Tuesday, July 30, 2013

[The Outsider] A peaceful Ramadan for three

Elsie Alan

We are more than halfway through Ramadan 2013. While the world at large gets more and more out of control, our little corner of Turkey has remained peaceful and observant.

You haven't seen many quieter places than our little village is now, believe me. Even the all-summer-every-summer picnickers at the castle are low key, quietly setting up their little barbeques to heat the soup and grill the meat for iftar (fast-breaking meal). After iftar, the music being played outdoors -- sometimes from car radios, sometimes from live musicians -- is heavy on the Turkish and Kurdish folk music and light on rap music and the other THUMP, THUMP, THUMP beats so beloved by young men with very strong woofers in their automotive sound systems.

During every Ramadan since we have lived here, until now, we have ended up with foreign visitors, who either come not knowing it is Ramadan or come because they want to experience Ramadan in a Muslim country. Either way, although we love to see our friends and show them around, Ramadan is not our favorite time to travel, especially during these long, hot months in which it has been falling for the last few years. This year, we have lain pretty low in the months leading up to Holy Ramadan, not being rude but not following up on any broad hints, either. I went so far as to tell a friend, truthfully, that we really don't like to travel at all during Ramadan and that “Ramadan Bayramı” (Eid al-Fitr) promised ever-growing familial obligations due to our family getting bigger and bigger, making it a difficult time to get away, as well. The friend was surprised, but accommodating, and offered to come to our home to see us during Ramadan and several days before Bayram, which we accepted with pleasure.

My husband, Lütfü, fasts and I, being non-Muslim, do not. I always lose a little weight, though, because somehow I just don't get very hungry when no one else is eating. I never eat or drink in front of fasting family or friends, of course, and without the social stimulus of meal time, I find I don't have much appetite until sundown. Of course, the big advantage to this, all unplanned, is that I get to share a teeny bit of the joy of that first spoonful of soup that fasters eat so happily, because my appetite is also sharpened, though not as keenly as theirs. My main Ramadan contribution, though, is doing all I can to support the various seasonal activities of my friends and family.

The importance of soup

Aside from the date or olive opener and the cold water, soup is the first thing that must be on the table, in the bowl, when the muezzin begins the evening call to prayer. This year, just before Ramadan, I rediscovered a soup-and-stew cookbook that I had forgotten about. From its pages, I got the idea of making this Ramadan a season of memorable meals based almost entirely on soup. It turns out that the fasters of my acquaintance quickly lessen the quantities of food they eat at iftar after the first day or two, although most women continue to prepare many varieties of food that are then more sampled than eaten in quantity, so I thought I would try something a little different this year.

This Ramadan has turned out to be a very pleasant experience in so many ways, in spite of the heat and some other neighborhood problems, like persistent water outages and heavy civic construction. Our little niece, who is also fasting, came from İstanbul to stay with us on the very first day of Ramadan, to have a quiet, private place to study for her university exams. She stays in her room, which she has rearranged into a pleasant study with a closed door, so she is basically invisible to us and undisturbed in her studies. My husband loves to pray and meditate, as well as read about Muslim history, the Holy Quran and the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), both in books and from a massive program he has downloaded onto his laptop. In between household chores and trips to town for business or shopping, he moves around to the various cooler places in the house, depending on the position of the sun, to read and to pray. So where does the yabancı lady of the house fit in?

Cooking from cookbooks is a soothing and time-intensive occupation, requiring a lot of uninterrupted time in the kitchen. With both my fasters pursuing their own quiet studies, and neither caring to come near the kitchen, I am free to cook up some more-complicated-than-usual iftar treats for my little family. I usually cook in the earlier part of the day, both because of the heat and also to prevent the cooking aromas from disturbing the concentration my loved ones require to perform their scholarly and religious duties. I plan the meal to provide protein to keep their little brains active and plenty of fruit and vegetables to pump up those vitamins and to supply healthy fiber. Most days Lute manages to supply fresh Ramadan pide, and I sometimes make rice pudding for a sweet, although I try to fool them with fresh fruit instead for dessert whenever I can. Creamed corn soup, potato chowder and cream of chicken soup with plump slices of white meat have been successful, with bland accompaniments like bulgur pilav or rice with chickpeas as sides and some sort of fresh salad. If there is no meat in the soup, I also make a lovely French or Roman chicken dish from the magic book, or my own, old-fashioned shepherd's pie. Perhaps the biggest surprise-hit of the season is the exquisite Spanish soup, gazpacho, always served icy cold and perfect for this season of bountiful tomatoes from our garden. I was afraid our niece, whose mother is an outstanding cook but very much all Turkish, all the time, wouldn't care for the gazpacho, but she loves it so much she helps Lute finish the leftovers for sahur (pre-dawn meal)!

Sahur preparations

So our quiet days follow each other with love and serenity. Because sahur comes so early now, Lute and I have taken to staying up until it is time for him and the girl to start making their pre-fast meal, and I wish them good eating and go to bed. There are plenty of fresh eggs from our chickens, even more tomatoes, and cheese, bread, yogurt and honey, so they feed themselves without much fuss and go to bed afterwards. We don't ever see our niece after sahur until she comes down to help set the table at iftar; sometimes she makes her famous çoban salatası, which she really does well. About twice a week she asks if she can use the computer, and only spends a half-hour or so checking whatever it is teenage girls check online. So far, we are so content we haven't even done our now-traditional boat iftar, although we still plan to; it is just so peaceful and productive staying in our little indoor Ramadan world that we keep putting it off. A few minutes on the terrace after our meal, watching the lights on the water, and another day has gone.

One day and night, the niece's mother, father and younger sister came to make sure she was happy and because they missed her. The mother and father went to our little local mosque with Lute, which was nice for him. I half expected their daughter would leave with them the next day, but thankfully (for me, anyway) she didn't, and though it had been wonderful to see them and to eat the goodies her mom had prepared (stuffed grape leaves, fried eggplant and peppers, village bread, etc.), it was great to get back to “normal” with just the three of us. Another afternoon and overnight visit came from a nephew, with his bride and their baby, and that was another nice little island in the stream of our contented isolation. The couple brought an Okey game, and while our girl politely excused herself to go back upstairs after dinner, my other scholar took an evening off and played with us on the terrace for a couple of hours.

Every Ramadan has something different to offer, it seems. We have traveled during the season, and seen how other parts of Turkey look during the holy month. We have been to İstanbul several times, and watched the evolution of the festivities there. One year we visited the holy spots in Eyüp and Fatih with the same sister who just came to our house, and who has leant us her precious daughter for a month. She is a very devout woman, and her joy in seeing the holy relics was an experience I will always remember with appreciation. One year, we even had iftar in that other holy city, Konya, which is also an exceptionally sweet memory. This year has become the quiet, studious Ramadan, and it has a different, deeper joy than the others, albeit without the soaring excitement, for instance, of sharing an iftar with an entire community at Süleymaniye Camii, where we ate those famous beans with thousands of dinner companions on several occasions. No, this year is special, and hopefully we can duplicate the experience some other year, but it is doubtful; circumstances tend not to be combinable in exactly the same way more than once, ever. One thing is for sure, though -- however it unveils itself, the holy month of Ramadan will continue to amaze and educate, and we three little people are blessed to have experienced this one together.

Source: Today's Zaman

No comments:

Post a Comment