Outside of the Seoudi market were stands for all Ramadan treats: dates, nuts, almonds, apricots for juice, biscuits and many others. 

Ramadan lantern front of the care rental office. After Ramadan it was put inside beside a coach to brighten the day of the employees and the customers.

Heavily decorated Ramadan lanterns.

Al-Tahrir street at 5 pm. Usually there are cars enough for three lines in both directions.


Greetings from Cairo part I
Published in Ishtar 1/2006

During Ramadan

At the end of Ramadan it's natural to take a look at the past fasting season. This year Ramadan started on 4th of October and 'id was celebrated on 3th of November. Changes in the eating habits can't be missed in such a big city.

So what happens during Ramadan? The random traveler as well as someone living here for a longer period of time are met with a unfamiliar culture at the front door of the hotel or the safe haven of home. Let's examine the traffic culture of the natives.

Rule #1 for traveler in Cairo: There are taxis everywhere, at all times.

This actually happened a couple of days before the fast began. At the time all traffic in Cairo was gridlocked for several hours, for many days in a row. Cars stood still, nothing was moving and horns were honked. Me and my friend Henna Malinen were headed towards the pyramids from the Giza metro station. Standing with us waiting for a cab or a microbus were dozens of anxious natives. The Giza station is generally not the easiest spot to get a cab, but this time took the cake. Within a twenty minute period not one free cab drove by. Even microbuses didn't accept many passengers during that time. We indeed would have been there faster walking. We walked for some time and got in the first available cab. After a mere couple of minutes' drive we were at the destination. At least we covered the exercise for the day.

Rule #2: Cairo is a city of millions, and it never sleeps.

Normally you can do pretty much anything at any time in Cairo. If suddenly in the fridge there's only the light and the hunger is great, even at 3am there are stores ready to fill the shopping bag according to the customer's wishes and even deliver it home. But try to do something outside home between 4:30 and 6pm. All places are closed, lights off and no people are around. This of course is completely natural and understandable! All those fasting have rushed home to eat and drink. In the middle of all the normal fuss the silence of the early evening and the deserted streets keep astonishing time and time again.

I didn't have an ironing board. I'd already gotten the iron and the worst wrinkles were smoothed out conveniently on top of a towel. The electronics store by my home was already familiar from previous times. A couple of blocks' trip home wasn't an issue, but crossing the busy al-Tahrir with the over one meter long board wasn't on top of my wishlist. Even under normal circumstances crossing the street takes some time and caution, let alone with such baggage. One night to my delight I noticed the store was open very early after breakfast. (Breakfast means the first meal of the day after the fast, at around 5:30pm.) I ran to the store one time while there was barely any traffic, when all good Muslims were finishing their meal, and bought the ironing board. At a quiet time like that they even sent a delivery man with me, who carried the goods all the way to Madam's front door.

Rule #3: Egyptians are very friendly and helpful.

Maybe the cab drivers need to hear this rule, since they more like bark and roar in the afternoon out of starvation and nicotine withdrawal. During Ramadan the already chaotic traffic becomes outright deadly. The goodwill of drivers sitting at the steering wheel all day runs out at around noon, and all through the afternoon pedestrians get to watch out for their toes and their lives.

Nevermind the rules

Despite everything Ramadan is a special time in Cairo. It's time for family. A little before the beginning of the fast special foods and delicacies appear in shops. Store windows are decorated with nuts, bags of dates, colorful ribbons and special lanterns, fenous. Lamps and colorful lights are everywhere; streets, shops, restaurants and homes. At night there are special performances for everyone to see. Although dance is laying low around this season, music and folk dance troupes delight Cairenes one night after the other. There is anticipation in the air. It reminds me of Christmas time back home in Finland.

After a long fast there is always the 'id. Like magic, people turn happy and smiling. All the best for the whole year is wished for everyone, children have a new set of clothes and the atmosphere is happy and festive. I spent the entire 'id working, so I can only share the experiences of others. Although people like to spend nights out on the town at any time of the year, during the feast celebration there was no room to even drive a car on the downtown streets. There were simply so many pedestrians, that the sidewalks were not enough, they had to occupy the driving lanes aswell.

The same ordeal will begin again in less than a year - and of course at an even warmer time period. With horror I wait for the Ramadan that will be in the heat of August in a couple of years.




Photo by Päivi Arvonen

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