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Families gear up for Ramadan in Cairo
Published in The Egyptian Gazette on 15 - 07 - 2010

CAIRO - While the rest of the year is fairly bleak for Egypt's poor, they always find some happiness in Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting which has piety and charity at its core. This year, Ramadan starts on August 11.
During the month, the faithful must abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from sunrise until sunset. It is also a time of contemplation, of Muslim solidarity and of giving charity to the needy.
The Egyptians have already started preparing for Ramadan festivities. Cairo streets are being decorated with coloured lights and big lanterns and many households will increase their budgets to prepare a huge "iftar", or fast-breaking meal at sunset composing a spread of tasty dishes.
Just before the beginning of Ramadan, Cairo-based charities and orphanages have started to get a seasonal boost in advance.
Workers at a charity in the densely populated neighbourhood of Hadayek el-Qubba said that ordinary people had called in continuously with gifts of food and money.
"I love to help the poor. I always want to give them something before and during Ramadan," Fadila Helmi, a retired Government employee, told The Gazette.
Fasting teaches us patience and to think of others who are hungry, Ms. Helmi, 69, said.
She has added that she believes her food and money donations will do greater good in poorer areas of the city.
As sunset falls, many of the neighbourhood's poor will eat free meals that are laid out on tables in huge makeshift marquees, set up in the streets and sponsored by business owners or movie stars in what are known as mawa'ed el-Rahman, Arabic for "tables of mercy".
The meals include stews, rice, macaroni and vegetables, Ms. Helmi said, adding that economic slowdown and food price increases will not stop many Muslims from throwing traditional street banquets to break the fast each dusk during the holy month of Ramadan.
As of next week, Egyptians will start racing against time to shop for food and drink to be ready for the month of fasting.
Many publications have already begun conveying messages to reassure consumers that their food needs for the holy-month will be met by the nation's hyper markets at 'very affordable prices'.
These needs include frozen meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cooking oil, butter, sugar, flour, vegetables and fruits and nuts and dried fruits, which are popularly known as "Ramadan treats".
A Cairo businessman, who asked not to be identified, said that the house had to be full before the month starts.
"Although some of the food might well go to waste, buying huge quantities of food stuffs is an annual tradition, which no family can break," he said.
He lamented that it is food ��" not fasting ��" that defines the festive spirit of Ramadan.
However, he has said that cutting back on spending is "unthinkable" because Ramadan has a "special status".
"There is merchandise that should be bought during Ramadan as is the case every year even if I have to depend on the credit card. Perhaps I will economise after the month is over in order to compensate for the budget deficit, but we are not ready to change our habits during Ramadan."
But Ahmed Naguib, a Government employee who lives in Hadayek el-Qubba, has said that he is afraid that by the time Ramadan starts, food prices will go up automatically because of a sudden rise in demand.
"This is common every Ramadan and is, in part, due to higher demand. And as always, this prompts governments to take measures to clamp down on price hikes," he said.
For Egyptians, Ramadan is not only a time for prayer and spiritual reflection, but it is also a time for social bonding over meals with family and friends.
"This is the only month when families get together for banquets. They do not care about the economy; people forget about their worries during those get-togethers," Ms. Helmi said.
"Family members are inviting each other over for food more often during this month. It is as if they are competing against each other for who buys the most things and cooks the most food," she said.
Meanwhile, Ramadan singing lanterns are proving immensely popular among Egyptian children, local traders agreed yesterday.
The lantern is one of the most essential Ramadan traditions, Hajj Sayyed el-Arabi said, adding that the ‘fanoos' is a must-buy item for every Egyptian child.
“It is an excellent gift to a child, who knows how to enjoy this joyous month,” he said.

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