It is currently the season of Ramadan, which is a special time in Egypt. It is a month of fasting and prayer, and of helping our fellow man. My days during Ramadan are different from those of anyone else.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast, refraining from eating or drinking from dawn until dusk. We fast in order to grow spiritually and to understand the difficulties of those less fortunate, and be grateful for the blessings of our lives.
Many people in Egypt change their work hours during Ramadan, since fasting takes a toll on the body. I feel that my fasting should not interfere with my work, so I still work 7 days a week. I wake up at 8 am every day, and arrive in my office by 9 am. Until 4 in the afternoon, I carry on my usual work: I attend meetings, write articles and book chapters, and take care of any matters requiring my attention. After a busy day at the office, I go to the gym to work out, as it is important to me to keep in shape for my archaeological adventures.
Ramadan is also a time to appreciate family and friends by spending more time with them and having parties and events. Many people like to attend big parties for iftar, the meal for breaking the fast at dusk. Usually I do not attend large parties, as I prefer to spend the mealtime with my close friends. Almost every day during Ramadan I have dinner with friends, it is particularly wonderful when I get to meet with friends whom I haven’t seen in a long time. At these dinners we enjoy intellectual discussion on many topics, including politics, archaeology, and current events and issues affecting Egypt. I especially like to visit with my friends from Universities, other Egyptologists, because we can discuss our passion for ancient Egypt as well as our current work.
This year I also visited my friend, Mr. Monir Ghabour, who is a Copt, an Egyptian Christian. Every year he makes a special Ramadan meal for his Muslim friends, which is a great way for our religions to come together and celebrate each other’s traditions.
Every Ramadan, though, I always have a few large dinner parties to attend. These include different dinners with various people who are associated with the Supreme Council of Antiquities, including officials, inspectors, directors, and the press. The most interesting dinner I have had this Ramadan was the night I held a very nice iftar at the Cairo Tower, to which I invited 150 guards and workmen from the Supreme Council of Antiquities. I sat with these men and we broke our fast together; afterwards, I shook each of their hands and listened to their concerns and took note of anything they needed. Later, in a radio interview, I expressed the wish that every high official in Cairo would do this.
After iftar, I enjoy attending different Ramadan events at famous places in Cairo. For example, this year I went to Wakalat Al- Ghouri, a beautiful house in Old Cairo where you can watch a traditional dance performed by whirling dervishes. Al-Muizz Street in Cairo is another well-known district; it was a main thoroughfare of Fatimid Cairo and is home to dozens of historical monuments and Islamic buildings. This area is a wonderful place to observe traditional Ramadan festivities, so I make sure to go there with my friends. I also visit the popular market, Khan al-Khalili, to chat and smoke sheesha with friends. At the end of the night is sohoor, the last meal before the sun rises and the fast begins again. I rarely go out for this meal; I like to go to bed early, because I get up early to work in the morning.
The holy month of Ramadan always causes me to miss the home of my youth, and recall our Ramadan traditions. I often think about the village where I grew up, and how my family would recite the Koran together before breakfast. My father used to engage a man from the village to come to our house after breakfast and recite stories from “Arabian Nights.” He spoke beautifully and then would explain the famous stories to us. I like to remember my family and the wonderful times we had together during Ramadan.
Ramadan is also a month when we think about other people, especially those less fortunate than ourselves. We see who is being neglected and make an extra effort to help them, through charitable works and donations. Even though I am as busy as usual during the season of Ramadan, I always take time to remember this.