Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ramadan Diary ~ 2015 ~ Day Six

Ibn Warraq continues his Ramadan musings...

Nights in the Medina

After a day in Rabat I am back in Fez and so, after Ftour, I slept for a couple of hours and then headed into the streets. Now that Ramadan is in full swing, the Medina nights have come alive. The main streets are crowded with shoppers and families taking advantage of the night time cool and the festive atmosphere. Children are everywhere: eating ice creams, play chase, squirting each other with water pistols or tugging at their parents clothes in order to break up the endless round of greetings and gossip.

Cafés are full to overflowing and stallholders doing good business. Those who aren't busy play cards or checkers and from somewhere drifts the sweet smell of apple flavoured shisha.

Fez Medina at 11.30 pm

Around midnight things slow down and the shops begin to shut. The vegetable souks close and the last shoppers head home with the food for the Suhoor feast.

Midnight - time to head home and cook

Dkak hunting in the Fez Medina

For the uninitiated, a Dkak is an individual who travels the streets beating a drum and singing loudly in order to wake people up in time to prepare and eat the Suhoor meal before the day's Ramadan fast begins.

I must confess to having an obsession with Dkak hunting.

As I wrote in a previous diary entry, there appeared to be no Dkak working our local streets and for a couple of days I feared that the centuries old tradition had finally succumbed in the face of smart phone alarms and mechanical alarm clocks. Maybe, I thought, the Dkak is an endangered species or has become extinct.

Then, two days ago, at exactly 1.20 in the morning, I heard the distant sound of drumming. I sprang from my bed, dressed and hurried out into the street. Alas, his speed was too great and by the time my babouche hit the cobbles, the drum beat was only a faintly muffled sound whose direction I could not ascertain. He had vanished into the labyrinthine maze, like a wraith in the night. And, while this counts as a failure, I was excited by the proof that he was out there, somewhere, beating his drum.

Hunting a Dkak requires planning, as the odds are in his favour. It is his job to wake you up but in order to catch him you have to be awake beforehand. The answer, I decided, was not to sleep at all. If a Dkak was a duck, it would be simple; build a hide and crouch behind it, waiting. D'kaks are not ducks and hanging around in the shadow on street corners could give rise to (further) doubts about my sanity.

So, this morning I waited until the "get up and cook" warning cannon boomed over Fez and raced from the house. It was 1.19 am. At first I could hear nothing and then, faint and distant, I heard the drum. My pulse quickened as I tried to work out which of the dozens of narrow alleys he would emerge from.

The first sighting of Ramadan 2015

Then, the moment I had been waiting for. Down the street, below me, a figure emerged. There was no doubt, this was a Dkak. He was alive, he was a healthy specimen and he was VERY loud.

As he came closer I recognised him - my old friend Yassine. After exchanging greetings he continued on his way. For a moment I stood savouring the now muffled sound of his drum.

Yassine Boudouàià

Returning from the Dkak hunt to my room and the Suhoor meal,  I had a magical musical moment that reminded me that breaking a Ramadan fast was not just about food for the stomach. My Ipod was on shuffle and the song that greeted me was Grace Slick singing Remember what the dormouse said "feed your head, feed your head, feed your head".

When every second counts

Maybe the a world record for breaking a fast? Yesterday evening a couple of minutes before the cannon was expected, my next door neighbour called out to me.

"Watch the fort"' he said, indicating away to the right, up the hill to the building where the cannon is housed. "Then watch this!" He held up a bottle of water.

So I did as he instructed and to my amazement in the two seconds between the flash from the cannon muzzle and the arrival of the sound, he had managed to take a swig of water. Impressive.

"Aren't you supposed to pray first?" I asked.

But he was too busy drinking the rest of the bottle to reply.

Turning up the heat
In a reversal of the refrain of the Night's Watch on Game of Thrones, "Winter is coming", it can safely be said that "Summer is coming". Temperatures on Friday are expected to rise to 39 Celsius then jump to 42 during Saturday and Sunday. Monday will see a drop to 40 then 39 on Tuesday.
So, the big question is:  how to beat the heat?

Staying hydrated should be at the top of any faster's list this year. In summer it is important to drink more fluids than during the rest of the year, and with Ramadan hitting at such a hot time of the year one loses even more water.

