It is Ramadan 2009 and I am in the family home in Khartoum, Sudan. The air inside is filled with the tantalising scents of special spices and herbs, cinnamon, coriander, cumin and basil to enhance delicately prepared Sudanese dishes for iftar. My mum is busy in the kitchen putting the final touches to one of the most popular dishes, Aseeda, which is made with flour, yoghurt, water and a pinch of salt, and my sister is lending a hand.
The kids carry on playing and are oblivious to the fact the "grown ups" have been fasting all day. My eldest brother and his family come in time for the Azan (call to prayer) and have brought extra dishes. By now the house is buzzing with relatives. The atmosphere is quiet and cool outside, as many residents are at home preparing to break their fast, often stopping off at a bakery first for oven fresh Arabic bread.
While subconsciously checking the clock every so often, I am reminded this is my first Ramadan in my home country in as long as I can remember and it feels surreal. I had arrived a couple of weeks before, at the beginning of my break from work. We hear the Azan and break our fast with dates, in the same way as the Prophet Mohammed, then pray before heading back to the dining table. It is better not to get carried away while breaking fast as more often than not, one may feel drained and the benefits of the fast will be lost. During our meal we swap accounts of the day's events, then indulge in freshly brewed Arabic coffee and tea. If a good Ramadan programme is on TV, we may watch it, otherwise just relax under the evening sky. The rest of the night is dedicated to prayer or visiting family.
Living and working abroad always has its advantages and disadvantages and as I find myself in the midst of family, I feel blessed knowing what I will be most thankful for. It is Ramadan 2010 and today, I am in a hotel in a new country and a new city, Abu Dhabi, thousands of miles away from what is most familiar to me. For the first time, I will not be spending Ramadan with my close relatives. A few others most probably find themselves in the same predicament, one that can at times prove to be testing. However, although spending Ramadan surrounded by family is a feeling unmatched, there remains comfort in knowing I am in an Islamic city. The abundance of mosques and soothing sound of the Azan bring me peace as it travels through my window.
Contrary to some beliefs, Ramadan is not only about resisting the temptation of food until sundown. The first 10 days of the holy month are the days of mercy; seeking mercy and showing mercy to others as well as to ourselves. Every culture has its special ways of celebrating Ramadan and iftar preparation. So, will I miss the magical environment and flavours so familiar to me? Of course. Will it make me grateful for the time I had at home in past years? Definitely. Will it make me appreciate years to come even more? Absolutely.
Ramadan Mubarak. email@example.com