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Ramadan: Expats' perspective
By Nouf Ghaznawi
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 30 - 08 - 2009

Across cultures and countries, the principles of Ramadan - self-restraint and cleansing of the body and mind - remain the same, but the celebrations are diverse. Ramadan, among other things, is also a time when expats living in the Kingdom get together within their respective communities and attempt to recreate their countries' customs and traditions of the holy month living in a foreign land. This includes their unique culture-influenced styles of Iftar and Suhoor.
Nadia Arafa, an Egyptian mother of two who has been living in Jeddah for the past 30 years, shared her Ramadan experience with Saudi Gazette. She said that every year she invites her Egyptian neighbors and friends on the first day of Ramadan and prepares authentic Egyptian food for the gathering. “I want my children to learn how we observe Ramadan back home. For this, we gather friends, neighbors and children – all from our country – and sing the Egyptian Ramadan song, and holding the fundoos (traditional lanterns), we go around our compound,” said Arafa.
She lamented that it is difficult for expats to adapt to the cultures and traditions followed in their host countries, but “we are trying our best to carve out our own lifestyle here,” she said.
Expatriates from Yemen traditionally use oud perfumes before breaking the fast. Nema Mogbel, a Yemeni mother of four, says she makes it a point to teach her daughters how to cook traditional Ramadan dishes as the children “have never been to Yemen.”
“For example, everyday we prepare the same pastry dish with a special kind of honey from Yemen, and this is eaten at Suhoor. We also make a special juice from raisins,” she said. One of the oldest traditions in Yemen, she said, is exchanging food between neighbors in order to improve social ties.
“I have a Yemeni friend who lives close by. We exchange traditional Yemeni food daily. This way, we don't feel isolated living in another country, and moreover, we are doing what generations before us used to do – giving food to friends and neighbors in Ramadan,” said Mogbel.
Moroccans too, it seems, have their unique culinary traditions during Ramadan. Lamia Mohamed, a Moroccan hair stylist in Jeddah, said: “In Ramadan, everyday we make a special Moroccan soup called ‘Harera'. It is a Moroccan tradition to serve it with eggs as a main dish in Iftar. Besides, we prepare homemade pastries, called ‘Meshabak', especially for Ramadan.”
According to Hassanin, another Moroccan expat, people from his country like to gather after the Taraweeh prayer to “drink traditional mint tea and discuss issues about religion, etc.”
However, not everyone is able to spend Ramadan with their family and friends. Saed Ayed, an Egyptian driver, describes Ramadan as ‘one of the greatest times to be around one's family'. He, however, feels very lonely during Ramadan in Saudi Arabia.
“It is lonely here without my family, Iftar gatherings, etc. I miss the Ramadan traditions in Egypt,” said Ayed. He said that in Egypt, during the holy month, people decorate their houses, and children move around the neighborhood holding Ramadan lamps and singing Ramadan songs, asking for sweets. “Ramadan is totally different there,” remarked Ayed.


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