Tuesday, 31 August 2010

A Description of Ramadan in Cairo 1850's

O Gladness! at length it sounds that gun from the citadel. Simultaneously rises the sweet cry of thr mu'ezzin, calling men to prayer, and the second cannon booms from the Abbasiyah Palace, - "al-Fitar! al-Fitar" fast-breaking! fast-breaking! shout the people, and a hum of joy rises from the silent city. Your acute ears waste not a moment in conveying the delightful intelligence to your parched tongue, empty stomach, and languid limbs. You exhust a pot full of water, no matter its size. You clap hurried hands for a pipe; you order coffee; and provided with these comforts, you sit down, and calmly contemplate the coming pleasures of the evening.

Poor men eat heartily at once. The rich break their fast with a light meal,- a little bread and fruit, fresh or dry, especially watermelon, sweetmeats, or such digestable dishes as "muhallabah,"- a thin jelly of milk, starch, and rice-flour. They then smoke a pipe, drink a cup of coffee or a glass of sherbet, and recite the evening prayers; for the devotions of this hour are delicate things, and while smoking a first pipe after sixteen hours' abstinence, time easily slips away. Then they sit down to the Fatur (breakfast), the meal of the twenty-four hours, and eat plentifully, if they would avoid illness.

There are many ways of spending a Ramazan evening. The Egyptians have a proverb, like ours of the Salernitan school:

" After Al-Ghada rest, if it be but for two moments:
After Al-Asha walk, if it be but two steps."

The streets are now crowded with a good-humoured throng of strollers; the many bent on pleasure, the few wending their way to "Tarawih" prayers. They saunter about, the accustomed pipe in hand, shopping, for the stalls are open till a late hour; or they sit in crowds at the coffee-house entrance, smoking sheishas, (water-pipes), chatting, and listening to story-tellers, singers and itinerant preachers. Here a bare-footed girl trills and quavers, accompanied by a noisy tambourine and a "scrannel pipe" of abominable discordance, in honour of a perverse saint whose corpse insisted upon being buried inside some respectable mans dwelling-house. The scene reminds you strongly of the sonneurs of Brittany and the zampognari from the Abruzzian Highlands bagpiping before Madonna. There a tall, guant Maghrabi displays upon a square yard of dirty paper certain lines and blots, supposed to represent the venerable Ka'aba, and collects coppers to defray the expenses of his pilgrimage. A steady stream of loungers sets through the principal thoroghfares towards the Azbakiyah Gardens, which skirt the Frank quarter; there they sit in moonlight, listening to Greek or Turkish bands, or making merry with cakes, toasted grains, coffee, sugared drinks, and the broad pleasantries of Kara Gyuz ( the local punch and Judy). Here the scene is less thoroughly oriental than within the city; but the appearance of Frank dress amongst the varieties of Eastern costume, the moon-lit sky, and the light mist hanging over the deep shade of the Acacia trees-whose rich scented yellow-white blossoms are popularly compared to the old Pasha's beard-making it passing picturesque. '

from A pilgrimage to Al-Medina and Meccah by Richard Burton

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