Monday, September 21, 2009

Generosity and Beggary in the Month of Ramadan

Now that Ramadan is over, I briefly reflect on what I experienced. The most vivid impression I have this year is of the juxtaposition of generosity and beggary during the month of Ramadan.

People were even more willing to assist me as a foreigner, even when I did not ask for it. Most of the time I found this charming, occasionally I found it aggravating. “Ya 3m, ana ma talubtsh min’ak ei haga!” (“Yeah Uncle, I did not ask anything from you!”) I found myself wanting to say. “Ana 3arafa. Ana sakana hena.” (“I know. I live here.”) I would say at times in exacerbation.

Most of the time, though, peoples’ extended generosity was welcomed and warmly appreciated. And at times it was sorely needed. The public transit system seemed to change overnight with the start of Ramadan. One night I left downtown late, thinking it would be no problem getting home, only to discover that I was relying on local residents to get home because the way back was surprisingly unclear!

The month of Ramadan is a month of giving. And buying. On the day of Eid the children and teenagers take over the streets and the metro. They play outside in their new clothes, with their new toys. As a sister of a colleague of mine told me on Eid, when I asked her how people felt on Eid as we were heading to her brother’s place, children are happy because they are given new clothes and new toys, and adults are unhappy because they have to buy them. Indeed, Eid is for the young.

Of course as someone who comes from a tradition of commercialized Christmas, I understand well the stress of gift-giving during holiday times.

More than that, with commercialized Eid comes the Wretched of the Earth seeking out a meagre existence. Particularly during the last week of Ramadan, when scores of people went out shopping for Eid gifts, scores of beggars came out onto the streets. Or at least that is how it felt. I don’t think I saw as many beggars during Ramadan as I had seen the entire past year. And so many children.

In my daily routine I rarely see street children or children begging, so when I went to Doqqi, a fairly well-off neighborhood of downtown Cairo, during Ramadan and saw so many street children I was reminded that, yes, according to statistics there are over 1 million street children in Cairo alone. And just the week before, I had found myself trying to convince an Egyptian friend of mine that actually there aren’t that many street children in Egypt. I mean, compared to India or Brazil or war-torn countries. Really, everything is relative. Huh? Say that again, Marion?

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