White Girl Goes to Iftar (Ramadan)

happy-Ramadan-2012-1-1024x640
(This picture is a wish of a happy Ramadan. I didn’t make it, but I like it.)

I’d been working on blogs to post, trying to manage how much frustration I have and how much stress when my roommate asked if I wanted to go with her to iftar. I thought, sure why not and agreed. She responded for both of us and last night we left. I now get to do something I absolutely LOVE doing: I get to break some assumptions and stereotypes and tell you all about my time at iftar.

So some vocab first. Ramadan is the Islamic holy month where you fast during the day hours and eat during the night. You can’t even drink water! Iftar is the name of the meal that you eat after the day is concluded. The fasting is done for two reasons: the first being to honor the gifts of God and to be closer to him. The second is to remember that there are people for whom fasting is not a choice, but rather is their way of life. And so for the month, you honor the struggle that they face in poverty.

I also learned two Arabic words last night: mashallah and inshallah. Mashallah is a kind of protective prayer, said especially over babies which roughly translates to “May God protect you (from the evil eyes)” and inshallah means “God willing”. So if you are traveling or what have you, you say inshallah as a way of wishing them safe travels and the hope that you will be seeing each other again if God wills it.

So now that we’ve got the vocab down, it’s time to get the stigmas and stereotypes broken.

  1. It snows in Turkey. And it isn’t just a desert. They have greenery and whatnot too. (I asked, just because we were talking about silly Ohio weather. Turns out Turkey has regular seasons of 3 months each: Spring, Summer, Autumn Winter. Ohio has maybe two seasons: winter and fiery death by humidity. I just thought this was cool.)
  2. I didn’t have to remain silent when Muslim men were speaking. They usually spoke right to me. And made eye contact. Everyone was EXTREMELY polite and made sure that everyone else around them was doing well. (In fact, the fact that I was getting an education was a source of celebration for everyone. So that debunks the women as inferior bit, I think.)
  3. The prayers that are spoken (we were invited to watch) are prayers of thanks for health, food and opportunity. There is a reverence for being able to live life and for being safe. (We sat through one, and one of our acquaintances was kind enough to translate it for us.)
  4. The hijab (head scarf) is optional. You can choose to wear it if you want, and most women do because it is a way to further their faith. (Which debunks the oppression myth, I think.)

I asked a new acquaintance what the one thing she wanted others to know about her and her religion and she said:

Even if I say nothing, I am still saying something. I have hopes and goals and a family. I am shy and don’t make friends quickly but I love practicing my English. I have a very open mind, and I want to learn all about other people. I wish more people saw that my actions speak louder than my words. I just want to be respected for being myself.

We continued to talk about her story and about how she was so thankful to be in America, where people didn’t hate her for who she was and for what she believed. Reread that. She was thankful to be in a country of acceptance. I met a family who was from Istanbul-whose family was still in Istanbul. They were appalled by the violence there, and by everyone who falsely represented their religion.

In fact, the theme of the night was that education would defeat ignorance if we invested in it. I’ve been to around a dozen or so Christian churches, known people from all of the different factions (Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, etc) and I’ve met Catholics, I’ve met atheists and I could continue on. But never once have I ever felt so welcomed as an outsider than this gathering of the Turkish-Muslim community.

Allow me to reflect on that for a moment.

This group of people who were mostly immigrants or the children thereof welcomed two strangers into their holiday observation as though we were family. They celebrated our education, our career goals and our ideas and opinions without judgment. I looked nothing like the people in attendance, nor did we sound similar but that didn’t hinder their regard of me. In fact, I heard more about how we should find ways to include things like humor in our teachings, about how we should find community in art and food instead of fear and hatred. These people who didn’t know me made me coffee, gave me food and showed a sincere interest in what I had to say-even if I just ranted about how much I didn’t know.

Do you want to know how I get treated at Christian churches? Like a sinner not worthy of their time. And I want you to know that I told the people last night that I was pagan. That I practice a polytheistic religion. I’ve said that to Christians before (who are strangers) and I get the “devil” treatment or I get the shove-the-bible-down-my-throat treatment. Do you know what the Muslim women and men told me last night? That they were glad I came with an open mind and took the time to get to know them even though we believed different things. I left with invitations to return for women’s nights, cooking classes and art sessions, as well as many hugs.

