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What Ramadan Is Like In The Army

Ramadan is known that it brings families and friends together under the banner of faith and good spirit. Especially the first day of Ramadan; a dining table furnished with the most lavish food your family could possibly produce. It is the day where mothers get to flex their cooking muscles and show off their strengths.
It’s where cousins make fun of each other, aunts won’t sit till everyone has a sample of everything on their plates, the grandmother is constantly telling everyone that they haven’t eaten anything even though her plate has two spoons of rice (but that’s because she was secretly not fasting due to health problem) and the grandfather is sitting silently at the head of the table with a mountain of food on his plate, eating and observing the behaviorism of his successors silently but attentively.
Some find it frustrating but others long for it direly. I was among those who found it frustrating until I spent last Ramadan in the army during my military service.
Flashback to Ramadan at the army:
The countdown has begun. The commander has ordered the military unit’s driver to get an abundance of “sobya”, “karkadeh” and “tamr hendi” in preparation for Ramadan. I know that’s supposed to lift up our spirits, but it didn’t; the place was comparable to a ghost town.
All heads down. Fight those tears. You are a man. Endure the pain. Find meaning within the pain. Self freaking development, man! This won’t be the last Ramadan you spend away from the family! But these circumstances? No! All heads up. Boys don’t cry…
But men do…
I do…
 My fellow roommate is carving a picture of his two year old child on a soap he stole from the bathroom. I won’t tell on him, he really misses his son. My other roommate doesn’t know and he’s been swearing all night that once he gets his hands on whoever stole the soap, the thief won’t see the light of day. Well, I feel sorry for him; it must be incredibly difficult to be a hypochondriac in the army. I catch him staring at his hands sometimes with disgust. His entire life is boiled down to this moment, no soap.
I have 40 roommates in my bunker. Tomorrow is Ramadan and the spirit is dead. I decided to sneak into the commander’s office and “borrow” his radio (which he confiscated from a poor soldier during his night duty).
I walked into the bunker and turned on the radio. I’ve lived most of my life abroad and my Arabic is an atrocity, so my acquaintance with Egyptian radio channels was abysmal. 40 soldiers just staring at me fidget through the channels frantically. One by one tilted their head downwards in defeat. Not on my watch. Boys don’t cry. I’m fidgeting through the radio. I’m getting flashbacks to my childhood. My mom is helping me make my own Ramadan lantern, dad is sitting on his armchair with his cigar watching TV, and there’s a song playing on TV. What is this song? I know this song. Please God. I need this song. All heads are officially down. I failed…
I look at the radio; I grab the knob for the channels, twist it and yell “YALA YABNY!”. An what do you know! “Ramadan gaana” started playing. All heads were up and in my direction again. I raised the radio up high in victory like the John Cusack and the boombox. The rates of smiles in the bunker were exponentially increasing. I smiled.
One month later…
Best Ramadan ever! The officers left early and weren’t bothered to give us a lot of tasks during the day. We convinced the commander to get us a projector to display the Ramadan shows on one of the broken down walls in the unit. You barely saw anything, people kept passing in front of it and blocking the view, but I never enjoyed Ramadan shows and commercials as much as I did that month.
The realization that 40 soldiers filled their void and absence of their families with one another, made it the most family oriented Ramadan. The cook sprinkled extra pepper on the liver. Having Iftar on a tower all by yourself when you see your friends all standing underneath it with a bottle of water was the most touching thing you could imagine; leaving the projector spot and deciding to spend it with you.
The food was primitive yet delightful. The atmosphere was broken yet comfortable. The spirit was down by the day and energetic at night. Mingling and living with people from different socioeconomic, geographic, mental, and academic backgrounds gave a multiplicity of perceptions of what Ramadan is like. All heads were up. No tears to be found. This is the most family filled Ramadan ever. Yes! Boys do cry…
One year later…
Ramadan feels different. Aunts arguing and forcing you to eat everything, grandparents are old, cousins are either fighting or on their phones. Iftar is done. All of a sudden each one has either an appointment or a meeting.
Streets are filled with expensive decorations and billboards. Underneath those expensive billboards, one will experience beggars begging everywhere and scratching at your windows while driving. You watch a donation advertisement for charity that costs more than 15 million pounds. Mostly because of how much the actors in it were getting paid. So you know it’s fake. He is not kissing that cancer survivor because he is compassionate, he got paid a **** ton of money to do so.
Ramadan is off this year. Strip it down from all its lavishness and you’ll discover that it all boils down to simplicity. Now it has become institutional and corporate, tasteless.
That extra pepper on my liver I had last year, felt more Ramadan to me than anything I’ve seen this year.
What Ramadan Is Like In The Army

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  • Ali Salama

    Content Creator

    A political science and economics graduate from AUC that found no hope in the political science field, and a super duper huge film enthusiast! Emphasis on film!

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