Itís that time of the year again and what a scorcher! The longest days and hottest time of the year is upon us in Tunisia and in 2010 this coincides with the holy month of Ramadan! For many in Tunisia, this will mean up to 15 hours of abstaining from food or drink during daylight hours! Astonishingly compared to other parts of the world Tunisia seems to be getting off lightly! Muslims in the Arctic Circle will be facing 17 hour or longer days, and in a few years, when Ramadan falls during the solstice, there will be 24 hours of daylight for some!
The month of Ramadan will commence at a different time each year, but for the next few years will always begin during the summer! This is because it is calculated using the Hijri Calendar which is based upon the appearance of the new crescent moon. Each month will begin upon this sighting. Whilst the Gregorian calendar, based upon the sunís movements, tells us that the year is 2010, the Muslim Hijri Calendar states that the year is 1431, having began in the year AD 622 when the Prophet Muhammad emigrated to Medina.
Interestingly the Islamic years, being 11 days shorter in the year than the Gregorian calendar, are slowly catching up! But it will be many years before the two coincide. The 1st day of the 5th month of C.E. 20874 in the Gregorian calendar will also be (approximately) the 1st day of the 5th month of AH 20874 of the Islamic calendar!
Although the month of Ramadan in Tunisia, as in all Muslim countries, is about fasting, it is also a time when the whole country becomes obsessed with eating! All advertisements sandwiched between Tunisiaís famous and most looked-forward to television specials, show food, food and more food! Special markets line the streets of every town offering an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, home baked breads and traditional fruit juices!
A traditional Tunisian dish for eating at the meal of Suhoor (the meal before daylight begins) is Al Masfouf. This is couscous, but with a delicious twist! Instead of the traditional meat, chickpeas and peppers, it is made with hot milk, butter, sugar, raisins and nuts or dates! It is not unusual also to see Tunisian women preparing the mixture for vast amounts of sweet cakes and biscuits and taking them on huge trays to cook in the ovens at the local bakery, ready for celebrating the special night in Ramadan, Laylat al Qadr, and for the festivities of Eid el Fitr at the end of Ramadan!
Thoughts were raised this year about how the tourism season in Tunisia may be affected, with the month of Ramadan starting in the height of the summer, meaning many Muslims heading to their home countries for the special month. The tourism ministry indicated that many hotels would serve Suhoor, the pre-dawn breakfast, musical evenings would be laid on and swimming pools and beaches would stay open at night so people could make the most of the time when they were not fasting. Taxis and buses would also be provided to ferry tourists from their hotels to nearby mosques for the special night-time prayers offered during Ramadan.
Five days into Ramadan the evening crowds and lack of seats in Nabeulís local cafes, prove that spending time in Tunisia at this time of year is proving to be just as popular!
Each year in Tunisia, the month of Ramadan brings new episodes of the favourite soaps shown only during Ramadan, as well as new series which prove to be just as infectious! Creating a storm this year and currently broadcasting on Hannibal TV is Tunis 2050!
Said to be similar to America's 'The Simpsons,' and made entirely in 3D, the programme shows a humorous insight into life in Tunis in the year 2050. Shown on this page are some of the characters creating much laughter amongst Tunisia's citizens! Although set 40 years in the future, the characters have not moved on and still live by the same traditions and think in the same way as today's Tunisians, even still encountering obstacles, such as the infamous 'Error 404 page not found' computer message!
Even if you have not yet mastered the Tunisian dialect, to admire the visions of a futuristic high-rise city of Tunis in 2050, is an absolute must!
The month of Ramadan in Tunisia, brings with it an excellent choice of television programmes, especially comedy! 2009 also saw many unforgettable advertisements, with the prize undoubtably going to the creators of the publicity for the soft drink Boga Cidre! Starring the actor Dhafer el Abidine, the actual filming of the advert was interupted by an elderly lady, who preceded to reprimand the star for his womanising ways, acted out by his character in a local soap opera! It has yet to be determined if this was just a publicity stunt or the dear, little, old lady had actually got carried away with the storyline from his show!
Both the hilarious advert, showing an attractive, young lady stealing Dhafer's can of Boga Cidre and the video of the old lady giving him a piece of her mind can be viewed on Facebook, using the following link :- http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1109913516838&oid=61616718043
La Presse, Tunisia's daily newspaper also carried the joke one step further by publising an advertisement in the small ads, entitled SOS PERDUE (SOS LOST,) asking for assistance inretrieving the can of Boga Cidre! To attract attention the ad was created to seem like it had been encircled in pen and the contact led to the website where a competition was held to find the Boga Cidre with the prize being a day on the film set with the actor himself!
RAMADAN IN TUNISIA
One of the biggest misconceptions for holidaymakers or newcomers in Tunisia is that Ramadan is an inconvenience or best avoided when booking a holiday here. In fact, the month of Ramadan can best be described as something akin to the several weeks leading up to Christmas! True, many cafes and restaurants are closed during the day, only to re-open in the evenings. The atmosphere then, is lively and joyous, with the word 'busy' being an understatement!
Beni Khiar Market Ramadan 2006
For the expat living in Tunisia, a little juggling is needed. One of the things to remember is that the majority of shops will have different working hours, schools will close early, buses and trains will run at different times, you'll generally need to get to the post office to send your letters before noon and if you didn't buy anything for breakfast the previous day, you'll wake up the next morning and discover 'you've shot it!'
For those of you not fasting, and who have missed their breakfast(!), don't despair. In every town from about 1.00pm onwards, you should find the streets lined with food stalls, selling many different kinds of bread, including a flat bread to die for, that tastes like a cross between crumpets and pitta bread, all of it sold hot and straight from an oven, as well as many other delicious items, all designed to tempt the hungry faster to part with their money in order to fill up their dinner table!
