It is Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast and when souqs and supermarkets teem with every kind of foodstuff one might dream of, but Amman vendors say citizens simply do not have money to spend on food and gifts they normally do for the Holy Month.
“I come to work because I just do not want to stay at home,” said one man peddling apples from a cart in Al-Wihdat refugee camp. “We have never witnessed such a Ramadan... People used to buy [stuff] in big quantities. Now they either buy a kilogram or nothing at all... Even apples have become a luxury,” the vendor said, refusing to be named.
Observant Muslims tend to spend lavishly on food in Ramadan. Having fasted all day long, a rich meal is all that a fasting Muslim might want at the end of the day. Though people say prices remained as they were before Ramadan, belts have to become tighter to allow for invitations and more family responsibilities.
Um Fahed, 45, and a mother of four, says economic stresses sprout in Ramadan when the demand for nutritious and delicious dishes grows. “This Ramadan is different, very much different, from previous Ramadans,” Um Fahed, a housewife said. “I spend sometimes more than 50 dinars a day on basic commodities [for inviting relatives for Iftar], but still, I need more items and my husband is not able to meet all our basic demands,” she said.
She added that the family's demands grow every year while their income remains the same. “We also have to host our relatives on several occasions. For each one, we have to spend lots of money to cook plenty of good food knowing that it will not all be eaten up... But if we do not cook lots of food, people would start talking about us,” she said.
All kinds of delights known in Ramadan such as almonds, dry figs, dates, different kinds of meat, atayef (special kind of sweets only available in Ramadan) flood the market.
Waleed, who sells meat at his father's butchery inside the camp, said lots of people have to scrimp this year. “We do not feel Ramadan is as it used to be. People used to prepare sweets... now it is like everyday life here... nothing is like the past,” he said. Um Fahed agrees: “I have never bought a kilogram or half a kilogram of meat, but we have to buy exactly what we need or else we would not be able to make ends meet.”
For Um Malek, a schoolteacher and mother of eight, Ramadan is not “the eating month.” “The meaning of Ramadan goes beyond eating and drinking. It is not only the month of filling up stomachs, it is a month of worshipping and getting closer to God,” she said.
Islamic teachings advise that people should concentrate more on prayers and reading Koran than occupying themselves with eating. The basic meaning of fasting in Ramadan is sharing the feelings of the poor and taking this month as an opportunity to come closer to God.
Ramadan, Islam's holiest month, falls in winter this year when daytime is short and gentle temperatures make it easier than fasting in the oppressive heat of long summer days. But economic pressures in the country, compounded by the effects of the embargo on Iraq, have led to a continual decline in per capita income.
The country's population growth of three per cent exceeds the real economic growth rate of 1.6 per cent. Together, these facts translate into hard times for the average citizen. Today, an estimated one-third of the Jordanian population lives in poverty. Economic concerns are magnified during holidays like Ramadan.
Um Malek said that although everything she needs is available in abundant quantity, buying everything requires “lots of money.” — ( Jordan Times )
By Oula Al Farawati
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)