Happy Ramadan and enjoy the fika my dear brother!

In Der Ezzor in February 2011

I don’t miss my family as much as I do in Ramadan, I feel so close to them and attached despite the distance. The only way to close to them and share the feeling that I try to fast as I can. This Ramadan, I have done a strange thing, Inspiring by a poem written by an African refugee in the UK, I dialed the number of the house of my family in Deir Ezzor although I know that it is rubble, for a reason, I have had a hope that someone will answer or someone to listen to me, it has been a long time and many things happened since I was a child in that house until today Ramadan 2019.
Ramadan in Deir Ezzor
As Ramadan moves according to the Lunar year, it comes in a different time every year. Once it came after Easter immediately, I was a child in the school. My best friend was the son of my mum’s best friend and neighbor. He was Christian, and his name was Jack. His family wanted him to fast the seven weeks prior to Easter, wherein the faithful abstain from eating eggs, meat, and any dairy or animal products. So, Jack and I made a secret deal in the school: He was eating my cheese sandwiches and cakes, and I was eating his Zaatar sandwiches and the cucumber. For that, he had to bring an extra sandwich, an apple or cake for me in Ramadan as I had to pretend that I was fasting to feel proud in front of my mum and siblings.
Ramadan in Damascus
I was fasting; I loved the idea of being an adult and made it by my decision. It was hard but possible when there were fresh food, water and a half cake in my fridge but I decided to feel the deprivation. In 2011, Jack visited me in Damascus; he was shocked that I was fasting, but respected and showed solidarity. He did not eat or drink water until Iftar., but he smoked in my yard as I was not a smoker. The purpose of his visit to Damascus was to join the daily demonstrations against Al-Assad as after Taraweeh prayers in the evenings. Jack posted on his facebook: “It is the first time I long for Ramadan more than Muslims as we will demonstrate every day not only on Fridays.” He referred to the demonstration that came out of the mosques after the Friday prayers.
Ramadan in Cairo
I used to share an apartment with a belly dancer. She used to work at nights and sleep the whole day. That is why we could not socialize or meet each other in the apartment. But every time we got the chance to meet, she was saying: “We will have plenty of time in Ramadan.” I did not understand what she meant until Ramadan came. Night clubs close their doors in Ramadan in Cairo. Belly dancers and their bands take a vacation. It makes sense; people get stuck in front of the TVs in Ramadan watching Drama and quiz programs. It is also time to tolerance, socializes, and reconnects with your relatives, and this is part of the worships in this month. I was enjoying the fasting with my roommate, cooking together and invite her friends to Iftar, they were belly dancers too. After the sunset, we used to go and sit in a coffee shop at the Nile river and enjoying watching the drama on a big screen with tons of people. Egyptians in Ramadan are watching drama and interact just like football matches.

Cairo March 2013


Ramadan in Istanbul
It was easier for my dear Jack to escape to Lebanon instead of Turkey. I missed him in Istanbul. I made Turkish friends, and Ramadan was a serious thing for them. They loved to volunteer to pack the meals in boxes for who needs it. I was helping them on the weekends. A funny thing happened to me once; I am smiling when I write it right now. One day I worked extra hours in Ramadan, and left my office on the Asian side just before a few minutes to the sunset, I had to take the ferry to the European side of the city. For the first time, the queue of people was so long at Karaköy ferry station, I had waited more than 10 minutes, and when I got closer to the station, I found out that it was the queue of students to get Iftar for free. Someone handed me a warm box with a smile. I laughed because the ferry was almost empty when I jumped on it and enjoyed eating my meal inside it, looking at the sunset at the Bosphore.


Istanbul December 2013


Ramadan in Asylum House
Sometimes we end up in surreal places. Places don’t look or feel like anywhere else, and the asylboense is a good example. The asylum seekers celebrated Ramadan with emotions and tears, as we all were remoted and war-torn families. We became closer to each other. I respected the holy atmosphere in the place, and I was taking my coffee and have it somewhere in the forest with a few mates. The kitchen became more organized and cleaner as we all ate at the same time, and the forest looked empty at Iftar time. We were staying all night up, socializing, gathering, singing, we learned more about each other. Our Christian Eritrean mates initiated and invited us to Iftar once; it was the beginning of a new friendship. I got a text message from Jack: “Happy Ramadan, I am thinking to cross the mediterranean sea with my wife.”
Ramadan in Gothenburg
Fasting is fun in Gothenburg; I do feel spoiled, many invitations from friends to Iftar, tables full of the tastiest Syrian dishes, apricot juice, tamarind juice and qatayef filled with pecan or sweet cheese, following by very cozy and intimate talks and playing backgammon in a wooden box paved with shells. All that I mentioned, I used to do it with my family, but in exile, there is always an alternative. I still try to fast but sometimes I cannot, the day is too long for me in Sweden. Like a child, I pretend that I am fasting when one of my sisters calls me. Once she called me, and I told her that I was fasting, but as the Syrian proverb says (Lying rope is short). I accidentally let slip to her and said that I am going to have fika with my friend Jack she interrupted me and ironically said: It’s ok Fika does not spoil the fasting, and my face became red.
This year, my sister texted me: Happy Ramadan Enjoy the fika, my dear brother, I miss you.


This article is translated into Swedish and published in Göteborg Posten 


Khaled Alesmael

Published by Khaled Alesmael

KHALED ALESMAEL is a multi-awarded journalist, author and sometimes filmmakers. He worked in Syria and the Middle-East for more than fifteen years, was the correspondent for Radio France International/ Arabic from Damascus and the media officer for the risk reduction project/ UNDP Damascus. In 2012, he escaped the war and continued his career in the media in Egypt and Turkey. He apply for asylum in Sweden in 2014 and he got it and became a Swedish citizen in 2018. His works have appeared in the prestigious investigative programs Investigative Mission/ SVT and Conflict Program/ Swedish Radio, and he has been writing for several newspapers and magazines like Ottar in Stockholm and Newstatesman magazine in London. He has also worked for the daily German newspaper taz.de as a visiting journalist through the International Journalist Program. He became a Swedish citizen in 2018, and he lives in London now. Selamlik is his debut novel; it came out in August 2018. It has got considerable attention in the Swedish media and positively reviewed: "Selamlik is a prospective classic, a low-key melancholy, and grand book." - Dagens Nyheter “He reminds me of Jean Genet, as brutal as helplessly romantic”. The legendary Swedish gay writer Jonas Gardell for Expressen. “A magnificent account of the Syrian disaster" Sydsvenskan. "Selamlik glances at gates to other worlds" JP. "Khaled Asmael's debut novel about a man's escape from the Damascus gay scene to a refugee center in Europe glides imperceptibly between fantasy, nightmare, and reality" Göteborg Posten.

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