‘Istanbul is not very different than usual during Ramadan, is it?’ I’m with a group of Turks, we are in Beyoglu, a shopping, nightlife and tourist hub, and they look at me, they want to hear the foreigner’s opinion. ‘Well’, I start my answer, ‘you know, I live in Üsküdar and…’, and don’t get the chance to finish my sentence. They all start laughing. Yeah, when you live in Üsküdar, it’s different.
Üsküdar is one of the more conservative, religious parts of Istanbul. In Beyoğlu, you don’t really notice that it’s Ramadan, life just goes its noisy, consumption, eating and drinking way. In Üsküdar, a large majority of the people fast, and those who don’t often choose not to eat or drink on the street in this month. But what I notice is that the sounds of my neighbourhood change during Ramadan.
The women in my part of Üsküdar are mostly housewives. Usually in summer they spend most of the day outside. They gather for tea on the vacant lot behind my house, they barbecue together and chat chat chat. During Ramadan the vacant lot is empty and silent. The men are as usual off at work, the women sleep a lot in the morning and early afternoon after the activities of very early morning.
These activities start around 3am: preparing food for sahur, the meal before sunrise. They (and I) are woken up in time by the Ramadan drummer, a man walking the streets banging a big drum. Not every neighbourhood in Istanbul still has a Ramadan drummer, but mine does. No, I’m not bothered by it; I’m good at listening to night sounds and then falling asleep again. Besides, I like it that the tradition of Ramadan drummers is kept alive despite everybody having a phone with an alarm clock nowadays.
In downtown Üsküdar it gets very busy starting around an hour to an hour and a half before the iftar meal. Everybody wants to be home before iftar, so the lines for buses and dolmuş are longer than ever. Then about fifteen or twenty minutes before iftar, the streets around where I live get very quiet. Everybody is at the table, waiting for the ezan, the call for prayer, to start, the sign that the sun is down and the fasting can be broken. It’s funny to be on the street when the ezan starts: in all the houses at exactly that time, the sound of cutlery starts coming through the open windows.
Then my neighbourhood comes to life again. Around the time I go to bed, usually around 1, it’s still noisy, mainly with people chatting and laughing and children playing. Much noisier than usual. Again, I don’t mind, I don’t need to get up at a certain time anyway. I think actually a lot of people hardly sleep at all till the Ramadan drummer comes and it’s almost time to eat again. Day and night are for a part just turned around.
So yes, in my part of Istanbul, you certainly notice it’s Ramadan. Two more noisy nights and quiet days, then it’s over again. And then after the feast of Eid al Fitr, Üsküdar can go back to its usual sounds.