Thursday, September 4, 2008


In Turkey, the fasting period is called Ramazan, rather than Ramadan. During the 18 months we lived in Istanbul - actually in the picture above if you pinpoint the floor with the open front window on the left hand apartment building you'll see exactly where we lived - we experienced this most interesting time. The reading we had done prior to our arrival there had told us what Ramazan was all about and what we could expect during that time as far as what kind of an impact it might have on our daily living.

Because we were living in such a big city, and on the more modern side of Istanbul (on the Asian Continent instead of the European continent) we were not so aware of how it affected people, because many people really didn't observe it. I'm sure we would have experienced it very differently if we had lived in a more rural area. Our young driver, Ahmet, advised us he was going to try to fast but admitted he was not ever very successful. (After about three grumpy days, he quit early again).

But all the reading we did really didn't prepare us for "the drummer." On the first morning after Ramazan started, I woke up hearing lots of drumming noise in what felt like the middle of the night. Ramazan that year was in the early spring and it was so cold out that I didn't think I needed to go out on the balcony to find out what was going on. I decided I'd just call friends the next morning and inquire of them. When Ahmet picked Jerry up for work that morning, he asked us if we had heard the drummers. And it was he that suggested that the next morning I hang my head out of one of the windows and watch as the drummer came by, that people hired drummers to walk up and down the streets beating on drums as loudly as they could to wake them up so they would have time to prepare and eat breakfast before dawn came and the mandatory fasting began.

That night I set my alarm clock for 2 a.m. and when it went off I bundled myself up in many layers of clothing, determined to watch from the balcony. But those layers weren't enough; it was still bitterly cold, so I did as Ahmet suggested, stuck my head out a window and kept my body in the slightly warmer living room. In the stillness of the morning, I began hearing drum beats -- and before long a drummer came around the corner and onto our street - Tutuncu Mehmet Effendi Sokak - and whoever was to be awoken certainly must have been, because he truly BEAT that drum! Ahmet had said that Gypsies were the ones who did the drum beating, but that is not necessarily so. Sometimes it is a highly coveted job.

I loved every minute of that experience. Yes, I was cold, but when we went to Turkey I said I wanted to experience as much of Turkish life as I could, and I certainly relished what I saw that night. Every year when our U.S. newspapers make mention of Ramadan coming, I always think back to that wonderful time when I saw something I knew I would never in the world get to see again. I am only sorry I didn't hang out the window with my camera hanging from my neck.

The following link will take you to an article in the Turkish Daily News (the only English-language newspaper available when we lived there) that will give you an interesting and educational peek at Ramazan in Turkey.

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