Inside a small Nablus grocery store, hours after Iftar, the store-owner stands smiling and chatting with neighbours.

Extraordinary chirps spring from various birdcages around the store’s top shelves. “In Arabic we call them ‘canar’,” Zafer explains. “Always, the male, he sings, so beautiful. The woman, she never sings.

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He proceeds to describe the different birds he has kept over the years. “I’ve had birds for twenty years. One time every year, for one month, these birds change their feathers. They don’t sing during that time. Otherwise, they always sing. The nest, the woman bird makes it in two days. I could look at it for 100 years—it is amazing.

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The store owner is maybe in his fifties, and is wearing the more traditional robes that many don during Ramadan. Another older man smiles in the background and seizes the chance to speak when the first man pauses. “Sport?” he asks, pointing at my track pants. I explain they are comfortable and were given to me. He asks my pants’ size and beckons me to the back of the store where he has a pile of jeans, new. He wants me to take one, two pairs.

Zafer joins us at the back and begins pointing at, then opening, the freezers and boxes at the back. “This one is fish, this is chicken.” He takes me into a store room a bit further back and beings opening more boxes, from the rows filling the room: “This is sugar, olive oil, tea, coffee, rice, salt…

As he lists off the essential food ingredients, he pulls out a piece of paper, in Arabic, and explains: “every year, one rich man gives all this to the poor people of the area. Each box is worth about 180 shekels. Every year he asks me, ‘How many poor families are there this year?’ and writes me a check for the families. This year there are 30 in our neighbourhood, and 200 overall in areas around Nablus.  We have food for 200 families.

Each family receives 5 kilos of sugar, 5 kilos of rice, 1 kilo of tea, 2 cans of tomato paste (from Italy!), 1 450g container of tahini, 2 large packages of dates…The list goes on: halwa, chickpeas, corn oil,1 kilo of meats, 2 kilos of fish…

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My host explains that at Ramadan, every person becomes equal.  Looking at a Ramadan for Dummies sort of website later, I read that the month of Ramadan is a time of self-reflection, among other things, to focus on one’s spirituality but also on one’s relation to others:

Allah will say, ‘Back in the world, your neighbor at one time was hungry and sick but you failed to tend for him. If you had fed him and looked after him in his time of need, it would have been as if you were feeding Me.’ It will only be then that this man will realize the tremendous reward of empathy towards his fellow human beings. Today the worst feuds occur between neighbors because people remain ignorant of the rights of neighbors.Among the lessons of good character that the Messenger of Allah brought is good will and etiquette towards one’s neighbor. This is something that has been relatively forgotten nowadays.Living as brothers and sisters and as neighbors has become virtually alien to us, but we need to remember that neighbors are merely a mirror image of ourselves.”

The true purpose of fasting is to value the tremendous blessings of Allah and realize that a large percentage of people in the world do not have what we take for granted every day.Time and again I have seen these values put into practice during my time here in Palestine.

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2 Responses to “birdsongs”

  1. Ramadan Diaries: The Occupied « oPt Says:

    […] Giving: […]

  2. ‘Eid in Gaza, in Canada | In Gaza Says:

    […] Ramadan elements in Nablus, 2007 […]

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