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Keeping up with the changing Egyptian Ramadan

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Traditional handmade lanterns, the Mesaharaty, TV shows and charades have become the stuff of memories

Lanterns lighting the streets, the sounds of paper chains shaking as the wind passes through. The drum beat mixed with the voice of the Mesaharaty, a man who rolls a drum calling people to wake up for Suhour, the late night meal of Ramadan.

This scene is one of many memories that many Egyptians long for.

A group of teenagers and young people recently gathered at Dekka, literally ‘street bench’, at the Arab Digital Expression Foundation (ADEF) in Mokattam, to share their memories about the holy month.

Even participants in their early teens already felt nostalgic for Ramadan’s past traditions, rapidly being replaced by newer ones they cannot relate to. The event, titled “A Chat About Ramadan,” was part of a series of events designed to encourage people to express themselves publicly.

Nostalgia filled the large rectangular room as the group sat in a circle and started talking.

One of the participants, Islam Nahti, a 21 year-old musician, said he misses the time when he and his neighbours used to save money weeks before Ramadan to buy material and make paper chains.

“We used to compete which street will have the longest chain,” he said. “I used to fall a lot while hanging the chains from people’s balconies.”

The voice of the Mesaharaty is another Ramadan ritual that some neighbourhoods, such as Mokattam, miss, Nahti said.

“I missed the memory of waking up to the drum sound and asking the Mesaharaty to call out our names,” he said.

To revive the disappearing tradition, Nahti and a group of his neighbours dressed in while galabiyyas, just like a Mesaharaty does, and roamed the neighbourhood streets with a base drum last Ramadan.

“I saw you from the balcony and asked you to call out my name,” one teenage participant said.

Other memories shared included playing with traditional handmade lanterns, which have largely been replaced by mass produced ones with different designs than the original lantern, and lighting fireworks. Participants remembered how they, as children, used to show each other their pale tongues to prove that they did not secretly break their fasting at school.

For participants in their twenties and thirties, a major part of their memories that teens have missed is the TV shows. These include Bougy w Tamtam, a puppet show that was shown for 18 years every Ramadan, and Fawazeer Ramadan (Ramadan charades). These were annual musical and performance shows that were produced for public television for around three decades starting in the seventies, said Maged Makram, 35, the event moderator.

“My family did not let me watch the Fawazeer as a kid,” he said, “I used to sneak to watch them at the neighbours’ since all the kids at school talked about them.”

About the author

Marwa Morgan

Marwa Morgan

Arts and Culture reporter

Marwa is a journalist and street photographer interested in cultural identities and contemporary art. Her website is www.marwamorgan.com. Follow her on twitter @marwamorgan.


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