I wanted to take a slightly different approach to my final Iftar feature, and so decided against another family gathering, instead opting for female-only Iftar, held at the home of Tariq al Barwani.
I reached the house in Mawalah on a windy Sunday evening and was welcomed and escorted in by Tariq himself, who introduced me to his wife, Nashat, before making himself scarce. Ahead of me were the three smiling faces of Hamida, Aziza and Fatma, all Nashat’s cousins, who had children of their own with them.
We broke our fast in a simple manner with a delicious variety of dates, mixed nuts, laban, baklava and Omani coffee, before moving into a separate room to pray.
Before heading to the dinner table, we chatted over some mint tea and sambosas. Nashat’s cousins were full of life and I was captivated by their joint recollection of time spent together when they were teenagers. “We were the closest in the family, always hanging around with each other,” Fatma tells me. “I used to sleep at Nashat’s place as a teenager and when it was time for me to go, Nashat used to pack her bag to sleep at mine. When we were done with my house, we both would go to Aziza’s place for a sleepover and finally to Hamida’s, so it was like a chain,” she laughs.
Despite having full-time jobs as well as demanding roles as wives and mothers, the foursome still make a point of meeting over coffee or lunch at least once every two months. “This is our second gathering during Ramadan, the first one was held at my place,” Fatma says.
With conversation flowing easily, we slowly moved to the dinner table and found a feast waiting, all prepared lovingly by Nashat. After sampling a bowl of the chicken and sweetcorn soup, I tried some of the meatball and potato curry Fatma had contributed. It was delicious; a lot like the curry we make in India, except it was served with my favourite Omani chapatti, which is quite distinct from its Indian counterpart and a lot more flavoursome. There was also a selection of Omani minced meat pies and some prawns on offer.
After dinner, Nashat surprised the kids and the rest of us with some chocolate ice creams before announcing that more dessert would be on the way in the form of umm ali. I normally don’t eat umm ali, but made a point to try this one and was glad I did; it was absolutely fantastic and a great way to end the meal.
Nashat is the head of marketing at a telecom company in Oman and a busy woman. While we were chatting, she told me that in previous years she used to attend every gathering she was invited to, which was quite hectic for her. However, from this Ramadan onwards, she’s decided to focus on smaller gatherings where she can spend quality time with the people she meets. She is also trying to spend more time with her family. “I am in the office from 7am to 1pm. I get home and make sure that my husband, kids and myself get a refreshing nap from about 2pm to 4.30pm. When I wake up, I head to the gym for a while and when I get home we plan simple meals for Iftar,” she says. “After Iftar, we pray, have dinner and then pray Tarawih. I am trying to pass on what I have learnt from my parents to my own children.”
When she was younger, Ramadan was a time full of surprises for Nashat. “We didn’t have many responsibilities as kids and so for us, Ramadan was an indication that Eid was approaching and all the presents that come with it,” she tells me. “The family used to gather a lot more back then. Our favourite cartoon shows were aired during Ramadan and it was a relaxed time, but now that we have grown up, we try to focus more on the spiritual side. As the lady of the house, I have the responsibility to gather our family under one roof.”
Nashat also narrated a story to us that highlighted the way that Ramadan can change people’s attitudes and behaviour for the better. “I saw an old neighbour of my parents when I was buying groceries for today’s gathering. I used to see him quite often but we never spoke. However, today in the supermarket he came up and spoke to me for a while, just because it was Ramadan.”
Time spent with Nashat and her cousins seemed to shoot by and it was almost 10pm before I knew it. I was about to leave when, in keeping with her childhood memories of Ramadan, Nashat revealed she had one more surprise up her sleeve and gifted us all with a small bottle of Oud perfume; a reminder that sometimes it’s good to never grow up.