Huda A. Ahmed
I have been warned, time and time again about Libyan driving during the month of Ramadan. While the holy month is a time of heightened spirituality; a time designated for family and friends, what happens prior to gathering round the dinner table are often situations that can be referred to Ramadan temper.
During Ramadan each year, Muslims refrain from more than just food. The month is a time designated to reflection and worship, but can often be interrupted by an individual’s addiction to nicotine. The number of Libyan smokers in Libya should not to be overlooked, as they are required to refrain from smoking while fasting.
It is the opinion of many that this group has it the hardest in Ramadan, experiencing not only hunger like the rest of society but nicotine withdrawal, as well. This temporary smoking cessation that smokers experience while fasting translates differently in each person. For some people it means heightened tempers.
Last week in the Bifocal, I mentioned the routine of street life in Libya, and how it is unique to any other day out of the year. Traffic surges at different points in the day, and rush hour begins after midnight. This late at night, Libyan consumers are no longer fasting for the day and like to take the opportunity to go holiday shopping for the upcoming Eid celebrations.
However, there is another time of day that Tripoli’s streets experience a surge. The minutes before the call to Maghreb prayer, or dusk are the final moments of the fasting day. The streets call this last half hour “Soup Race” – an amusing and probably accurate reference to the bowl of soup that Libyans like to enjoy as the first course of their meal.
The traditional Libyan soup which was described perfectly by my colleague Gada Mahfud in her series on Ramadan is considered a must-have when breaking a long day’s fast. It is what most Libyans look forward to most.
The rush to get home at exactly the same moment raises tensions on the streets in the city. For some, the final moments standing between them and food or a smoke are intolerable. And situations that occur on the street like small accidents or altercations are not handled with as much patience as any other day.
Anything seems to fly under the radar in these final moments, including driving on the opposite side of road. What was most fascinating when I witnessed one such occasion was not the nerve of the driver driving opposite traffic, but the reaction of the other drivers who manoeuvred around the driver’s random act like it was to be expected.
In my car, the verbal reaction was one of initial shock, and then quickly followed by the explanation of “Soup Race”; almost as if an excuse was being given for the driver.
Ramadan is known to bring out the best, and sometimes worst out of a people. And yet in both types of situations in Libya, I am happy to say that I have found one similarity. People convey a level of understanding for each other’s actions in ways that are both admiring and surprising.
This is something that I love about the city of Tripoli; that it can possess the feel of city-life while maintaining the degree of rural influence that the term “stranger” never really qualifies for the person passing in the street.
Huda A. Ahmed, a full-blooded Libyan who is experiencing what it means to live in Libya for the first time
This article was first published in the ‘Tripoli Post‘ under ‘Bifocal‘ on August 12, 2103