The latest post from Kristen Kyslinger, a WorldTeach Bangladesh volunteer (and alumnus of the WorldTeach Chile program!) gives us a glimpse into her experience celebrating Ramadan in Chittagong, where she just arrived a few weeks ago. Below, her perspective on the holiday, its hospitality, and a few delicious photos of the food she has been enjoying!
"Ramadan: I knew about it growing up, and learned a little about Islamic culture, but never has it been made so real and poignant to me until I came to Bangladesh. I had been so focused on coming during the middle/end of monsoon season, and completely skipped the fact that we would be arriving right before Ramadan.
Ramadan (or Ramjan in Bangla) is a month of fasting during the Islamic calendar year, depending on the cycle of the moon. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, refraining from all kinds of food and drink, even water - which is an awfully hard and inspiring thing to do, considering it is Bangladesh and so hot and humid. However, it is a time of self-restraint and good deeds, learning patience and humility and offering prayers to Allah. The five prayers of the day become especially hauntingly beautiful; I listen for them more carefully, and I start to hear the difference. Food and hunger also take on a whole new meaning. Out of respect, we do not eat or drink when we are on the streets, in cars, building hallways and grounds, or anywhere we know there are Muslims.
Ramadan also means we get to participate in the nightly feast known as Iftar. This is the nighttime meal they use to break the fast; it traditionally starts with eating a date, then escalates from there with all kinds of fried goods, rice, meats, and sweets. Buffets are set up along the streets and on every corner, offering pans and huge metal bowls of food to passersby.
Part of Ramadan and the Iftar meal is hospitality. A recent Lonely Planet article about travel during Ramadan said to accept hospitality during this time, because "a polite refusal would be crushing." While Ayla (another WorldTeach volunteer) and I were shopping tonight at Anjan's, we got invited to their nightly Iftar... and we accepted. All shops close for 15-30 minutes for Iftar, and we just happened to be there around 6:30, when the sun sets and the evening prayer goes out. Tania, a store associate and new-found friend, insisted we break the fast with them.
A bag of jalebi, which is deep-fried batter doused in syrup (or as we call it, funnel cake on crack)
a delicious dish made from goat and I don't know what else
Ayla and I took off our sandals and sat with the store associates in a huge circle. They proceeded to pass around boxes of food containing all kinds of goodies, followed by listening to the evening prayer broadcast on someone's cellphone. We then broke the fast, speaking English with Tania and her friends, and even a little bit of Bangla. A lot of the time was spent discussing our past two weeks in Chittagong, their families and work, and laughing during good-natured fun. Several of them had their phones out, taking pictures of Ayla and me - this has become common practice, as anything a Westerner does causes quite the stir. It is all borne out of a nature of curiosity, though, and never malicious.
After we finished eating, we stayed to talk with Tania more. She showed us how to wrap our headscarves, and then we exchanged bracelets as a sign of gifting and friendship - we now have two gorgeous black, gold, and silver threaded bracelets, and there is now a Bengali woman walking around with Silly Bandz (yes, you heard me right, Silly Bandz - a dinosaur and a Sleeping Beauty one, to be exact!). She also promised to invite us all over for dinner one night and introduce her family to us: her husband, Shobuj (who we met at the store), her mom, and younger brother. I cannot wait to partake in Bengali culture; this means I really need to study my Bangla!"
Several of the male store associates across from me during Iftar
Me, Tania, and Ayla with several of the other store associates after Iftar