Some food for thought

Note: the first few paragraphs are a summation of my experience fasting for Ramadan in Libya so far. If you want to see pictures of food please ignore and scroll to the bottom. 😀

The last three weeks have been Ramadan, the holy month of fasting in Islam, where Muslims around the world refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual activity during the daylight hours. The practice is done in order to cleanse the spirit and help develop an appreciation for those who do not always have a meal. The month is often accompanied by great charitable efforts and a renewed and active interest in faith. While in America, fasting can often, with smaller sometimes more clique driven Muslim communities and the greater tendency of people to live further from their families, but very introspective. Here however is a completely different story. Since everyone is fasting, everyone accommodates the practice. This means non-essential shops remained close for much of the day and restaurants don’t open at all until late at night. Employment and hours become inconsistent as people come in at different times on different days, if at all. People sleep for much of the day, defeating the purpose of fasting in the first place (I myself have succumbed to this numerous times, it becomes a difficult cycle to escape from). Upon sundown, a short small snack consisting of fruits like dates and energizing drinks are taken before the evening prayer and everyone sits down to eat the real meal.

While it is a good idea to pace yourself and eat good, healthy foods, especially when fasting during Ramadan, such is often not the case. Massive amounts of fatty and greasy food are abound, making the stomach heavy but often unsatisfied. That isn’t to say the food isn’t delicious, but when the first major meal you consume all day consists almost solely of fried meats, potatoes and cheesy things it can become a little overbearing. The matter isn’t helped any by the insistence of family members that I eat more, that I must still be hungry and takes a great deal of effort to convince anyone that one is indeed satisfied with what has already been eaten and couldn’t take another bite. Often even that isn’t enough as someone could give in and stop asking with a bitter look on his or her face leaving me to feel like the asshole, but in the end that is better than spending the night in a sickly stupor, especially since the night is the only time anything is really happening.

Between the afternoon and night prayers, the city remains almost completely empty, the only cars on the street drive even more dangerously than usual due to the lack of traffic and the almost assured notion that the driver is late for his or her own meal. Despite this, friendly groups of people stop cars on the street when the time comes to hand out little care packages with dates and little milk boxes like you’d expect to drink Hi-C from after a recreational soccer game along with whatever other snacks the parent brought for the team. Once the night prayer is finished however the city comes alive almost instantly. The streets spontaneously combust with cars formed seemingly out of thin air and traffic comes to a stand still where only the brave and stupid manage to bypass through questionable driving habits. Coffee joints, Hookah bars, clothing shops all fill up and stay that way until the early hours of the morning, as most people seem to stay awake until the fast begins again for the next day. Leftovers are most often the meal before the sun rises. The whole scene is reminiscent of the shopping nights after Thanksgiving and before Christmas, only its every night, and its everywhere.

I did come with the expectation that the experience would be significantly different, somehow more legitimate, than it is in the United States. While I’m not wholly disappointed, I am surprised. The conforming habits of almost everyone in the country make the fast easy, so much so it almost feels like cheating. Tasbeeh Herwees sums up some of my sentiments in her own blog:

In Libya, the careful avoidance of this struggle—of this battle of wills—results in diminished returns. You’re tired all the time because you’ve slept through your mornings and you spend all your non-fasting hours stuffing yourself with greasy foods. The endorphins never kick in. You crave caffeine constantly. You are sluggish to prayer and unable to focus. You feel less like you’ve accomplished something and more like you’ve cheated yourself out of an experience.

The link to her blog is here for those interested in reading it themselves:  http://www.good.is/posts/why-my-ramadan-fast-is-a-reminder-to-not-be-an-asshole

In the end however, Ramadan is what you make of it, no matter where you are and many people do take the time to revitalize their faith, contribute charitably, or make an effort to be a better person somehow. The streets have certainly become much cleaner (it’s a start anyway) since Ramadan began, and if that isn’t a sincere exercise in self-discipline, then I’m not sure what is. I myself have taken to praying a bit more as a way to reinforce some discipline for myself and maintaining this blog while I’m here. The fasting itself serves seems to mostly serve as a slightly inconvenient reminder to do things we should be doing anyways, much like New Year’s resolutions. I’ll have to wait until Eid to have a more complete picture of the experience. Until then enjoy some photos of food and Ramadan Kareem!

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Now that that’s been said, here are some pictures of what I have been eating lately. Unhealthy as they may be together in meals, it doesn’t stop a lot of it from being delicious. Due to the unreliable nature of the internet, I haven’t been able to upload all the pictures I’ve wanted to, so I will update this from time to time before the end of the week (hopefully) with more pictures and more Libyan cuisine that I have enjoyed. I will also post recipes for whatever anybody wants to try for themselves (I would recommend the red soup) so let me know what you are interested in.

A small repast to ease into the feast. Some dates, seesa (a kind of sweet paste) and heluwa shameela, a sugary snack not unlike puppy chow

A small repast to ease into the feast. Some dates, seesa (a kind of sweet paste) and heluwa shameela, a sugary snack not unlike puppy chow

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The full spread. Most meals in Libya are eaten on the floor over a cloth in a wide circle.

Sharba humrra, red soup, my favorite. I’ve had this for nearly every meal, probably because my family knows I love it.

Did I mention it’s my favorite?

green soup, its less spicy counterpart

Tajinn. Salad and sometimes chicken wrapped in and baked with eggs.

eggs fried to make a kind of sandwich

Potatoes.

Fried cauliflower

Some salads

Baked macaroni hot dish

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Maghlooba, a dish prepared with rice, chicken and vegetables in a pot and then dumped upside-down. This isn’t the best picture, as I took it after eating some.

Everyone enjoying the meal.

The full table, eating from a table is generally a rarity, most often meals are taken on the floor over mats.

Mahalabbia, a kind of hot pudding prepared in a special cooker (from what I could tell) Made with warm water, milk and a powder, like pudding.

Relaxing after the stuff fest.

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SOME UPDATED PHOTOS BELOW

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We were stopped in the middle of the road so we could be given this package, as we were enroute when the sun went down.

some bread. Sometimes its filled with tuna? Everyone eats tuna with lots of things here. I’m not a huge fan of tuna

some peppers stuffed with hamburger and covered in melted cheese

another full table

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Mmbubka. In Amazingh it means “bubbles” in part because of the manner it is cooked. The noodles are boiled with the prepared stew.

Delicious Greekish salad

Libyan style spaghetti, one of my favorites to make myself back in the States

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