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  • My first time visiting a culturally Muslim country was when we visited Istanbul during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (or Ramazan in Turkish). During this time of the year, a good Muslim will not eat anything from sun-up to sundown. Now, of course, Istanbul is a tourist city, and Turkey is a secular country, so there were plenty of places to eat, but once you left the tourist center and you went into a restaurant or café we would quickly realize that we were the only ones in there. And the help would stare at us longingly as we ate our food. However we quickly realized the first day that it would be best for us to eat before sundown, because once that call to prayer rang out, every restaurant would be packed with a line going out the door. A few times we ate about half hour before sundown, and the restaurant would be making preparations for the breaking of the fast, baking enormous amounts of bread, setting all the tables. Then, about 10 minutes before chow time, people would start filing in. They would order their food, and it would be delivered, but they would not touch it. They would just sit and stare, holding some bread in their hands. Then, the second the call went out, they would start gorging themselves.

    Walking through the Grand Bazaar or other shopping districts, you could see everybody in their shops eating. It was the one time of day where the hassles on the street from carpet or leather salesmen, shoe-shiners, or postcard peddlers were minimal. Throughout the city there were huge tents set up, and once night fell there would be lines a couple hundred yards long of people waiting to get free food, provided for by both mosque and state.

    On the side of the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet along the Hippodrome there were cafés lined up against the wall. During the day they were closed, but once night hit, they all opened. The trees were all lit up with lights, and families would be walking along, meeting friends, sitting down and drinking tea, and eating some of the most delicious sweets I have ever had. Even though Muslims fast themselves sick during Ramadan, it is still their favorite time of the year, because once night hits, everyone is together and it is Iike a month long holiday. This could be seen clearly along the Blue Mosque. Everybody was smiling and with their friends and family, talking, eating, and letting their children run around playfully.
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