Ramadan Nights, Full of Delights
Bleary eyed after a thirteen hour flight, we make our way to customs only to find a long snaking line moving at a snail’s pace. What could be the holdup? Moving closer we see that there are only two staff on duty to handle incoming international flights. A long hour later, we’re through.
Energy waning we find the phone kiosks, choosing the one with the shortest lineup. Ten minutes later we have a local SIM card for a month with 75 gigabytes of data, unlimited local calling and 100 international calling minutes—all for 24 Jordanian Dinars, ($45 CAD).
Blinding mid morning sunlight greets us as we exit the terminal and try to get our bearings. Ignoring the line of taxis we order an Uber, almost immediately getting messages from our driver as to the pick up location. But we wander around in confusion. Finally we spot a man waving his arms frantically at us from a nearby parking lot—it must be our driver. Hurrying over we climb in and we’re off to Amman, the capital of Jordan. Built on seven hills, each of which defines a neighbourhood, the streets of this city of four million are deceptively quiet.
It’s Ramadan, believed to be the month when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad. One of the Five Pillars of Islam, it is a lunar month of not only fasting but abstaining from liquids, sexual activity and tobacco, (an extra challenge in a country that has one of the highest percent of smokers in the world,) from sunup to sundown. Those with health problems, the very young, the elderly, travellers, and pregnant or nursing moms are exempt.
The fast is seen as purifying both physically and spiritually and reminds Muslims of the suffering of those less fortunate, thereby bringing believers closer to God.
Since the Muslim calendar is shorter than the Gregorian calendar, the date for Ramadan is 10-12 days earlier every year. In a tradition that has lasted generations, Ramadan is determined by the Islamic lunar calendar, which begins at the first sighting of the new moon.
Days are getting hotter and longer at his time of year—13 hours between sunrise and sunset. Many businesses have limited hours and staff and people slow down as fasting is difficult.
We have purposely planned our trip to coincide with the last days of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, “the feast of breaking the fast”, a three day celebration following Ramadan. Amman is considered one of the most liberal cities among the Arab world countries and there is a spirit of tolerance, so foreigners are not expected to participate, but it is disrespectful to eat or even drink anything on the street in front of the faithful who are fasting.
Arriving at our hotel we gaze in awe at the sight directly across the street—a 2000 year old, 6,000 seat Roman Amphitheatre fronted by a large plaza where not a soul is in sight. Eating the last of our snacks we collapse on the bed for a much needed nap.
Awaking hungry, with all restaurants closed until sunset, we hit the streets in search of sustenance. To our delight we find that bakeries remain open. Feeling like kids in a candy store we load up on the delicious treats—more than enough to hold us till sundown when Iftar or the breaking of the daily fast begins.
As the sun nears the horizon we decide it’s time to find a restaurant. We quickly discover that we are out of luck. There are lots of open restaurants now, but they’re all beyond full. It’s utter chaos—waiters rushing, tables packed, children playing, hordes of people waiting in line. Those in the know come early to grab a table.
We know when we’re licked and wander around eyeing the many street food vendors that are now out in force. The lineups are around the block—but now we’re part of the action. It's very much a festival atmosphere and spirits are high as family and friends celebrate Iftar.
A constant stream of people approach us—giggling teenagers want photos with us, small children wave at us and everyone wants to know where we’re from—the constant refrain “Welcome to Jordan” is music to our ears.
Taking our food we eat in the plaza of the Roman amphitheatre now filled with throngs of people—families, children, and groups of young people strolling about, all dressed in their finest. Large smiles greet us as they pass by. Groups of teenage boys take an active interest in us, trying out their limited English.
And then we hear music—a live band is performing in the amphitheatre. We head in and up, settling midway to the top. People dance around us, while others sway to the music holding their cell phones aloft—their enthusiasm palpable.
Marveling at the acoustics I almost have to pinch myself—we’re sitting in an ancient Roman amphitheatre listening to Jordan’s most popular musicians during Ramadan. It doesn’t get much better than this!
Following the exodus as the end of the concert, we cross the street to our room assuming the night’s activities are coming to an end.
Falling into an exhausted sleep we're jolted awake in the middle of the night by a myriad of noises—loud voices, laughter, honking cars, music. Jumping up we peer down from our seventh floor balcony. Our hotel is at the very heart of the action. The street is packed with people, reminiscent of a rock festival. Traffic is bumper to bumper. Vendors line the streets—balloons, toys, cotton candy, noise makers, street food, coffee, tea.
We had pictured the daily breaking of the fast during Ramadan to be a sedate affair, a kind of breaking of the bread with family and friends. But we never expected an all out joyous public celebration and party like atmosphere that continues until the wee hours of the morning.
Who needs sleep when there’s a celebration going on!