Saturday, August 20, 2011

Happy Ramadan!

The children have been learning about Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar during which practicing Muslims engage in a time of introspection, self reflection, and worship. During the month of Ramadan, healthy adults fast from sun up to sundown. In the morning, families share a a hearty meal called suhoor; then, they abstain from eating and drinking until iftar, the fast breaking meal which is consumed after sunset. The meal begins with the eating of three dates, followed by the Mahgrib prayer, and a lavish meal.

Fasting provides an opportunity to practice self control, sacrifice, empathy for those who are less fortunate, and encourages acts of charity and generosity.

This year, the children were fortunate to have a member of our parent community, Dounia Mouhouche, volunteer to come and teach the class to prepare kesra, a traditional flatbread. Kesra is an amazingly tender whole wheat bread.

Dounia began by teaching the children about Ramadan. She explained that it is a time for self-reflection- to think about your life, what you are doing well, and what you could improve upon. She explained that it is a time to make promises to yourself about things that you might try to change, to do good deeds, to help those who are in need, and to consider people who are less fortunate (those who are hungry, without family, etc). The children were very interested in hearing about Ramadan, and considering what it would be like to go all day without food. When it was time to begin cooking, Dounia began by expertly mixing whole wheat flour, salt, yeast, oil, and water together, without the need for measuring devices, until the mixture reached the desired consistency. She allowed the mixture to rest for about fifteen minutes until the dough had risen and divided it into equal portions (so each child could have one ball of bread dough).

Then, she taught the children how to carefully roll their ball of dough into eight inch circles (full moons!). Several of the children aptly remarked to Dounia that she was "a good teacher."

Then it was time for the children to try. They absolutely loved rolling out the tender dough and shaping it into perfect orbs.

Once the dough had been formed, the children assembled to hear some Ramadan books, while our gracious volunteer busied herself with baking the kesra on a flat griddle pan until they were golden and brown.

The children dined on warm kesra, golden dates, and milk. Dounia explained that a conventional Ramadan fast is broken with the consumption of dates and milk to quickly restore blood sugar levels after the long hours of fasting (by providing food that is rich in calcium and potassium).

The children absolutely adored the kesra! In an amusing moment, one boy observed that the smell of the kesra reminded him of street vendors on the Pearl Street mall! In fact, we could barely keep up with the demand! No sooner would kesra come off the pan, have time to cool, and get cut into small pieces, then a child would report that the serving vessels were empty. It was hands down one of their favorite treats.

When the meal was complete, the children took home some kesra to share with their parents. One excited four year old girl proudly reported to her mother that "I love African food; it's delicious!"

In a world which is all too often marked by intolerance and ignorance of other cultures, it was particularly wonderful to see a young child beam with pride as he told his companions about being taught to make kesra by his grandmother during a trip to Africa, and have the opportunity to share an amazing culinary and cultural tradition with his appreciative and enamored friends. It was also an amazing opportunity for these young people to gain an understanding and appreciation of a different culture, and to learn about a beautiful celebration of the human desire to live, to love, and to serve others.

We wish to extend our sincere thanks to Dounia Mouhouche for sharing her time and talents with us, and for sharing her cultural traditions with us.

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