Tempting Nougat And Turkish Delight - Beni Khiar Market Ramadan 2006
Cakes, biscuits, Turkish Delight and Tunisia's famous home-made, fresh lemon juice can be found amongst the goods on the markets simply stuffed with fruit and vegetables!
Towards sunset if you're still out and about, you may find yourself walking in what can best be described as a 'ghost town!' The mosques that had been broadcasting prayers over their loud speakers will suddenly fall silent and you can then literally hear a pin drop. This is the time when all Tunisians are sat round their tables in anticipation, waiting to hear the sudden, loud burst of canon fire, signalling the time to eat all of that mouth-watering produce purchased earlier.
Take a stroll down any high street in Tunisia in the evenings during the month of Ramadan and you will find the shops and boutiques bursting at the seams! It is traditional for Tunisians at Eid (the end of Ramadan) to visit their friends and relatives showing off their new clothes. Children are not forgotten either. They normally receive money from their nearest and dearest and can be found amongst the toy shops and toy stalls, excitedly buying and showing off the latest must-haves!
"Oi, I'm Not Really On The World Wide Web Am I?"
"Will This Help My Pop Career?"
For the expats living here, you may find yourself one morning waking up to the sound of drumming! No, you're not in the middle of some strange dream, this is actually another of Tunisia's traditions. Drummers will go around the neighbourhoods reminding fasters to eat and drink something before dawn, in preparation for what will seem like the long hours ahead.
Like Christmas, Ramadan has a serious message behind it. Muslims fast during this month, to remind themselves what it is like for the hungry and dispossessed. It is a month when one should be kind and courteous to all, praying takes place more often, bad habits are given up, and money is given to charity. A time for reflexion. Children, pregnant and breast-feeding mothers, and for those whose health would be affected are exempt, but all will try to do their bit and join in with the spirit of the occasion.
At the end of the month, don't forget to go out and celebrate with the Tunisians in the many pavement cafes, restaurants, beach bars and hotels for several days afterwards!
Continue to wear your 'Sunday Best,' as the Tunisians can be seen parading in their new clothes for several days after having exchanged Eid Mahbrouk with each other. Also don't forget to stock up on food. I forgot this year which is proving to be a bit of a problem as Eid is similar to what Christmas and Bank holidays were like about 10 years ago in Britain, with most of the shops being closed. The butchers are open in the mornings and a few corner shops (not all), but greengrocers and other main shops are all closed. This seems to last for about a week, although large supermarkets should open earlier.
With the shops all being closed the toy stalls have taken their place. Towns have a bit of a festive atmosphere. Adults sit at the pavement cafes whilst the children run from stall to stall with the pocket money given to them for Eid.
Little girls look absolutely adorable, wearing frilly, flouncy little dresses and shiny shoes, with ribbons in their hair, whereas BEWARE.... the boys are not quite so appealing! Armed with toy guns that fire hard, pea-sized pellets they will fire at anybody walking passed whom they believe will cause the most laughter amongst their mates. Babies, pets, and grannies and those with a nervous disposition are best left at home. Another favourite with the little horrors, to which I have yet to find the name for, is something they throw on the floor, that causes a puff of smoke and a bang as loud as the fireworks that you hear on bonfire night!
When it comes to Ramadan in Tunisia, we all know that the Tunisians know how to party!
Think Christmas Dinner and think of this every day for a month, but waiting all day for it, without any nibbles or sips in between!
Try to cook this magnificent feast without so much as a taster to check that you are getting it right? Result....go easy on the chilli powder!
Whilst us women brave it out in the kitchen, putting our all into conjuring up delicacies, Ramadan is also a month where not much else gets done!
Frustrating though it is, trying to run a business in Tunisia in a month where everybody sleeps until 11 and where phones are turned off for the rest of the day, with 2007 being my first opportunity to practise Ramadan, I can now understand why!
And if you don't head for the cafes straight away after filling your rumbling tum with as much as you can, you'll find that the huge effort made during the day will have you snoring your head off for the rest of the evening!
A Typical Tunisian Feast In Ramadan
Usually Includes Dates, Couscous Or Pasta, (Not Forgetting Of Course The Chillies!)
Briks And Chorba
Don't be fooled into thinking that all Tunisians practise this though!
So when most Tunisians were making their way across the globe to go home to Tunisia to catch the celebrations of Eid at the end of Ramadan (parties, presents, money, spending.....and yet more food!), we actually spent the last two weeks of Ramadan and Eid in England!
Imagine Christmas without all the lights, Santas, festivities, Christmas trees and carol singers? In a nutshell, this was Ramadan in England!
Although many Muslims in England get together to eat at each other's houses for the evening and the breaking of fasts can take place in mosques, (if you are lucky enough to have one near to you,) the atmosphere can of course, never be beaten by the real thing in Tunisia!
Nightly renditions of Choufli Hal or the even more brilliant and funny Dlilek Mlek which involves the contestant opening boxes at random hoping to win a million dinars, but perhaps ending up with an umbrella, a frog or a roast chicken helped alot of course! Eastenders and Coronation Street didn't manage to get a look-in!
Video : Dlilek Mlek - Re-live Tunisian Entertainment in Ramadan!
View to see an unlucky contestant on Dlilek Mlek losing the million dinar prize!
Don't be misled into thinking the month of Ramadan is not an ideal time to spend in Tunisia!
Everybody, even the non-fasting can get into the spirit of the month and have an enjoyable time!
Prayer times in Ramadan. Please click on the link for the times from La Presse, the daily Tunisian newspaper.