An hypnotic aura permeates Istanbul, inexplicably seducing me, its melancholy…
Lying in bed, in the middle of the night, I am brutally parted from sleep by the sound of what seems to be gunfire, or is it an explosion? My brain, sodden with sleep cannot for a minute figure out what the sound could be at two in the morning. My memory soon rights itself, flashing back to the early days of my life in Istanbul. We were staying at my mother-in-law’s house during Ramadan that year, and a drummer passed by every single night for the entire month. I was so angry about having to adjust to this cultural norm, and certainly wasn’t able to see beyond the hellish drumming’s sleep disrupting effect.
It’s been years since I’ve heard that unique sound as I lived off Bagdat Caddesi, in the suburban neighborhood of Suadiye, and for some reason, perhaps due to most of the homes being empty, the drummers didn’t frequent my neighborhood. Now that I live in Kadikoy, I get to hear the drummers again, though the experience feels softened somewhat with many years in Turkey now under my belt. It doesn’t infuriate me anymore…I get it, and even embrace it. This multifaceted culture is attempting to keep an ancient Ottoman era tradition alive, hailing back to a time before people had gadgets like alarm clocks and cell phones to rouse them. They relied solely on the drummers to get them out of bed so they could prepare a small breakfast for their families, called sahour, meaning meal before dawn, ensuring they lasted from sunrise to sundown, completing an arduous day of fasting.
Now I compare it to the predawn Christmas morning routine of my childhood, awakening my parents to the sound of holiday songs sung grossly out of tune, at the highest volume possible, and always at the top of the stairs. Did we need to get up so early to perform this ritual? No, but we did it every year, with the subconscious knowledge that we were bonding over the hardship of getting up so early, and singing until our parents acknowledged us. It was our unique tradition, and made the holiday feel that much more special.
We live in a time of rapid global growth leading to new cultural changes. In large cities like Istanbul, time is typically spent away from our families. We sit in traffic, pursue a wide variety of hobbies and sports; we go out with friends, stay later at work, and take on extra classes. Ramadan is a special time of family bonding. Even if you don’t fast for the full month, or at all, you still get up to sit and eat in solidarity with the one who is, and you come home to the celebratory Iftar feasts with those who love you, every night. There is particular pleasure and joy that comes with that first meal, and a connection felt with everyone around you who have also endured the day. The positive energy that arises from triumphantly overcoming the self during Ramadan is palpable, and something that people of all cultures and faiths can appreciate.