RAMADAN KAREEM – EXPERIENCE RAMADAN IN ZANZIBAR

THE LIFE AND COLOURS OF RAMADAN. A GUIDE TO MAKING THE BEST OF RAMADAN IN ZANZIBAR

WE WERE AT A LOCAL SHOP WHEN A YOUNG BOY CAME UP TO THE COUNTER. THE SHOPKEEPER, PANDU, PUT DOWN AN RECTANGULARLY SHAPED PACKAGE WRAPPED IN NEWSPAPER ON TO THE SCALE TO BE WEIGHED. I TRIED TO GET A GLIMPSE OF WHAT IT WAS AS HE WAITED FOR THE SCALE TO LEVEL UP. THE BOY HANDED PANDU 5000 SHILLINGS (TZS) AS HE GRABBED THE PACKAGE FROM THE COUNTER, PART OF THE NEWSPAPER SLIPPING OFF ONE OF THE CORNERS. MY EYES FOLLOWED. “DATES.”

 

DATES ARE COMMONLY EATEN DURING RAMADAN PANDU TOLD ME. KNOWN TO BE THE FOOD THAT MOHAMMED ATE WHEN HE BROKE HIS FAST, THEY ALSO CARRY A LOT OF NUTRIENTS THAT HELP WITH THE FASTING FOR RAMADAN.

 

PANDU AT WORK AT ‘KASSIM AND SONS’ SHOP IN PAJE

 

NOW, MANY PEOPLE TRAVEL TO CORNERS OF THE WORLD TO CATCH DIFFERENT FESTIVALS, EVENTS AND CULTURAL HOLIDAYS. VERY FEW TOURISTS TRAVEL TO A DESTINATION TO CELEBRATE RAMADAN.

 

THIS COINCIDENTALLY HAPPENED TO BE MY SECOND TIME BEING IN AN AREA WHERE RAMADAN IS CELEBRATED. WITH A POPULATION OF A 1.3 MILLION AND 98% OF THAT POPULATION BEING MUSLIM IN ZANZIBAR, IT WAS PROBABLY ABOUT TIME THAT I LEARNT A LITTLE BIT ABOUT IT AND WHAT LIES AHEAD OF ME.

 

CELEBRATED ON THE NINTH MONTH OF THE ISLAMIC LUNAR CALENDAR, RAMADAN IS COMMEMORATED BY MUSLIMS ALL OVER THE WORLD IN HONOUR OF THE REVELATION OF THE QURAN BY ALLAH TO THE PROPHET MOHAMMED ACCORDING TO ISLAMIC BELIEF. DURING THIS 30 DAY PERIOD, FROM SUNRISE TO SUNSET, OBSERVERS REFRAIN FROM EATING, DRINKING AND HAVING SEX IN ADDITION TO ANY ‘SINFUL’ OR NEGATIVE BEHAVIOUR, SUCH AS LYING, CURSING OR INSULTING ANYONE OR ANYTHING. THIS YEAR RAMADAN FALLS ON THE 26TH OF MAY TO THE 25TH OF JUNE, WITH AT LEAST 2 WEEKS CROSSING INTO WHAT IS CONSIDERED TO BE HIGH SEASON IN ZANZIBAR.

 

SO, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE 2% OF THE POPULATION AND THE PEOPLE WANTING TO COME VISIT THE ISLANDS?

 

WELL, THERE ARE A FEW THINGS.

 

FIRST, THIS IS NO REASON TO AVOID TRAVELING TO ZANZIBAR. IF ANYTHING, IT’D BE MORE OF A REASON TO TRY TO GET YOURSELF DOWN TO THE TANZANIAN ARCHIPELAGO. RAMADAN IS A MAGICAL TIME OF YEAR, WHERE YOU’LL FIND PEOPLE IN INCREDIBLY GIVING AND SPIRITUAL STATES. YOU’LL BE ABLE TO BEAR WITNESS TO A DIFFERENT SIDE OF ZANZIBAR THAT OFTEN GOES UNSEEN.

 

YOU SHOULD, HOWEVER, BE MINDFUL OF THE CULTURE AND THE PEOPLE CELEBRATING RAMADAN, WHETHER OR NOT YOU’RE MUSLIM. ALTHOUGH TANZANIA IS A SECULAR STATE AND THEREFORE WHAT’S DISCUSSED BELOW IS NOT ENFORCED BY LAW, IT IS GREATLY APPRECIATED BY THOSE AROUND YOU TO KNOW WHAT’S EXPECTED DURING THE MONTH-LONG CELEBRATION.

