Last night I wanted to celebrate Iftar. It was the first night of Ramadan in Washington, D.C. (though the second in Virginia, where I sleep), and I’d never had the privilege of being in a Muslim-majority nation during that holy month of food and family, daytime fasting and nighttime feasting.
With a number of Muslim coworkers and friends, I put the word out: رمضان كريم Any suggestions for where to go to Iftar? My Google Chat status read. I garnered a few smilies, discovered and then became obsessed with the Google livestream of the Ka’bah, but no leads. The livestream is wonderful–the crowd sounds are soothing at-work background noise, the Arabic keeps my hindbrain active while I’m hand-editing HTML or correcting negative-space in a graphic, and watch out of the Imam with the voice like Barry White:
I Googled around, narrowing my choices: I didn’t want to crash a mosque’s Iftar, since I hadn’t fasted, so restaurants were my best option. I had seen Kebabji in Lebanon and so the franchise in DuPont Circle (the only one outside the Middle East) seemed like an authentic option.
All the while I’d been obsessing over the food part, I’d been sort of half-handedly collecting friends to come. First was a geeky friends I met at a convention (we were both dressed elaborately as fictional characters, and so bonded quickly) who had never heard of an Iftar and was curious. A few hours later, a social worker friend at work who speaks passable Arabic and had lived in Cairo. Then, a member of our policy team and our technologist, both of whom had been working late (sunset was at 8:36) and wanted dinner.
It was monsooning (not a problem I had anticipated in my Cairo-fantasy Iftar) and so we compromised and went to Roti, a Mediterranean place who’s serving-line structure is a bit like Chipotle’s. It was all Turkish food, but Turkey is a Muslim-majority country too, so I decided I could count it.
After paying for my dinner and burning my hand on the freshly-fluffed pita bread, I went to sit down and the part of Ramadan I’d been forgetting surrounded me: family. We all took turns introducing each other to my fandom friend (I said: “Hi, my name is James. I’m from Las Vegas and help pass anti-trafficking policies in state capitols around the U.S.” James says: “Hi, I’m Lionel, I’m from Portugal and I love to skateboard.” and so on). We told jokes. We broke off into side conversations and easily flowed back together as a cohesive whole.
I didn’t get to eat the Saudi dates I wanted (though today I bought 2 bags of dates to make up for it). I didn’t get to practice my Arabic beyond Ramadan Kareem wa Ramadan Mubarak. I didn’t fast and I’m not Muslim. I did get to feel some of the heart of the holy month as I understand it, with my day filled with readings from the Ka’bah and my evening with laughter and family.
Post script: one of my Muslim co-workers has an on-going challenge that any non-Muslim in the office who can fast a whole day with her, she will buy him or her dinner. I plan to try this next week and will report back on the experience.
“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”–Jane Howard