As many of you probably know, we're in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan. This is a month of religious celebration and self-sacrifice. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. This means that they don't consume anything- no food, no water, no cigarettes, no gum. Many don't brush their teeth during daylight hours. In order not to tempt those fasting, most food stalls (like the one pictured above) will hide behind sheets during the day. I can only imagine that this kind of fasting requires a great deal of religious commitment. The idea of fasting during Ramadan is to experience first-hand what it is to be thirsty and hungry so that you can sympathize with those less fortunate and appreciate what you have. It's an admirable goal. The sick, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and children are exempt from fasting. The prevalence of undernutrition in Bangladesh is high, and although the malnourished would be considered sick in most places in the world, here it's the norm so these people also fast.
Ramadan is a month full of religious contemplation. It is not, however, a particularly productive month. There are two reasons for this. The first reason is the sheer lack of food and water all day. Most businesses and government offices close by 3 pm. I have found that by noon, most people who fast have very little brain power left. The second reason is because sleep schedules are also interrupted- those who fast during the day eat at night.
The closer it gets to sunset, people become increasingly more desperate to get home and break their fast. The fast is broken with a special meal called Iftar, consumed at sunset. It's a festive occasion where family and friends gather together. This meal typically consists of sweets and puffed rice. Shortly thereafter, comes a large evening meal. Then, most families will awaken at about 3 or 4 am to eat another large meal before sunrise. Certainly a challenging schedule for the family cooks.
The month of Ramadan culminates in the holiday called Eid-el-Fitr, a 2-3 day long celebration with a focus on family and gift giving, especially to family members who are less fortunate. Therefore, Ramadan is also the busiest shopping month of the year here, similar to the Christmas shopping season in the US.