can’t do that during the day either. At work, the daytime schedule gets compressed, and evening activities are pushed really late, like til 10 or 11pm.

In anticipation of Ramadan, Egypt fell back last week. Now it’s dark an hour earlier (and we’re only six hours ahead of the East Coast til you all change your clocks in November or whenever it is this year).

I was going to wait to post til Ramadan actually started (which we’ll know because the headlines in the morning paper will declare, “Ramadan!”), but then I figured it’d be more fun if we learned together. Will Egyptians really be cranky? Will I forget to be discrete with daylight eating and drinking? Will the delicious juice stand near my house continue to make and sell my new favorite yogurt/mango/banana smoothie?

Stay tuned.

It already feels festive, especially because of the Ramadan lanterns hanging from restaurants and shops. They are quite lovely and I was thinking of getting one for our balcony. Is that co-opting or just enjoying the season? Do I care? (Yes, I do.)

Oh, the other word from the expats is that Egyptians gain weight during Ramadan. They eat SO much at iftar and all night long that it counteracts all that daytime fasting. So don’t convert for the weight loss. Stick with the Jews for that.


12 September 2007 - Posted by | food, our life in egypt


  1. I was in Zanzibar years ago for Ramadan. Not a good time to be a tourist, since virtually all the restaurants were closed for the month. We found a drab Western hotel bar where we could eat fish fingers and drink beer with expat East Germans (this was 1988 — Tanzania was socialist and the Berlin wall was still standing). The other option was a dingy club that had been a Colonial men’s hangout (there was still a well-worn billiards table) that served a menu based on some dim memory of what British people had liked in the 50s. Very bland and drab.

    But at night! The main plaza along the waterfront would fill with vendors selling dates, roasted meat, cashews, sesame candy, and many other things we couldn’t quite identify. It was lovely.

    Comment by Monica | 12 September 2007

  2. Thanks for the another great post. I’ve become a daily reader. In Ethiopia, “fasting” means no eating animal products, drinking alcohol, or having sex. Given that there are over 100 fasting days in the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar it’s a wonder people here aren’t more cranky.

    I was in Zanzibar two years ago for Ramadan. Nowadays all the tourist restuarants in Stonetown go full blast all day and all night. I guess eating a sandwich mid-day is nothing shocking to muslims compared to the euro-tourist girls in bikinis shopping on Main St.

    Comment by Marc | 13 September 2007

  3. Haha! Jews don’t lose weight during fasting for similar reasons–as soon as the 25+ hour fast for whatever holiday it is ends, we gorge ourselves. It’s hard to prevent. Food is just SO GOOD.

    Comment by Alicia | 13 September 2007

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