Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- A constant worry for Iraqi housewives is an empty gas cylinder during the holy month of Ramadan.
Every family is given a gas cylinder at the beginning of every month. It usually lasts for just over a week, leaving families to fend for themselves for the rest of the month by buying another cylinder that can cost up to $18 or replacing it with a kerosene stove, known as “Choola” in Iraq. Umm Ammar calls it “the Iraqi’s sweetheart”. Every household has at least one and Umm Ammar explained that she had prepared today’s Iftar with Asharq Al Awsat on the “Choola”.
Ramadan requires a bigger budget then most months and the head of the family begins saving money months in advance for Ramadan and the Eid ul-Fitr celebrations during which expenditure doubles. Abu Ammar stated, in reference to Asharq Al Awsat’s visit, that Ramadan is a month of kindness and blessings therefore any saved money would be used for whatever the family needs, especially as most families have gotten used to the current situation. He explained that the family use the food provided by the ration program and save any surplus in case of shortages later on. Sometimes, food is even sold in order to buy other products.
Abu Ammar explained that in his house, the family lived on the bare necessities due to the financial situation and in preparation for Ramadan. He said that he forced his family and himself to give up tea completely. This saved him around $10 a month and allowed him to buy other things such as legumes, meat, a gas cylinder, or to contribute to the payment for electricity.
With regards to the biggest problem that Iraqi families, in general, face, and Abu Ammar’s family, in particular, he clarified that every family, no matter how much it observes the political situation in the country, suffers more from the economic situation to a large extent. The general situation has pushed the Iraqi family into a sectarian and political conflict and into a terrifying security situation; however these come second to the economic condition. In Abu Ammar’s opinion, everything is a result of the economic situation. The youth want to make money in an easy way and this could lead them to deviate as terrorist groups shower militants with money and this arouses interest in joining such groups. If the economic situation was sound, there would not be as many social problems as there are today such as unemployment, security, environmental issues, health and education problems and even displacement, marriage and divorce issues.
Umm Ammar told Asharq Al Awsat, “The food on the dinner table at Iftar time is completely down to the housewife,” [in reference to what she can preserve and cook]. She continues, “There are problems that the head of the household is unaware of especially with regards to the home, cooking, clothing etc. For example, he doesn’t know that I pass on my children’s school clothes and bags to one another just as the family does not ask me about how I manage to make certain ingredients last the entire year. We have been forced to find new ways to preserve ingredients by drying or placing them in containers.”
Umm Ammar stressed that she has given up many things to make her family and children happy. She revealed that her husband earns 360,000 Iraqi Dinars ($280) [per month]. She explains that a year and a half ago, that amount was enough to cater to the needs of the family. “That was enough to buy clothes, sweets, and to travel outside of Baghdad to see relatives etc, but now that amount wouldn’t last for half a month if we spent money in the same way as before, therefore, we need to budget to a large extent.” She expressed her concern towards the situation especially as the new academic year was about to begin and because she has two sons studying at university whilst the other children are still at school.
The family explained that they will always have fond memories of Ramadan in Iraq. The best part was spending time with the family at Iftar and passing the plates of food around the dinner table and going for walks in Baghdad. Furthermore, there is the sound of the ‘Musaharati’ that, according to the family, cannot be relied upon to wake them up for Suhoor [last meal before the fast begins at sunrise] as he would pass by their area one day and not the other. “We do not blame him, and may God help him with his job, as the dangerous security situation and other problems may prevent him from reaching every area.”
Towards the end of our visit, we heard the cannon being fired at Maghreb time to indicate the end of the fast; however some residents of Baghdad fail to differentiate between these shots and the sounds of other artillery in the streets of Baghdad. In this case, the clock would indicate the end of the fasting day. Umm Ammar prepared a generous Iraqi Iftar and was keen to present various types of old, popular Iraqi dishes such as ‘Lablabi’ [made with chick peas], ‘Tharid’ [made with meat and bread] and grilled aubergines. Umm Ammar excelled in her cooking, especially with ‘Dolma’ [stuffed vine-leaves] and this reflected the country’s love for cooking and its ability to adapt to the prevailing situation.