Around 3:30 a.m. Monday my roommate came into my room to wake me up for suhoor, which is the time Muslims rise before the sun to pray, eat and drink enough to hold them down for the day of fasting ahead of them. As she shook me to wake me from my slumber, she asked me if I was sure about my decision to abstain from food and water the entire day until sundown for the first day of Ramadan. I was positive about my decision. She was kind enough to invite me to join her and her family for the first iftaar, dinner to break fast, of the holy month. Before coming to Jordan, I knew I wanted to experience every facet of Ramadan I could while there. I wanted to experience the pangs of hunger and thirst that would remind me of how fortunate I am and would build another level of empathy for those who won’t be able to fill their bellies after sunset. I wanted to experience the sense of community and family at iftaar. I wanted to taste yummy home-cooked Arabic food and sweets. Lastly, I wanted to experience the city of Amman come to life after sunset and a long day of fasting and spiritual reflection.
At CET in Jordan you are paired with a Jordanian roommate who attends the University of Jordan and who essentially keeps pushing your brain to work in Arabic after the school day ends. I was lucky enough to not only have one Jordanian roommate, but also a Canadian roommate of Palestinian descent who is a master at ammiya, or dialect, and who has close relatives in Jordan. With that said, I am getting a double dosage of language and culture. Having two native Arabic speakers as roommates is a bit of challenge because at times they do speak extremely quickly, but it certainly is a challenge I am up for. I thought that being able to keep up with Ruff Ruff and Rineem in a conversation would prepare me for meeting Rineem’s family and being able to communicate with them effectively, but I was wrong about that.
Rineem’s father picked us at about 6 p.m. to head over to her uncle’s house for dinner at 7:47 p.m. As we drove through the neighborhood her family lives in, he explained that the empty streets and closed shops will come to life in a matter of a couple of hours. Once we reached the house we were greeted by countless uncles, aunts and cousins who were extremely welcoming. To my disbelief, one of my friends once told me that it is common practice for Jordanians and Palestinians to give you four kisses on the cheek when greeting you. By the end of the night I was proud that I no longer fumbled over the “one and three” pattern of cheek kisses. One on the left and three on the right in case you were wondering.
Dishes of delicious Arabic food and pots full of freshly squeezed melon juice were laid out on the floor before us. It is a tradition to sit on the floor when partaking in large family dinners. Rineem and I took a seat next to her uncle who is the owner of the house we were in. He repeatedly kept telling Rineem to translate for him to tell me how happy he was to have me as a guest and that I was welcome to come anytime and especially to eat more.
From the back left to right: me, Rineem and her uncle. Rineem translating her uncle’s welcoming words and suggestions on which dishes I should try first.
Shortly after dinner, I was offered two types of Arabic coffee, tea and plenty of delicious sweets. As I sat in the guest room with some of Rineem’s cousins I attempted to speak to them in my broken Arabic. Although it was a bit of a struggle they repeatedly praised me for how well I spoke, perhaps that was also a part of the Arab hospitality. I guess I will never know…
Delicious desserts such as qatayef, which is a miniature pancake stuffed with nuts and cream and is fried, along with baklava and Arabic coffee served after dinner.
At around midnight we left the thriving festivities early to head home to do homework and prepare for the next day of classes. The drive back took longer because the streets were bustling with people walking back and forth between shops, cafes and restaurants that will stay open until 4 a.m. just as Rineem’s father said. Ultimately, my experience truly embodied the meaning of the popular holiday greeting, “Ramadan kareem.” Kareem roughly translates to “generosity,” and I am extremely grateful for the sheer generosity and inclusiveness I experienced on this first day of Ramadan in Jordan.
The busy streets of Amman at midnight adorned with lights of stars and crescent moons welcoming Ramadan.
The past couple weeks have been a very special and festive time for Jordanians. The streets are decorated with a mix of Jordanian flags commemorating the 70th year of independence, the flag of the Great Arab Revolt commemorating the 100th anniversary, along with lights for Ramadan.