African students enjoy Ramadan in Turkey

While the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is celebrated around the world, to some it can prove quite disconcerting to experience it away from the comforts and traditions of home.

For the thousands of African students studying in Turkish cities such as Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir, there are tiny differences in the way the month is marked in Turkey.

"Observing the holy month of Ramadan in Turkey is different from that of my home country." Mayada Kamal Eldeen, a 37-year-old political science PhD student at Yildiz Technical University in Istanbul, said.

Mayada, who has been in Turkey for four years, added: "We feel Ramadan deeply in Sudan."

Despite feeling their absence from home, most overseas students enjoy comparing the different customs in Turkey.

"At home everybody fasts and restaurants do not serve," Mayada told Anadolu Agency.

"All families with children break their fast, not at home but in neighborhoods. Streets are full of people coming around a table laid on the ground.

"The Tarawih prayer [performed at night during Ramadan] is also attended by a large group of women, men and children together."

For Kasim Mohammed, 26, has noted a more relaxed attitude to fasting during Ramadan in Turkey.

"The way I see here is totally different," Kasim, a Somalian who studies energy systems engineering at Kayseri's Erciyes University, said.

"In Turkey people are free to fast, you can see them smoking in the street and restaurants are open but in Somalia you will not see restaurants serving," he said.

Ugandan Aboubakar Kudi Byango, a 32-year-old economics PhD student at Erciyes University, has been struck by the length of the daily fast in Turkey.

"In Uganda, we fast for 13 hours only whereas here, we fast for 17 hours. It's hard a bit," he said.

Chadian Islamic law student Khadidja Alhadji Aji, 27, who has been based in Istanbul for three years, describes the moment of iftar -- the fast-breaking evening meal -- as memorable.

"It is completely different from my Ramadan days at home," he told Anadolu Agency. "Seventeen hours observing fast is a new experience for me and also a few minutes before iftar is the adorable moment for me, it is a blessing."

Khadidja has been drawn to the richness of the traditional iftar menus in Turkey, the soup, rice, meat pastries and pide -- a Turkish version of pizza.

Some others are fond of the events organized around Ramadan as well as the decorations surrounding squares and streets.

"Decorations in preparation for the month of Ramadan, perhaps this is what I may never forget about Turkey," Aboubakar, the Ugandan student, said.

"Just before fasting, the city authorities work day and night to beautify the city in every corner. Beautiful flowers are planted in strategic areas such as roundabouts, beautiful lights are erected onto electric poles all over the city.

"I swear I have never seen this anywhere in my entire life, so beautiful."

Traditional concerts and street shows, such as shadow puppet shows, are held in many city and town squares. Some municipalities organize mass iftar meals.

Yousouf Ibrahim Djalal, 22, a computer engineering student at Erciyes, praised the "readiness" and organization of public bodies and charities during Ramadan.

Despite certain differences, most African students remark on the hospitality they have found in Turkey.

International relations student Ramazani Hategekimana, a 23-year-old from Rwanda, said: "Turkey is a Muslim country. So I feel like I am at home.

Maliki Moustapha, 28, from Togo, added: "We are always invited by organizations, Turkish families and others for breakfast and other special Ramadan events. That makes us feel at home."

Kasim also praised the friendship and hospitality of his Turkish hosts. "You may get invitations from local families and friends for iftar," he said. "But in Somalia, it is not so popular to eat with strangers."

In Istanbul, Mayada enjoys mass street iftars throughout the city, which give people the chance to gather and chat, instilling a sense of belonging.

"I have never experienced such a sensibility in any country I have been to for education other than Turkey," she said.

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