Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It Takes All Types

We're nearing the halfway point of Ramadan - I've been to my fill of iftars, and I still have more to attend.  Iftars can be a political statement here: anyone who's someone hosts one, which leads to novelties such as the Jewish community's iftar (biggest social/political event in town, I swear).  It's lovely to see the decorations for the holiday and the massive feasts every restaurant, family, and store puts out on display.  Each neighborhood has a tent, sponsored by a charity organization, where the community can come together to break their fasts.  These tents are mostly for the lower social strata, but anyone can go.  Not everyone fasts, of course; many secular people just indulge in massive feasts at sundown as a cultural and communal experience.  Others fast, but only partially: a friend saw a piece on CNN Turkey this weekend about how people fast in varying degrees.  Every other day, only until 3 PM, only if their mom is watching, etc...  with Ramadan moving into the summer months for the next few years, it's too environmentally stressful for some people to make it all day long without a drop of water.  I admire people for admitting it up front; in many places the social pressure to fast is so strong that no one would dream of 'fessing up, despite having a secret stash of cashews and a water bottle in the desk's bottom drawer.

We plan our evening travel plans around sunset, because most people (whether they are fasting or not) are in place at home or a restaurant in time for the meal, so the roads are emptiest in the half-hour after sunset.  I love seeing the city at its stillest right at sundown, when the call to prayer rolls down the hillsides and the traffic has mostly parked on the side of the roads while everyone eats.  It's beautiful, especially since the summer heat and humidity has broken recently - there's no haze over the Bosphorus in the evenings now, and you can clearly see the sunset reflected in the Asian hills.

That stillness is increasingly broken by the tinny cry of the campaign trucks.  Turkish citizens will go to the polls on 12 September to vote on a package of constitutional amendments, and it's gearing up to be a huge political battle.  Political parties are pulling out all the stops to energize their voters to turn the results one way or the other.  (Lucky me, the biggest opposition rallies all seem to occur within 3 blocks of my house.)  Each party has its own fleet of trucks that drive around at slow speeds, blaring canned messages exhorting the masses to vote YES or NO, complete with patriotic or martial or choral music in the background.  It's amusing for the first few times...  I'm just glad I can't hear it from my apartment!  (Yet.)


  1. This sounds lovely. A jewish community iftar? How awesome. I loved Ramadan when I lived in Niger and was so amazed at the commitment- they would work all day in the fields and not even drink water (as far as I know, anyway). Enjoy. I'm sure it's a nice way to feel part of the community.

  2. Thanks for the peek into Istanbul at Ramadan. I've been envisioning what our Ramadans will look like in the future and this is interesting fodder to add to my speculations.