Ramadan Where I Live

Mosque in Alexandria, Egypt

I feel on top of the world: Ramadan just started. The Mahmoudiyah Canal glistens in the moon light. It is crammed with ships. Ali Samra, who has a special gift for remembering people’s names, picks us, kids, up to go from house to house bringing seasonal greetings to everyone. We sing in unison to the beat of his drum. We may not qualify for assembling a great symphony orchestra, but at least, we are having fun.

We kick off the day by meeting in front of the mosque to play in the water coming from the outdoor faucet installed between two palm trees. My grandfather, Abdel Razaq, whose appearance matches that of the typical eighty-year-old who has squeezed the most out of life, always to be seen covering his chrome dome with a checkered skull cap, comes prancing by. He doesn’t use his walking stick during Ramadan. He claims to feel rejuvenated by the sense of joy floating in the air. Word has it he has cheated death not once, but several times.

He opens the mosque and instructs us to take our shoes off and leave them at the entrance. It’s time to ready the mosque for the prayer services that are going to be held later on. Availing ourselves of broom and bucket, we sweep the floor clean. Afterwards, we head to the garden that lies behind the building, which is where we currently store our janitorial equipment, to cull roses to decorate the mosque’s interior. Grandfather provides the final touch by spraying the room with musk perfume.

The night is slowly coming to an end. The sun will rise again in about an hour’s time. Grandfather advises us children to go and catch some shut-eye. We can lay down on the straw mats we have just dusted and spread out on the ground. We are, however, way too nervous to fall asleep. Hence, we go outside to play. We throw stones at the palm trees to get the dates they bear to fall down. The most intrepid amongst us decide to scale the trunks to increase their take. After collecting the fruit, we wash it and bring it to Grandfather, who thanks us for the gesture and comes up with the idea of offering dates to those who end up attending the mass. We are happy to contribute in any way we can to making this as memorable an occasion as possible for the whole town.

After gathering some more dates, we begin to feel weary. However, mass is about to start. We perform our ablutions at the outdoor faucet before stepping inside the mosque. Grandfather is lying flat out with his head resting against the wall. The sound of his snoring fills the mosque’s interior.

The sheikh Abdel Muhsin is the first to arrive. We salute him and he salutes us back. Next, Grandfather wakes up. The men greet each other. Abdel Muhsin climbs up the minaret to recite the call to prayer. He has a beautiful singing voice. The men start showing up at the mosque dressed in their finest garments. Everyone seems to be in a good mood.

Even though they know that the sheikh Abdel Muhsin doesn’t approve of their gathering at the graveyard, the women still go there to tend to the gravestones and celebrate with the deceased.

After the mass at the mosque is over, the men return home to join the rest of the family for breakfast. After breakfast, we, children, go to play with firecrackers. We spent several hours playing at the funfair that is set up every year for Ramadan, and before we know it, the call to prayer starts belling out again. It’s time we went back to the mosque once again.


Written by Mounir Otaiba.