From Egypt to Michigan: How I Celebrated Ramadan in My Home Away from Home
Each country around the world has many cultural and religious events that people celebrate every year. In Egypt, we have different religious and cultural events that people cherish regardless of what they celebrate. We always enjoy celebrating Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, Bairam, Christmas, and Easter collectively.
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until sunset. The fast not only represents freedom from food, but also freedom from negative attitudes and outside forces. This holy month teaches us how to self-discipline and how to appreciate all the gifts God provides us in our lives so we can understand the suffering of those less fortunate than us. Ramadan truly is the month of good deeds and infinite offerings, especially in Egypt. The streets are decorated with colorful lanterns and lights. The delicious scent of food and joyous sound of songs and family gatherings can be found in alleys and homes everywhere. Long tables full of delicious food are present in all districts and are available to all who need them.
This year, Ramadan looks a little different since I am celebrating it during my Fulbright Program in Michigan. It is the first Ramadan that I’m away from my family, my kids, and from my home. I originally thought that Ramadan without the decorated streets, shining lanterns, or the aroma of kunafa and atayef would not be as special, but I still felt determined to celebrate it. To celebrate in our American environment, my roommate and I decided to host a big gathering at our house. We invited a big group of people and planned a full menu of dishes to cook for our friends. We cooked different Egyptian recipes including duck, chicken, meat, stuffed grape leaves, and macaroni and zucchini with bechamel. It was a big day! Our friends came and helped us decorate our house with the different Ramadan ornaments and lights. We enjoyed the gathering, the food, the different drinks, and the entire Ramadan atmosphere that we created. We also hosted some friends from Saudi Arabia who celebrated with us and prayed Taraweeh with us.
Believe it or not, the celebration didn’t stop there! After hosting people at our house, our other Egyptian friends decided to host us for breakfast in return. Our doors remained open for sharing different delicious Egyptian food and drinks, including fava beans and falafel. We even enjoyed spending time together by watching one of Egypt’s most famous TV series, “El Kbeer Awi.”
We also had the chance to eat in different Middle Eastern restaurants in Ann Arbor and Dearborn. In addition, we decided to invite a group of American friends to expose them to different Middle Eastern food and Ramadan customs. They especially liked the dates that we had for breakfast. It was a lovely experience that will stay with us for years to come!
I also wanted to share some of the typical Ramadan desserts with my supervisor and colleagues from the lab. They could not stop eating them, even though they regretted the calories later!
Ramadan this year also overlapped with the Easter, so I had the opportunity to talk with my Christian friends about Lent and how they felt about sacrificing some of their favorite things. I also reflected on fasting as a Muslim and how fasting is considered one of the important pillars of our religion. I was pleased to learn that people of different religions agreed that fasting is always meant for self-disciplining, avoiding lying or harming others, having sympathy for those who suffer, and sacrificing the things we love.
Despite all the good memories this holy month offered us, I sometimes felt a sense of sadness for not being able to enjoy the month with my kids. However, thanks to social media, it allowed me to stay close with my family despite the distance and participate in one of my brother’s breakfast gatherings.
Once the holy month came to an end, I was able to reflect on how wonderful Ramadan truly was this year. This experience made me realize that the place you celebrate Ramadan in is not what matters, but the people that you surround yourself with. I can officially say that Ramadan in Michigan is indeed incredibly special.
Marwa is a 2021 Fulbrighter from Egypt. She is studying Dentistry at the University of Michigan.