Last night was an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I may not have all the information I need in order to fight the bigotry and hatred shown by others, but I have my own experience and it’s a great start. Before I wrap everything up though, let me talk about one last thing.

COFFEE.

cups

Let me tell you. This wasn’t our specific cup, but the decoration is gorgeous on all cups. And the thing is, I’m 23 and I felt like I was holding the crown jewels when I picked up my cup. It’s all so beautiful. And they’re traditional espresso sized, so I also felt like a giant.

cup2.jpg (This is closer to the color-the decoration was roses though.)

As an American, a white girl, a college kid, a twenty-something, you all should not be surprised when I say that I am a regular at Starbucks, I drink coffee until I float in it and anyone who has been to my house knows that there’s always creamer in my fridge and coffee in my percolator. But when I woke up this morning, I couldn’t drink the cup I made myself. It tasted like dirty water in comparison to the coffee I was graciously made last night.

The woman who invited us made us fresh Turkish coffee last night. If I had the ability to make it everyday and it would taste like that, I would never buy creamer again. Let me be very clear, I hate black coffee. It has to have at least creamer in it, if not something else. And the coffee she made us last night was the very first time I have ever drank coffee black and enjoyed it. I didn’t even add sugar.

Apparently, if there’s bubbles and foam at the top, that’s how you know it’s a good cup. And when you are all done, if you turn your cup upside down, swirl it three times and let it set, you can tell your future. (I so tried it, but no one knew how to read it, nor did anyone believe so we made up stuff and got a bunch of laughs.)

coffee reading.jpg(Again, not my cup, but this is basically what it looks like when you’re ready to read it.)

I’ll leave you with a custom.

When a man is inquiring after a wife, he will bring his family to the woman’s house and the woman will serve them all coffee. She will hold out the suitor’s coffee and put in it salt, spices or other items which would not be for coffee (tomato paste, oil, etc). If the man drinks the entire coffee, it shows his devotion to the woman and his desire to marry her is deemed genuine. Apparently it’s very good for comedic relief, as oftentimes the man will make faces to get through the taste of the coffee. It’s meant as a joke, but also as a way to prove your love.

I rather like that. Apparently there are some really funny stories-so I’m going to go around asking people about their coffee ceremony stories from now on.

Thanks for reading. I had a lot I wanted to say, and it was just so wonderful. (I have plenty more to say as well, but another day perhaps.) For the first time, I wasn’t afraid of strangers, I felt accepted. And it wasn’t at all like how the news reports. All I saw were a bunch of people happy to eat food and pray, happy to share their stories with strangers, happy to be listened to and respected. I can’t say I’d want for anything else.

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7 thoughts on “White Girl Goes to Iftar (Ramadan)

    1. 🙂 Sure thing. I had SO much fun. If you’re interested, it was hosted by the Turkish American Society which has branches that do these dinners and whatnot in lots of states.

  1. I love this post! The anthropologist in me was “yay-ing” the whole time…yay for you and hubby that you had the opportunity to share in another’s cultural tradition, a culture that is often frowned upon these days.
    When Taco and I were first married there was a small, unassuming Turkish restaurant with delicious and inexpensive food. I love the Turkish coffee experience as well and had my coffee read by an old Turkish woman, translated by her relative (she was bang on about a few things) but you didn’t talk about turkish delight. That’s the best part 😉

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us 🙂

    1. Thanks! I actually went with a different roommate (we live with another couple until July) but she is also an anthropologist, so it was definitely excellent!
      I didn’t mention Turkish delight because unfortunately there was none. 😦 There WAS this little almond cookie soaked in lemon syrup (sekerpare) which was absolutely delicious and some spiced tea which was the best. Ever since I saw Edmund eat Turkish delight in Narnia, I’ve always wanted to know what it tastes like, but I suppose there’s always next time.
      Thanks for reading. It was definitely one of my very favorite experiences of this year.

      1. I’m still very impressed with your experience. And Turkish delight is something you can look forward to. Always great to have something to look forward to 🙂

      2. Well thank you. I wanted to bring a notebook and a take pictures, but I felt that may have been a little rude. Even though my true path in this life is justice, I think I’ll never really outgrow my love of cultures and new experiences.

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