Ramadan 2010: A Ramadan childhood

It is hot and crowded. I am clinging to my mother’s hand like she is going to fly away and leave me behind at any moment. I was five when I went on my first fanous (lantern) hunt with my mother in Bawabet al-Metwally. Ramadan then had a spirit that only a child could feel, a sense of purity, excitement, and happiness.

My first fanous was a silver hexagon with blue and red windows. I would switch off the lights of the living room, place the candle in the heart of the fanous, and wait by the door for my father. His arrival signaled playtime; together, we would hide under the dining room table and try to scare my mom as she set the table for iftar.

I was seven when I won my first argument with my mother. I believed it was time for me to fast the entire day, while she thought fasting until noon was enough for a small child. However, when I returned every day from school with my sandwich untouched, she gave up and let me “fast like the grown ups.”

Friday iftar was always at my grandma’s house and no TV was allowed during the meal, only the radio. Konafa was a specialty dessert of hers. I used to inhale the sweet and ask for more. Friday was a chance to get together with the family and play with my cousins.  

After iftar, it was TV time. Bougy we TamTam (a puppet show about a monkey and a rabbit who are sister and brother) and Gedo Abdo (Egypt’s version of Old McDonald) were must-see shows for children at that time. The famous comedian Fouad al-Mohandess had his own show, too, called Ammo Fouad, which was a series of 30 riddles for the young audience to answer.

Munching on my mother’s delicious attayef, I would impatiently wait for fawazeer Sherihan (Sherihan Riddles). Actresses Nelly and Sherihan competed in Fawazeer Ramadan for years, but I must confess Sherihan was always my favorite. Her glamorous outfits and ability to dance gracefully always amazed me. She was a role model for most girls my age. Alf Leila we Leila (A Thousand and One Nights) followed, usually starring the same actress from the fawazeer

One or two soap operas were the maximum Egyptian television could produce at that time, but that kind of series did not interest me then.

Fireworks on the balcony were next on my busy Ramadan schedule. I was never allowed to play with bomb (an Egyptian firework that combines gunpowder and paper); my mother said it was too dangerous.

I would play on the balcony with my sister until the messaharati arrived with his little kid screaming “esha ya nayem wahed al-dayyem(wake up sleepyhead and pray to God), signalling that it was time for the second meal of the day, sohour. That early morning meal usually consisted of ful (beans), yogurt, and white cheese.    

Fasting was a delight then. Without migraines or cravings for cigarettes and coffee that it would cost for the grown-ups that we are now, it was as pure and enjoyable as it is supposed to be. More importantly, it was part of one's quest to become a "grown-up".

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