An Unexpected Celebration (and a Pretty Serious Crisis)

German Word of the Day:


n., m., refugee

Yesterday, something special enough happened that I had to break my resolve to never post more than once a week. (I don’t want to flood all your nice inboxes, as a rule!)  But when I got a chance to celebrate Ramadan last night, I just had to share!

Celebrating a Muslim holiday certainly wasn’t what I expected to find myself doing when I came to Germany, so here’s a little background:  being a foreigner allows me to overstep certain barriers that seem to be uncomfortable for other German high school students.  One of these barriers lies between the native-born Germans and the many Middle-Eastern refugees that have come to our school in the last few years.  Being a bit out of place myself and being able to relate to language-based issues allowed me to get to know these teenage flüchtlinge, even though (in general) the German students and the refugees aren’t very well integrated in my school.  One of my first friends from my exchange year happens to be a refugee from Iraq, and she invited me to come and see how her family celebrates the Islamic holy festival of Ramadan.

Photo 01.06.17, 23 47 34

Ramadan is a month-long celebration of the time that the Islamic prophet Mohammed is said to have received the Quran (the Islamic holy scriptures) from heaven.  Muslims traditionally celebrate this by praying and fasting during the daylight hours, and eating at night.  Unfortunately, daylight lasts a lot longer in Germany than it does in the Middle East, and this means many hours of going without food – but they manage it, and because I wanted to get an authentic feel for the holiday, I went 25 hours without eating before we finally sat down to feast at 10 PM.

A Ramadan feast is quite a thing to behold.  We sat on blankets on the floor and ate bowls full of fried rice, chicken, stuffed pastries, hummus, olives, tabbouleh, soup, and desserts.  Then we watched special Ramadan-season TV shows on an Arabic TV channel until we fell sleep.

Celebrating Ramadan with my friend’s family was a highlight of my year, but it was also sobering.  My hosts told me that I was the only guest they were likely to have for the holidays this year – but at home in Iraq, Ramadan was always shared with family and neighbors.  For the multitudes of refugees living so far from home right now, every day is difficult, and holidays certainly no less so.

Therefore, I want to share a story that I think people need to hear.  This is another StoryCorps recording (click here for my first one), made with my friend during our celebration.  She tells the story of her family’s flight from Iraq to Germany, and it left me speechless.  I hope you can find 20 minutes to listen in.

Leaving Baghdad: a StoryCorps interview with my friend Aya

And for a last favor, I would encourage you to take just a couple of minutes and flip through as much of the site as you want.  It’s about the crisis in Syria, not Iraq, but it cuts right to the heart of the issues facing the Middle East, and the whole world, due to extremism and terrorism.  It gives great facts, startling stories, and tips on how to help.  I don’t like to use this blog as a political platform, but that’s another rule I’m breaking in this post.  This is one crisis that has touched my life this year in a way I never saw coming.


One thought on “An Unexpected Celebration (and a Pretty Serious Crisis)

  1. Thank you, Maria, for sharing this with us. It is such a difference to look at a person and her or his fate, than to listen to News and see anonymous people on flight or in trouble. And it is this personal view that makes us act human. Iris


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