 

THE FIRST THING THAT YOU’LL NOTICE IS THAT YOU WON’T BE FINDING PEOPLE EATING, DRINKING OR SMOKING IN PUBLIC DURING THE DAY. THIS WOULD BE ESPECIALLY DIFFICULT TO FOLLOW FOR PEOPLE LIKE ME. SOME WOULD SAY I HAVE A HEALTHY APPETITE AND THAT I DRINK WATER LIKE THERE’S AN IMPENDING DROUGHT. THIS IS WHEN THE SAYING, ‘IF I EAT AND DRINK AT HOME AND NOBODY SEES, HAVE I REALLY EATEN?’ COMES INTO PLAY. YOU CAN DO WHAT YOU WANT, BUT BETTER KEEP IT BEHIND CLOSED DOORS.

 

LUCKILY FOR HARI, HE DOESN’T HAVE TO GIVE UP HIS UGALI AND SAMAKI. CHILDREN, ELDERS, THOSE WHO ARE SICK, PREGNANT WOMEN AND BREASTFEEDING MOTHERS ARE EXEMPT FROM FASTING

 

IT IS A ZANZIBARI CUSTOM TO BE DRESSED MODESTLY – MEANING KNEE-LONG AND SHOULDER-COVERED ATTIRE – ALL YEAR LONG, BUT IT IS REALLY EMPHASIZED DURING THESE 30 DAYS. THE PEOPLE IN ZANZIBAR ARE USED TO TOURISTS, ESPECIALLY THOSE THAT LIVE BY THE BEACH, THEREFORE THEY ARE WELL ACQUAINTED WITH WHAT WE CALL ‘BOOTY SHORTS’ AND TANK TOPS (GUILTY AS CHARGED). BUT DURING RAMADAN, ONCE YOU HEAD OFF THE BEACH, IT IS BEST TO COVER UP OUT OF RESPECT – BOTH MEN AND WOMEN.

I APPARENTLY HAVE TO DO SOME SHOPPING.

 

MY NEW PERSONAL STYLIST

 

PDA (PUBLIC DISPLAY OF AFFECTION) IS ALSO A NO-GO. THIS, AT LEAST, I CAN GET BEHIND. JOKES ASIDE, THIS ALSO INCLUDES HOLDING HANDS. MAYBE IT’S A GOOD TIME FOR YOU TWO TO WORK ON YOUR SEPARATION ANXIETY.

 

ALL OF THIS, NORMALLY, DOES NOT APPLY FOR HOTELS AND RESORTS. THESE ARE KINDA LIKE RAMADAN SAFE HAVENS, NO RULES APPLY HERE (USUALLY). GO ON WIT YO BAD SELF.

 

DON’T WORRY BUDDY, THE BEACH IS YOURS! SHOT BY ANGELO PIRES

 

NOW, ONTO THE FUN STUFF. THESE ARE THE THINGS THAT YOU CAN AND SHOULD DO.

 

GREET PEOPLE. DURING RAMADAN, MOST PEOPLE USE ‘RAMADAN KAREEM’ OR ‘RAMADAN MUBARAK’ TO GREET OTHER MUSLIMS. IN THE LAST THREE DAYS OF THE EID CELEBRATIONS OR END OF RAMADAN, THEY USE EID MUBARAK. PEOPLE WILL BE IMPRESSED AND HIGHLY APPRECIATIVE IF YOU BUST ONE OF THESE OUT. REMEMBER, MUSLIMS AREN’T EATING OR DRINKING FOR 12 HOURS A DAY. THEY MIGHT BE IRRITABLE OR TIRED. A SMILE AND AN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT CAN GO A LONG WAY.

 

RAMADAN MUBARAK!

