During the month of Ramadhaan, the Yemenis turn their worlds upside down. Night literally becomes day, and day becomes like night. We don’t follow this custom, preferring to keep things in their usual up and down state, but we can’t help but be affected by it throughout the entire month.
The first thing that one notices is the children. Yemeni children in general don’t go to bed until around midnight throughout the year- their evening meal is actually eaten late, after the ‘Isha prayer, say around eight or nine at night. Before and after the meal, they tend to be left out to play in the streets, with no supervision beyond that provided by passing motorcycle riders, neighborhood men coming home with groceries or playing dominoes, or the occasional head, swathed in bright cloth, that signifies a mother peering out a top story window or door, calling to her son or daughter to do something for her. During Ramadhaan, this stretches much farther into the night. Sometimes when I get up at three o’clock to make our pre-dawn meal, I can still hear them, banging on makeshift can drums and singing popular religious songs- or marching about chanting political slogans they’ve heard from television or their big brothers. They go to bed at dawn, and sleep until around noon, for the most part. When they wake up they are out in the streets right away in their bed-gowns or shorts- when I see the little groups of children wandering around, playing in the garbage piles or sitting in groups around makeshift fires, I think of “Lord of the Flies”- or, as was the case this morning, an old episode of Star Trek where they find a planet of children.
Shopping is also a totally different experience during Ramadhaan. Absolutely nothing is open before noon, so if you need something for morning, you have to get it the night before. Nights in the open air markets are scenes of light, color and chaos, as people buy new outfits for the Eid, and goodies for entertaining friends and family. During the morning the suqs look like the circus the day after it closes, when the stands and rides are being packed up to move on down the road; but at night they are full of the sound of haggling voices and laughter, a carnival of life, as everyone enjoys the relatively cool night air and the many shops and stands full of goods meant to tempt their riyals from their coat pockets. Even the water trucks deliver water to the houses at one or two o’clock in the morning. The small television establishment near us, where young men usually gather to watch sports or the latest protest news, is quieter, as the owner does not play the TV during the month at all. They sit and play dominoes or cards, and talk, snacking and drinking sodas and juice into the early morning hours.
In our house we focus inward even more so than at any other time of year. Everyone recites, reviews, and memorizes Qur’aan every day, and we try to do activities that relate to some act of worship, or Islamic knowledge. This year we have focused on the stories of the prophets, with the children making prophet books, and doing various crafts based on the stories that we read to them. They play in the yard when the sun is not too hot, and lay down to rest and read when the mood hits them. We all have goals we are trying to achieve during this blessed month, and everyday brings a self reckoning to see how we are doing concerning them. Hudhaifah just finished memorizing the whole Qur’aan- the third of my children to do so- and we all rejoiced with him at this great accomplishment. Sukhailah worked on translating for the first part of the month, and now is working on some gifts for the children of a friend who is expecting a baby. Nusaybah tends her kittens, showing them mercy and love unknown by the feral, half-starved cats in the neighborhood. And so with each of us- everyone is working on something, focusing on our souls, and striving to better ourselves in way that will bring light in this month, as well as throughout the rest of the year, insh’Allaah.