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Iftar on duty
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 07 - 06 - 2018

As this year's Ramadan draws to its end, many people have been reflecting on the spiritual atmosphere of the holy month and particularly on the family gatherings that are traditional features of Ramadan.
All the family typically gathers for Iftar, the evening meal that breaks the fast, something that can be hard to organise during the rest of the year. Even so, some people miss the family gatherings in Ramadan because they need to be at work.
“Will meet you at the office tomorrow when Iftar will be a piece of chicken, rice and soup,” one passenger on a Cairo microbus was heard explaining to a friend by telephone.
As the call continued, they discussed work matters, arranging to have Iftar together as if this was normal during Ramadan. The man, who worked in a food franchise, is not alone in having his Iftar with colleagues at work rather than with family at home, however.
“I plan my Iftar with my family according to my shifts at work. As a security guard in a private company, I do not have Iftar with my colleagues during my shift, but there is a separate shift for Iftar,” Cairo resident Ayman Shaarawi said smiling.
Although it might be nicer to have Iftar at home with the family, “it is also normal to work, especially as I have had Iftar for four days at work,” he added.
Working conditions and the need to earn a living cause many to sacrifice having Iftar at home with their families and to take it at work instead. Sarah Mohamed, a married woman, joined a Cairo NGO some months ago where she has Iftar.
“Working hours in Ramadan are from 3pm to 9pm, and it is the first time I have routinely had Iftar at work,” she said.
While Mohamed is having a new experience with colleagues at work, Mohamed Abdel-Alim rarely has Iftar at home. Abdel-Alim, 49 and a musician, told Al-Ahram Weekly that Ramadan was the high season for musicians in oriental orchestras. “I have Iftar and Sohour at work during Ramadan, and family gatherings for Iftar are arranged according to my work schedule,” Abdel-Alim said during an Iftar for media workers.
Music is often played while guests are having Iftar. “We had Iftar while the organiser was making his speech,” Said Abdel-Wahab, another musician, added. “We usually have Iftar with our families on the first two days and the last day of Ramadan. It is also possible to have Iftar at home if I arrange with a colleague and he replaces me,” Abdel-Wahab, a oud (lute) player, said.
For Shady Mahmoud who played the tabla (drums) at the same event, “in the first week of Ramadan it was my first wedding anniversary, but I still had to be at work. Thankfully my wife understood,” he said.
Three of the orchestra members also work as music teachers, and they said the busy nights could last until the end of September.
“I have Iftar with my family on my days off,” Mohamed Abdel-Fattah said. Abdel-Fattah, 45, has been working in the hotel sector for 25 years and believes that “Ramadan days are the most holy of the year, but for us they are also working days as well.”
Sometimes he wishes he could be one of the guests who come to the hotel he works in on holiday “to enjoy family gatherings”, he said.
Said Khalaf, 46, a manager at a Cairo five-star hotel, told the Weekly that “I have Iftar at work in Ramadan. At the beginning of the month we prepare for events that take place at the hotel later on. I may have Iftar on the first day at home, however.”
Working during Ramadan imposes its own routines and behaviour. According to Khalaf, “I work during the holiday of Sham Al-Nessim as well, though sometimes I wish I could spend it with my children. Unfortunately, one year I spent the whole day with my son in hospital.”
Although these workers miss spending Ramadan with family members, they also feel grateful to have good jobs. “Do not eat on your feet” is a proverb that does not apply to Khalaf. “I am used to eating while standing at work,” he said, laughing.
The hurry that can be present in the streets before Iftar as people rush to get home can appear at work as well. “However, a good manager is self-confident and spreads an atmosphere of calm and respect among workers and guests,” Nabil Badr, a hotel worker for 35 years, said.
However, some people still rush to meet Iftar. “I usually have Iftar at one restaurant and Sohour in another, although I am married and have a child. I have to spend Ramadan at work because I have to see to clients,” Mohamed Zakaria, 31, told the Weekly.
Bassam Karem, the manager of an ice-cream franchise, agreed that some clients could be impatient before Iftar. “Anyone who works in the service sector does not have the same holidays, and there may even be problems finding a sufficient number of workers,” he commented.
If Ramadan is a hectic month for some jobs and some people are obligated to work during Iftar, others, like Ahmed Refaat, 37, a taxi driver, enjoys working during Iftar. “I have Iftar with my parents on the first day of Ramadan, but maybe when I get married I will change my work schedule,” he said.
Refaat said that in his job the best time to work is the two hours before Iftar and then to Sohour before dawn. “The main meal for me is Sohour because I eat only dates for Iftar,” he added.

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