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Life in Turkey: Seker Bayram and Ramazan

Today was a bit of coincidence as there are major holidays happening in both my homeland and adopted home. So while I’m watching 4th of July beach parties, BBQs and red, white, and blue fireworks displays back in the states, here in Turkey they’re getting ready to celebrate three days of Seker Bayram, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramazan.

Ramazan (known as Ramadan outside of Turkey) is the holiest month in the Muslim calendar. During this time, those observing Ramazan will abstain from vices like swearing, alcohol, sex, and arguing and focus on being kind to others, improving the community and performing acts of charity. Families and friends are united and quarrels are resolved. During the 30 days of Ramazan, Muslims traditionally fast from sunrise to sunset. This includes not just food but anything passing your lips. No smoking, no chewing gum, no brushing your teeth, not even a sip of water!

The dates change each year based on the lunar Islamic calendar, moving approximately 11 days earlier each year, and this year Ramazan began June 5 and lasts until July 4. So most of the people living here in Goreme (including my boyfriend and his family) are fasting for nearly 14 daylight hours each day, and this during the heat of the summer!

As you can imagine, it’s quite difficult. There are exceptions of course, for the elderly, children and those who are sick or traveling. But a majority of people keep the fast as a matter of affirming their faith, at least this one month of the year. Here in Cappadocia, this includes staff at hotels and shops dealing with tourists and servers and chefs in restaurants who are handling food all day but not eating themselves. So if you’re visiting Turkey during Ramazan, it’s a good idea to keep this in mind and be extra kind to those who are waiting on you!

Last year I chose to fast for two days to support my friends here and to understand a bit more how challenging it was. Let me say that not eating is definitely not the hardest part – it’s not being able to drink anything! No morning cup of coffee, no water to cool you off during the day. It was really tough even for two days. At that time I didn’t even realize I was “breaking the rules” by chewing gum and brushing my teeth… Turks also are notorious cigarette smokers, so you can imagine that going cold turkey for a month makes people quite grumpy.

It’s also best to avoid the roads in the half an hour or so before iftar, the evening meal to break the fast, as people rush home to take their place at the table with family and friends. As soon as the azan sounds from the mosque, everyone has their hands on their glass of water and its traditional to have a date or olive as the first bite of food to break your fast. Special round bread called ramazan pide is eaten, dipped in tahini mixed with pekmez (grape molasses). Corba (soup) is the first in many courses of the feast enjoyed together after the sun sets.

Many people will either stay up all night (if they’re lucky enough to have a job that allows them some sleep during the day) visiting with friends over tea or Turkish coffee and desserts, or they will wake up very early in the morning for a big breakfast called sahur, to sustain them until the next night’s iftar. Each neighborhood has Ramazan drummers who come through in the wee hours of the morning to wake you up for sahur. And yes, it wakes me up too! That’s one part of the end of Ramazan that I definitely look forward to – the return of uninterrupted nights of sleep!!

Today is the last day of fasting for Muslims in Turkey and in the afternoon everyone will begin arife preparations for Seker Bayram (Sugar Feast), which officially begins tomorrow and lasts for three days of religious and government holiday. Women will be cleaning their homes and getting them ready for visits from friends, neighbors and family and it’s customary to have sweets like baklava or chocolate to offer guests. Children come through the neighborhood to kiss the hands of their elders as a show of respect and in exchange receive sweets and sometimes small amounts of money – it’s sort of like Halloween without the costumes. And on the topic of costume, nearly everyone purchases new shoes or a new outfit to wear during Seker Bayram as well. It’s lovely to see everyone walking around dressed up for the occasion!

Wishing everyone a Happy 4th of July and/or Iyi Bayramlar, no matter where you are in this world… I hope your holidays are filled with love, laughter and lots of good food. The world needs more love, and less hate, now more than ever.

On a more serious note, I was reading this post today about Seker Bayram and was saddened by the description of how the author and kids went to the mall to purchase their outfits for Bayram… Sad because yesterday in Bagdad there was an attack carried out by the Islamic State against shoppers getting ready for the end of Ramadan just as the article describes, the death toll in the attack has risen to more than 200 and includes many children. There were also attacks this week in Bangladesh, Iraq and here in Turkey, and ISIS is blamed or suspected in all of them. It just goes to show that you can’t blame all Muslims for the acts of extremists – those women and children shopping for their Bayram outfits were Muslim too. =(

I wrote a Facebook post about it the day after the bombing at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport to let everyone know I was ok and to share my thoughts regarding terrorism and fear. You can read it here if you are interested:

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