Istanbul//Berlin: Geschichten, Gesichter, Gedanken, Politik, Stimmen, Farben, Orte, Auseinandersetzen und Zusammensitzen, Traumata und Träume.

Istanbul//Berlin: stories, faces, thoughts, politics, voices, colors, places, examinations and integrations, trauma and 'Träume' (dreams).

Samstag, 9. Juli 2016

Heat and Sugar – Ramadan in Istanbul

Walking on a sunsoaked beach, my feet tickled by the incoming waves, I spot a naked person from the corner of my eye, and for a second I stop and –hopefully in a not too obvious way- stare. Coming from an East-German family, I am no stranger to nude beaches and embrace the concept, so normally there would be no reason for me to be this aghast. But as I have spent my last year living in Turkey, a country where the majority of people practices Islam, so this is something I simply have not witnessed in a while. Without taking notice too conciously, I have become very accustumed to the culture and religion that surround me daily, to the Imam calling over the rooftops in his singing voice, to the overflowing mosques during prayer time, to enormous markets crowded with hijab-wearing old ladies. Now that I am spending a few days in the neighboring country Bulgaria, I am surprised to suddenly hear churchbells, to see people drinking an afternoon-beer in the street, and to pass naked people taking a relaxed sunbath at the beach.
For a few days I dived into the life of a backpacker again, sitting on a hostel terrace in a small Bulgarian seaside-town, with travellers as diverse as their stories, a professional actor from Latvia, a French girl living in Sofia selling videogames, a German-Bulgarian family visiting for a wedding. An Australian backpacker who has been on the road for three years explains his -admittedly questionable- principle while travelling Europe: eat at a local McDonalds in every country that he visits. Wildly gesturing he illustrates a strange-seeming encounter in Istanbul: At the overcrowded fast food store, everyone sat in front of their burgers waiting in anticipation, but while looking at their watches, did not touch the food, though seemingly starving, while he was the only person chewing away.
I had to smile excessively at this little anecdote, as it shows the traveller's somewhat adorable obliviousness to Islam culture and at the same time illustrates the clash of custom and new age, as modern fast-food consuming Istanbulers maintain the Islam tradition of Ramadan. For the past month, Muslims all over the world celebrated the fasting time, where no food, drinks or earthly pleasures like cigarettes are allowed during the time that the sun is shining down on them, making room for spiritual reflection, devotion and worship. Between sunset and sunrise family and friends then come together to celebrate Iftar, the daily breaking of the fast.
It was an intriguing experience to witness this particular time in the dazzling city of Istanbul. The streets were sizzling as the concrete pavements reflected the heat of the relentless sun, exhausted seeming people seeking out the shade, I especially admired the fasting employes of restaurants and markets, because though life seemed slower and quieter during these days, the usual business and busyness were still obliged to carry on to a certain extend. The billboards were wallpapered with Ramadan special offers from local supermarkets, between the minarets of the mosques strings of little lightbulbs would spell out wishes for the season, the greeting of vendors changed from "Good Morning!" to "Happy Ramadan Holiday!". During the twilight hours, the streets would come to life, picknicks for hundreds of people were hold on public squares, restaurants would arrange all the spare tables and chairs they could find into long panels for the Iftar meal, children were running around chewing on dates, while their parents were sharing the special Ramadan bread (which is delicious, by the way). During the early morning hours, an unfamiliar sound would wake me from my sweaty sleep, which originated from men with enormous drums who walk around the neighborhoods just before sunrise to wake up the fasting population on order for them to have a meal before the starting hour of fasting, as I later found out.
The Eid feast marks the end of Ramadan month, and is celebrated as a national holiday, which is why I had some days without classes, enabling me to travel to a nearby beach, as many Turks did in the past few days. It is the feast of sugar: children pass from door to door, receiving Turkish sweets like Lokum and Baklava, and in my imagination maybe some might stop by at the McDonalds store to ask for a McFlurry.

In that sense: Mutlu Bayramlar Herkese! (Turkish for "Happy Holiday Everyone!")

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