 

EAT LIKE A LOCAL. MANY LOCAL RESTAURANTS ARE CLOSED FOR THE MONTH, WHILE OTHERS ARE CLOSED FOR THE DAY IN RESPECT OF THOSE FASTING OR EVEN FASTING THEMSELVES. INSTEAD, OBSERVERS USUALLY START THEIR DAY WITH A MEAL BEFORE SUNRISE, CALLED SUHOOR, THEN MEET WITH THEIR FAMILIES OR THE LOCAL COMMUNITY TO BREAK THE FAST AT SUNSET WITH SPECIAL FEASTS, CALLED THE IFTARI – WITH EMPHASIS ON THE ‘EE’ SOUND AT THE END (PANDU SEIZED THE MOMENT TO CORRECT MY PRONUNCIATION.) IF YOU WANT TO SEE WHAT IT’S LIKE LIVING LIKE A REAL ZANZIBARI DURING RAMADAN, ATTEND ONE OF THESE. IN PANDU’S COMMUNITY, YOU’LL FIND MEALS BURSTING WITH SWAHILI FLAVOURS AND CALORIE-DENSE FOODS, SUCH AS ‘TAMBI’ NOODLES – CHINESE NOODLES COOKED WITH HOMEMADE SAUCES WITH A COCONUT MILK BASE, SUGAR AND CARDAMOM – IN ADDITION TO CASAVA, BEANS, PORRIDGE, AND BREAD, JUST TO NAME A FEW. BUT AS HE STRESSED, HE ALWAYS STARTS WITH DATES.

 

PANDU, ALWAYS SMILING!

 

AND OF COURSE, PARTY. AT THE END OF RAMADAN, THEY CELEBRATE THE END OF FAST WITH THREE DAYS OF WONDERFUL FESTIVITIES CALLED THE SIKU KUU, THE EID AL-FITR (BREAKING OF THE FAST) DINNER. THIS IS WHEN THE STREETS COME ALIVE IN ZANZIBAR. FEASTS AND GIFTS WILL BE EXCHANGED BETWEEN FRIENDS AND FAMILY, PARTIES IGNITE AND ONLY BURN OUT AFTER 72 HOURS. A MONTH OF ABSTAINING FROM FOOD, DRINKING, SEX AND NEGATIVE THOUGHTS COME TO LIFE! THE THOUGHT OF IT KINDA SCARES ME, BUT MAKES ME TINGLE AT THE SAME TIME. IF YOU’RE INVITED TO A SIKU KUU DINNER, PLEASE GO, AND BRING A SMALL TOKEN OF APPRECIATION SUCH AS FRUITS, SWEETS OR MONEY. IF IT HAPPENS TO BE YOUR FIRST TIME IN ZANZIBAR, YOU CAN GO TO HOTELS, WHICH ARE USUALLY CELEBRATING SIKU KUU AND OFFER FESTIVE DINNERS. THIS IS A PARTY AND CULINARY EXPERIENCE NOT TO BE MISSED.

 

IN THE END, AFTER ALL THE DOS AND DON’TS, RAMADAN IS A TIME FOR REFLECTION, GENEROSITY, COMMUNITY BUILDING. AND ABOVE ALL, IT IS A CELEBRATION – ONE OF LIFE, HEALTH AND FAITH. IT’S A TIME TO APPRECIATE WHAT WE HAVE AND THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU, TO SPREAD GOOD THOUGHTS AND HAPPINESS. IN THE WORDS OF PANDU, “EVERYBODY IS HAPPY.”

 

HAKUNA MATATA. EVERYBODY IS HAPPY

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8 Comments on "RAMADAN KAREEM – EXPERIENCE RAMADAN IN ZANZIBAR"

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penelopi
Guest

Amazing photos!!!!!!! The island looks picturesque indeed. I have lived in Qatar for 9 years and I am aware of Ramadan month… One positive thing about expats was the reduced working hours for the whole month! :)

Angela Carson
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What beautiful pics, it shows Zanzibar to be such a warm and welcoming country … kind of want to go now :-)

Marine
Guest

Thanks a lot for this interesting article! And your pics are absolutely stunning! We were in Iran when the Ramadan started and we were quite afraid not to find anything to eat during the day. Hopefully even if all the restaurants were closed, we managed to buy biscuits and eat in our hotel room!

Emilia
Guest

What an amazing update! So interesting, and incredibly vibrant pictures!

Rayx
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Love the images and the passion gone into writing this article.

nikhil n a
Guest

Interesting Article and the Pics are Amazing…

Sarah
Guest

Love this article, super well written and really informative! Not knowing much about Ramadan at all, I feel like I have a better understanding and a piqued interest in aligning future travels with the holiday. Thanks for sharing this!

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