Friday, September 28, 2007

Ramadan ramblings

* Authorities in Khenchla, a province (east of Algiers) are looking into reports that donkey and dog meat are being sold to Ramadan shoppers. At a time of year when people are making nightly feasts, a lot of food is being sold and so it's easy to chop up inferior goods into minced meat. This would not be the first time it has happened, either, according to Nadir. A similar case occured two years ago. Nadir remembers that people would bray at residents of the district where the donkey meat had been sold. Hee Haw. It makes me kind of worried, but Del's view is that so long as it tastes good, who care what kind of meat it is. Carrots and melons are looking good to me.

*Our driver Shar invited us last night to his house for Iftar, the evening dinner at which you break fast. This was a big honor and we were excited, not least, because his wife is a great cook and there's nothing like 12 hours of fasting to build an appetite.

Shar picked us up and their little house was shining and spotless in that way you know people have gone out of their way for guests. They also had invited their nephew to eat because he is the best student in his English class and he could translate. They had the TV on to catch the first notes of the maghrib, the signal that fasting for the day is over. We started with traditional dates and milk, the meal the prophet Muhammed broke his fast with, spead on a platter on the coffee table in the sitting room and then we moved into their tiny kitchen. It was a little like playing house. The kitchen table was set with an array of platters and there were dishes on the counters and pots on all the burners. The house was filled with a rich, thick smell of day-long cooking. And we dug into a kind of chorba with chicken, brik, burek, pita, salad, Thoum -- which are garlic and meat balls, a stew of lamb and chickpeas, another stew of beef, apricots and prunes in a sweet sauce, lemonade and Coke. They had been cooking for more than five hours.

Well, just as I was thinking, I'm getting full, a wave of weakness overcame me. I thought I was going to faint and so excused myself to the bathroom where I sat with my head between my knees for a while. I was completely white, my lips blue and I was sweating out of control. Even when I went back in, people could tell there was something wrong. It was embarassing. I basically was intoxicated with food after eating all that rich stuff on an empty stomach! The sensation happily didn't last too long, a little sweetened tea and I was flesh-colored again but I did not eat any of the fruit or cakes that came out next.

Because I have always eaten and eaten lots, this reaction to food after fasting, the heat, the speed of metabolism kicking in, is fascinating. We also are realizing that we can't eat as much. We made soup and meat the other night and decided after the soup that was enough, for example.

We are going to buy flowers and get Nadir to help us with a thank you note in Arabic for the great evening.
*Our colleague Salleh Eddine was telling us how his 4-year-old daughter is insisting on fasting. That raised the question of how you get children started in this religious rule. There is no age at which children must start, but the usual time seems to be aroud 8 or 9 when children want to be like their grown-ups around them. Parents encourage their children to observe the fast -- but only so long as they can. If they go four hours than eat, good that's a start. As they get closer to the full amount of time -- say 9 hours, parents will urge them to try to hold out a little longer before eating. And for children who observe fasting for the first time there is praise,celebration and small rewards -- a little silver ring in some places, special juice in others, a change to eat dinner with the grown ups sometimes. It's kind of like potty-training at home. You make a fuss over the child who gets it right.

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