 During the hottest part of the day, stay in cool areas (indoors or in the shade) and limit physical activity. Sleep if possible.

During the evening hours, resist the temptation to drink tea, coffee or Coke. When visiting friends or family, ask for glasses of water.

Reduce your intake of salt and pickled food during Suhoor, since these will rob your body of moisture.

Try to steer clear from sweets at Suhoor, as they can cause a rise in blood sugar, which will make you thirsty later in the day. And limit sweet mint tea.

In Morocco water, fruit juice and milk drinks such as date milk or avocado smoothies are very popular. Probably the best is Qamar eldin (apricot juice): This, the most traditional of Ramadan beverages, is made from dried apricot paste.

The mediaeval physician and philosopher Avicenna, known in the Arab world as Ibn Sina, rightly praised dried apricots for their thirst-quenching properties and as antidotes for diarrhoea.

Qamar eldin aids indigestion, regulates the metabolism and is packed with vitamins A, B and C, as well as calcium, iron, potassium and phosphorous.

A perfect way to start Ftour it produces enough of a sugar rush to get the digestive system working without over-stimulating it. (Go easy on the sugar, though).

Qamar eldin soothes jumpy nerves and stress, so it's great after a hard day at work. It also contains folic acid, which is very good for pregnant women.

If you can find them these are slightly more exotic thirst quenching Ramadan coolers

To make a cold drink using any of the ingredients below, just soak them (with or without sugar) in cold water.

Dried karkade

Top of my list is karkade (dried hibiscus flower). I came across the drink in Northern Sudan and it is amazingly good for cooling the system. It is possible to find it in some parts of Morocco and worth hunting out.  One cup of karkade contains 17 per cent citric acid and half as much vitamin C as an orange. It helps to boost and strengthen the immune system, especially while fasting. Hibiscus is also widely used to regulate blood pressure, which can fluctuate between low during fasting and high after Ftour, due to the concentrated sugar intake during the latter meal.

Known in hot regions of the globe as an effective thirst quencher, hibiscus reduces the build up of fatty deposits in the arteries and reduces blood cholesterol levels. It is used in treating urinary tract infections and aids in regulating blood flow and helps maintain the blood sugar balance in the body. Simply drop a handful of the dried flowers in a bucket of water during the day. By evening it will be ready to drink.

liquorice root seller in Egypt
Erq sous (liquorice root): This is another popular drink in Arab countries, especially Egypt and Syria. Although not to everyone's taste, liquorice, better known in the form of candy than as a drink, is one of the most biologically active herbs known. Acting as an anti-inflammatory, it affects the immune, circulatory and respiratory systems. Liquorice is a chronic fatigue combatant, mimicking the effects of natural hormones. As such, it fights off lethargy by causing fluid retention (which will make you feel less thirsty), raising blood pressure (which usually dips while fasting, due to the lack of sugar intake), and combating potassium loss.

Liquorice is also used to soothe the stomach and as an effective cough suppressant.

Kharoub (carob): This is another acquired taste, though it is worth trying as it reduces cholesterol, aids digestion and acts as an antioxidant. Pinitol, an active component of kharoub, has been shown to regulate blood glucose and is especially recommended for diabetics.

Laban rayeb (a yoghurt drink): is one of the most popular drinks in the Middle East. It has also found its way to Morocco and Egypt, where intake is generally restricted to this time of year. It is well known that the friendly bacteria found in live yoghurt can aid digestion, as well as help to clean the intestines and digestive tract, all of which can be necessary to treat an upset stomach after a few days of heavy Ftour and Suhoor. Because it requires no added sugar, those watching their waistlines tend to prefer this creamy drink.

Another of Hamid's moderately funny jokes...

Mouaniss: I have all four of my sons living at home with me.

Rachid: You are so lucky. What jobs do they do?

Mouaniss: The first one qualified as an engineer, the second has an MBA, the third received his PhD last year, and the fourth turned out to be a thief.

Rachid: Why don't you throw your fourth son out of the house?

Mouaniss: He is the only one bringing any money into the house. The rest are jobless!

Saha Ftourkoum!

See Ibn's Ramadan Dairy

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