21 September 2009

Approaching autumnal equinox, Eids day 2

Gum-seller peers over the front fender of a pick-up outside a grocery catering to westerners in downtown Kabul.

The muezzins were proclaiming the end of the holy month of Ramadan and the start of the three-day Eids holiday all yesterday morning, starting hours before sunrise. In recent years, the five-times-daily calls to prayer and Friday sermons from most mosques in Kabul have been amplified with electronic speakers. From near my guest house, I could hear the crowds of the faithful chanting after the Iftar break and into the evening.

The day was lovely, bright and warm, today is too, the flower garden is still in bloom, and tomorrow (21:18 UTC) is the autumnal equinox. The mornings are cooler for longer, the peak solar intensity has decreased, and the length of the day is noticeably shrinking. Two kittens, and most times their crazed-looking mother, play outside early morning, often in the cluster of multi-colored geraniums surrounded by thick grass.

Fasting during Ramadan, the Islamic month of prayerful reflection, effectively begins each day before sunrise and runs until shortly after sunset. The times, which change every day by a few minutes according to the lunar calendar, are carefully regulated by religious authorities. Water, smoking, even gum chewing are prohibited during the daily fasts. Not the time to do a hot-tar roof.

In Kabul, Ramadan altered life everywhere, including the AUAf campus, where the work day ended for national staff at 2 p.m.—no doubt a necessary concession for outdoor laborers. Virtually everyone fasts and there is great social pressure working against those who don’t, even for legitimate reasons, like pregnancy, advanced age, health reasons, time of war, etc. Early in Ramadan, our cafeteria staff refused to serve lunch to an Afghan student.

The daily Ramadan fast ends at Iftar, at which time the university students, those staff still working, which includes the drivers and security guards, and observant faculty would converge on the cafeteria for what quickly came to resemble a huge picnic as people with heaping plates spilled out onto the grassy commons area. For the hour of the Iftar break, the normally boisterous city streets were effectively silenced while the population stops to eat. Feeding the hungry poor is encouraged. The Kabul air during Iftar, when still, was often thick with meat smoke from kebabs being roasted over open fires next door and down the street.

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