Friday, July 20, 2012

Ramadan Pete

(My Great Aunt Aghavny, Great Aunt Lucy, Grandfather Haroutoun, Grandmother Pailadzou, Great Aunt Araxie, Great Uncle Garabed, my mother's cousin Rose in the white dress, and my mother Araxie)
The month of Ramadan began a few hours ago, at sunrise, and already I'm famished. It's sympathetic hunger. I'm the only one who actually gains weight during Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The kids are staying with their dad today, but when they're home tomorrow I'll have to start sneaking food and water. I try to be supportive and not eat or drink in front of them, but I squirrel away as much as I can when their backs are turned. By the time they break their fast, I'm stuffed.

          Rambo (my ex) calls from an organic farm in Cranbury, New Jersey, sounding jubilant.

          "Ramadan Mubarak!" he says.  "I'm at the farm and they just killed my duck and my chicken. You should have seen it, you sissy."

          Rambo says he wanted to take our 15-year old son, who loves violent video games but completely breaks down over cruelty to animals. ("He's a sissy.") Rambo says he wanted to take his 3-year old son, but his wife Aisha talked him out of it.

          "Okay, gotta go. I'm on my way to Sharif's store to get a nice halal chicken and duck. Be here by 7."

           When I say he never told me Sharif opened a store, he tells me I have Old Timer's Disease. I ask him why he needs so much meat.

          "Are you kidding, Charlotte? I couldn't do it! I'm looking at this nice chicken right now. Oh, if my father finds out, he'll call me Sissy. I'm not even Egyptian anymore!"

           I tell him I'm proud of him and we laugh. After we hang up and I tell my mother the story, she says, "That reminds me of when I was a girl."

                                                            ~     ~     ~

My mother grew up in the '20s and '30s in a Jewish part of the Bronx. In the old country, before my mother was born, our people lived on a farm without electricity. In her Bronx tenement, my mother lived on the fifth floor with her parents, her sister, her aunt and her grandmother, and her cousin Rose lived across the hall with her parents and her aunt and uncle. Rose and my mom would light the stoves on the Sabbath for the Orthodox Jews. My grandmother always bought kosher chickens on Bathgate Avenue, pointing out the plumpest bird for the butcher to slaughter.

          One Easter, when my mother was about seven, the women came home from Bathgate Avenue with a brood of adorable, fuzzy-yellow baby chicks, all chirping sweetly in unison. In spite of the fact the the girls doted over them, only one survived. My grandmother named him Peeton, but the girls called him Pete.

          Soon the neighbors began to complain. The survivor was a rooster, and he crowed every morning at sunrise.

          I interrupt my mother's story, "You didn't eat him, did you?"

          She shakes her head and continues.

          "Rose and I wouldn't eat it--he was our pet. Our grandmother slit his throat and the grownups ate the chicken but I guess we must have eaten something else."

                                                              ~ ~ ~

Tonight at iftar, the breaking of the fast, we first eat dates, as did the Prophet Mohammed, Peace be Upon Him. The grownups will drink a thickened concoction of dried apricots, figs and dates that have been soaked overnight in water and the kids will drink fresh mango juice. The table will with be covered with dishes: three kinds of mahshi, stuffed zucchini, stuffed eggplant, and stuffed grape leaves; flakey filo dough layered with spiced ground lamb and bechamel; a platter of rice; and in the center will be a duck and a chicken.
Takouhi, my great grandmother

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