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DUSHANBE, Takijistan—It’s 3:10 in the morning, and in the starlight, I can make out the outline on the tablecloth of bread, teacups, a tub of Turkish Nutella, and two bowls of “shirchai,” a warm soup made from whole milk, butter, and tea leaves. I sit in the darkness with my host grandmother, and as I eat my fill of the smorgasbord, I can hear the soft clinking of forks, knives, and spoons against bowls and plates across our neighborhood and across Dushanbe, the capital of the small mountainous republic of Tajikistan.
This morning meal, known in Persian as “sahari,” marks the first meal of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month, where most able-bodied Muslims strive to fast from the first light of dawn until sunset. This year, Ramadan falls in the heart of the summer, and for most here, the combination of 17 hours without food or drink and heat that exceeds 100 degrees every day is extremely challenging. For those who can fast, though, this shared meal in the darkness of the morning represents the beginning of a long month of discipline, charity, and kindness.
As it has for most of this summer, Tajikistan continues to challenge my preconceptions of it as the day passes. My stomach growls and my mouth grows dry, but most restaurants remain open, and Rudaki avenue remains a vibrant cross-section of Tajik society. On my walk (linked), I even pass several young people eating ice cream on the street, an action that could get one a strong legal rebuke in many other countries.
The day grows long, and on the trolleybus towards home, men in traditional caps wearily nod in and out of sleep and women in their vibrant “kurtas” lean back in their seats, the hot afternoon breeze sapping their energy 14 hours into the fast.
And finally it is eight in the evening, the moment of sunset. With my host grandmother, we sit in the courtyard, giving thanks for the food, things, and people in our lives. And as the darkness falls once again over Dushanbe, we eat quietly, the sounds of cutlery on porcelain again clinking skywards as the rest of Tajikistan breaks their fast.
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