Monday, August 30, 2010
Ramazan in Turkey
Since the Islamic calendar is lunar, Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish), the month of daylight fasting from food, water, and cigarettes, shifts eleven days earlier every year. This year, I returned from the States on August 19th, a week or so into the religious festival. Ramadan is not a public holiday. Life carries on even though half the population is fasting from sunrise to sunset. As a result, there are many traffic accidents during the last hour of fasting. In more conservative towns, restaurants close during the day, or discreetly hide their food-serving behind partitions, but most restaurants in Ankara will serve food during the day even though your waitstaff and cooks are fasting.
Ramazan is a month of heightened devotion and prayer. The main purpose of fasting as described in the Quran is so that one may attain God-consciousness. Fasting is an instrument for bringing one closer to his natural state, and for cleansing from sins.
The fifth call to prayer during the day which occurs at sunset leads to an orgy of eating, a meal called iftar.
As my friend, Dale, is fasting, I have accompanied him a couple of nights this week to an iftar. Some restaurants call for reservations, as a large part of the ramazan experience entails a group consciousness and breaking the fast together is special. The first night, we went to Cukuraga Sofrasi, one of my favorite Turkish restaurants. Dale and I met two former students to share the iftar experience with.
We waited patiently at the tables spilling out onto the sidewalks, as waiters frantically took orders, all of us waiting for the call to prayer to signal our time to eat. Turks break their fast with dates, milk, or water. At the breaking of the fast, one would recite: "O my Allah, for Thee, I fast, and with the food Thou gives me I break the fast, and I rely on Thee."
The second night, Dale and I, are three other friends, Jeff, Olivia, and Rukiye attended an iftar in Ulus.
This is an incredibly hot time of year for Ramazan to take place, and an atypically warm summer to boot. I empathize with the Muslims' not being able to drink any water during the day.
Kunife is our favorite dessert. Imagine shredded wheat stuffed with cheese and smothered in sugar sauce baked in the oven, then sprinkled with pistachio nuts.
Dale asked to buy a t-Shirt bearing the restaurant logo, and they gave one to him for free. Turkish hospitality is amplified during Ramazan!
After our meal, and adopting our food babies, we took a stroll through Altindag, a section of Ulus which, during the day, is filled with hoards of people.
Most of the shops were closed at this time of night, but we did come across one shop selling wedding dresses which was still open. Olivia and I were marveling at the out-of-control colors and designs of these dresses when Rukiye marched us into the store to try on traditional Turkish wedding dresses.
We headed up to the third floor, where the brightly colored dresses were lined up. Olivia and I looked at the pricetags thinking it would actually be fun to show up in these dresses to the Marine Ball, but the tags read 1,200TL to buy, or 250TL to rent for the night.
Rukiye asked the sales attendant if we could try on the traditional outfits that women wear on the evening before their wedding night, and this is the photo shoot that followed:
I think the salesgirl enjoyed our enthusiasm, because she told Rukiye that we should come back during the day to try on the wedding dresses. She posed with us as well.
The next night I am looking forward to is called Kadir Gecesi (The Night of Power), the time when Mohammed is supposed to have received the Koran from Allah. The mosques are beautifully illuminated and full all night long as it is believed that prayers on this night have special efficacy. Last year, Dale and I stumbled across this evening by accident at Kocatepe Mosque, the largest mosque in Ankara, and it was quite the sight to see. Even outside the mosque, people had their prayer rugs lined up in rows facing Mecca and were prepared to stay up all night praying. This evening takes place on the 27th day of Ramazan, so check back next weekend as we will have sought it out by then.