Pin It
Thursday, July 25th, 2013

My First Ramadan in the Sudan

My First Ramadan in the Sudan —InCultureParent © flickr

My introduction to Ramadan started early. I was 12 and my mother and Sudanese stepfather had moved us to Khartoum, Sudan. Apart from feeling a sense of displacement and missing the relatives I had left behind in ex-Yugoslavia, I also had to adjust and familiarize myself with my stepfather’s Muslim family and the country’s prevalent Muslim populace.


At first, we lived with my stepfather’s family in an impoverished part of the city. Within its dusty streets lined with shabby, mud-brick houses, I learned about Ramadan. This new bewildering yet captivating existence opened up like the petals of a jasmine flower. I was young and easily impressionable. I quickly adapted to the events marking the life of my new Muslim relatives. I grew to look forward to the ritual of Iftar, the breaking of fast at sunset.


During the day, a lazy stillness prevailed in the neighborhood. People hid inside their humble homes, sprinkling water on the earthen floors to cool the air, sometimes covering with wet bed sheets for the same reason.


About an hour or so before the breaking of fast, a cacophony of sounds would arise from the previously inactive kitchens. Grandmothers would begin frying flat bread over the coal stove, importantly swatting flies and issuing orders to the younger members. Some were sent off on errands to the corner shop, for a square of white cheese or a bowl of foul. This bean dish was a staple requirement of any Sudanese Iftar, liberally drenched with sesame oil and eaten with chunks of bread. Then, there was the array of juices to be prepared. Fresh lemonade, mango and guava juices lined up in a colorful display next and a uniquely Sudanese concoction called abre.


As the call of the Muezzin for the sunset prayer neared, frantic preparations reached a climax. Each household served their meal in a round steel tray around which they would all gather afterwards. Finally, the sky would burst into song as the words from the Quran rang through the city and filled those faithful fasting with relief and gratitude.


Dates were eaten first, sometimes with a few sips of water or juice. Then, prayers were performed in the dusty yard over which a straw mat was placed as the family gave thanks together. The head of the family (usually the grandfather or in his absence a father, uncle or oldest son) stood proudly in the front, a place of honor. The men and boys lined themselves behind, then the women and girls. Again, a silence settled on Khartoum’s streets, inside homes, even among rows of labakh trees lining the Nile. I remember how even the birds quieted and a strange sense of peace blanketed all. Muslims gave thanks in silence, bowing gracefully, tapping their fingers on their knees in unison at the end.


After this final restraint, they rose and were free to indulge in their meal. Even children fasted, showing off their new awareness of piety, rushing towards adulthood with glee. Eagerly, they converged around the delicacies offered, for during Ramadan every mother and grandmother made more of an effort and produced something special. Soft cheese or meat samosas jostled on the tray with tamiya (garbanzo bean patties fried in hot oil), dome-shaped maize pudding was served with a dried okra and ground meat moolah stew. For dessert, colorful bowls of jelly hid a biscuit or sliced bananas. Sometimes, there were sweetened noodles or rice pudding.


As I remember those Ramadans in Sudan, I see the humble unquestioning commitment to faith. I remember watching Arabic episodes portraying the voyage of Islam through history and the life of the Prophet Mohammad, Peace Be upon Him. The characters were valiant and faithful, their flowing robes and galloping horses magnificent against the backdrop of the desert sunset.


Even then they had stirred something inside me.

© 2013, Zvezdana Rashkovich. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

6 Favorite Children’s Books about Ramadan

Our top picks for Muslim and non-Muslim kids alike

Circumcision Wars

She fought her Turkish in-laws on it--did she succeed?

Why African Toddlers Don't Have Tantrums

The secret of why African babies don't meltdown like Western ones.

Ramadan Star and Moon Craft

A craft recycled from your kid's art work!


Zvezdana Rashkovich was born in ex-Yugoslavia to a Serbian father and Croatian mother. At the age of seven, she started her lifelong nomadic journey across Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Qatar, Dubai and the United States. A fluent Arabic and Serbo-Croatian speaker, she has worked as a medical and legal interpreter for refugees in the United States. Owing to her eclectic experiences, she has developed an intense zeal for multiculturalism. Zvezdana currently lives in Dubai with her Sudanese husband and four children. She is the author of Dubai Wives and is working on a memoir Africa in the Way I Dance.

Leave us a comment!

Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.
[…] the breastfeeding culture in Mongolia compared to America. Did you have any idea that something as simple as breastfeeding attitudes can […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
My mother born in the 1930's is originally from the northern part of Germany. I am in my mid fifties and have a terrible relationship with my mother. She is domineering and hurts those where it hurt...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
[…] JC Niala, InCultureParent […...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding Around the World
Although humanity is one Man (in a generic sense, including woman)has identified himself endless groups, religious, nationalistic, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, etc. Once you separate ME from YOU on...
From What’s an Asian? Race and Identity for a New Generation
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
Some great tips here but not many working mothers could feed baby every hour especially if you work in a major multi-nationa...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
So true!!! Thanks for being so honest and self reflective. It's a proof of true characte...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
As a first-time mom I've spent the last two months of my four-month-old's life stressed out about her sleep and I recognize how crazy this is. It's clearly not working for me! I'm wondering how non-...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep

More Tradition and Parenting