Ramadan in Sana’a: Full of activities and a new lifestyle [Archives:2006/986/Reportage]

October 2 2006
The hustle and bustle of the market intensifies as the Iftar time draws near. 	YT photo by Saddam Al-Ashmouri
The hustle and bustle of the market intensifies as the Iftar time draws near. YT photo by Saddam Al-Ashmouri
Fatima Al-Ajel
[email protected]

In the evening on the last day of the month of Shawal, a cannon's echo is heard as the first sign of Ramadan. At that moment, Sana'a residents go out to congratulate each other and welcome the generous guest, which is Ramadan, while children sing Ramadan songs like: “Ya Ramadan, ya bo al-hamahim, idi il abi buqsha darahim.”

Some Sana'a citizens have their own way of welcoming Ramadan. For example, in some villages around Sana'a, men burn large fires called tansear atop mountains by collecting numerous tires two days before Ramadan. All villagers then go out to watch the fire and exchange congratulations.

Features of Ramadan in Sana'a

Sana'a residents generally don't feel that it's Ramadan until they hear the two famous Yemeni Qur'an readers, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Amer and Hussein Al-Qaridi, especially before the fajr and magrib prayers.

While the streets are empty during Ramadan mornings, some children under age 9 exploit this fact by playing and enjoying time in their neighborhood without any interruption from cars, pedestrians, etc.

On the other side of the neighborhood, old women wearing the sitarah sit together, discussing what they did the day before. In fact, they go out to take care of their great-grandchildren because they can't change their lifestyle like others who sleep until noon. They awaken as usual in the early morning and take their great-grandchildren, silently going out without bothering anyone at home.

Before the noon prayer, they prepare themselves to go to the mosque. Unfortunately, the phenomenon of old women going out on Ramadan mornings has begun to lessen in Sana'a society.

Ramadan youths and sports

Youths are more conscientious about going to the mosque during Ramadan and perform the five prayers there. Following the aser prayer, many youths gather to play sports, especially in public spaces. Some play football while others play volleyball. Their audiences are old men and children because girls aren't allowed to play or even watch the matches with men. However, some women hide behind kitchen windows to watch.

Before al-fitr, players stop the matches and go to break the fast together with others at the mosque. Everyone brings something with him, such as dates, shafout or salad.

Women's activities during Ramadan

Women spend more hours in the kitchen during Ramadan than the rest of the year cooking various types of Ramadan food. What's different in Ramadan is that most Sana'ani women like to listen to Sana'a radio and its programs while they prepare dinner because Ramadan programs are distinct.

Ramadan meals are rich with varied foods; thus, like other Yemeni women, Sana'ani women are professionals at preparing Ramadan dishes. Some foods are known only in Sana'a like al-mateet and al-fattah for the sahour meal, while al-hareesh, al-hamdhah and others are for dinner.

Many Sana'ani women also go to the mosque to pray the taraweeh prayer, as well as on Friday and at the isha' prayer. Following the taraweeh prayer, women expect visits, so they visit their relatives, friends and neighbors, exchanging special Ramadan foods and sweets like rawani, qatayif and juices like qadeed, karkady, etc.

A child's life during Ramadan

Children are the happiest ones during Ramadan, even if they know little about it. They just know they can play for a long time in the mornings on the empty streets, as well as go out and play in the evenings. All sweet shops are open, zones are lightly-filled with people and everything is safe.

Children over age 9 begin practicing the fast. Their parents encourage them by giving them two choices: either fast until noon, eat lunch and then continue fasting until the magrib prayer or fast one day until noon, do the same the next day and then combine the two half days of fasting to make one full day. Children are happy with this choice because it makes them feel that they're like the older youth who can fast.

Ramadan markets

Both men and women are more interested in shopping during Ramadan. Food and vegetable markets are filled with customers during the first part of the day, while Jamal and Hayel Street markets, or souks, are full in the evening. Only Bab Al-Yemen and Al-Zomer markets are full all day long because they're where customers and visitors can find whatever they want mixed between old and modern goods.

Bab Al-Yemen merchants begin opening their shops at noon. Some talk to their partners while others busily read the Qur'an until the souk becomes crowded with customers. Ramadan markets are crowded with men and women until midnight.

Elderly Al-Zomer merchant Al Hajah Jomah Al-Thaneaf says, “I've worked as a seller for 40 years and I can see the differences in Ramadan's features from the past up until now – everything's changed. In the past, people didn't find much food to eat but they were satisfied and happy. However, many people now are rich and many, many things are available, but there's no happiness or comfort.”

During the last 10 days of Ramadan, people are busy with Eid requests, so markets will be crowded with even more customers then.