Other experiences of Ramadan

Omneya Yousry, Tuesday 12 Apr 2022

How is Ramadan celebrated in Egypt’s hospitals and old people’s homes

Wafaa Wal-Amal Association
Home for Older Blind People run by the Wafaa Wal-Amal Association

The holy month of Ramadan is a time for spirituality and community, being not just about fasting, but also a chance for people to spend more time with their families, friends, and neighbours. But how is Ramadan celebrated by those who may be in hospital or in an old people’s home where visiting times may be regulated and there may be little space for families?

Many people take advantage of Ramadan to do good deeds, visiting orphanages, homes for the elderly, and hospitals alike. While those who oversee these places do their best to spread joy and make their guests feel as if they are at home, they cannot fully create the impression that those in their care are in fact in full health among their families and loved ones.

To spread feelings of joy in the holy month and happiness among patients, lanterns, decorations, and colourful lights are being put up in hospitals and old people’s homes across the country.

“A week preceding Ramadan, we started to hang up decorations for the holy month,” said Marwa Mahfouz, manager of the Home for Older Blind People run by the Wafaa Wal-Amal Association.

“We explained to the residents what the decorations were like, and they shared with us their choices of colours and how and where things should be hung. They can’t see the final look of the place, but we encourage them to touch the decorations and to talk about them. This means that they can enjoy them and imagine what they are like,” Mahfouz said.

Some of the women wanted to fix everything themselves. “They can feel the spirit of Ramadan even more than when they were still living at home before they entered our institution,” she added.

A day in Ramadan is different from any normal day of the year. “Due to the fact that most of our residents are elderly, their physician advises them not to fast to avoid any complications. Yet, those who do fast eagerly wait for the taraweeh prayers every day to pray together and to feel the spirituality that they have been missing. They may not have participated in mosque group prayers before as it was too difficult for them to leave their homes on their own,” Mahfouz said.

She said that there are also more visits during Ramadan. “I have received a lot of calls from groups who want to come and chant religious verses with the residents. Others want to visit and have Iftar with them. Those who have adult children also receive more visits from them during Ramadan as it’s a month for social gatherings.”

“One cheerful gesture this year was when the young women who stay in our guest house insisted on joining us for the taraweeh prayer, even changing their prayer space so that it would be easier and more comfortable for the older residents,” she added. “This kind action increased the state of love and friendliness even more.”

“The willingness to add some special spirit in Ramadan is found in both government and private hospitals. Even if it is not easily affordable in government hospitals because of budgetary constraints, groups of nurses make individual efforts to create a joyful atmosphere. They bring in lanterns, khayameya fabric, and other touches that can add Ramadan spirit to the place. These little practices have a huge impact on staff and patients,” commented Mohamed Yehia, a 34-year-old cardiologist in Cairo.

“At the moment, I work in a private hospital in Maadi, and the administration is keen to provide Ramadan decorations and provide a Ramadan environment. The decorations are mainly in the entrance, reception, and cafeteria areas,” he said.

Hours without eating in Ramadan can take their toll on concentration levels, but the doctors insist they are ready to deal with all the medical situations that may come their way.

“Unfortunately, illness does not take a vacation, so neither do we,” Yehia said. “There are many challenges during fasting, and we can be working 24/7 with little time for sleep or rest. But we are all used to working on this basis. Ramadan’s working hours are no different from the rest of the year,” he said.

There are also more visitors during Ramadan. “The hospital security people exert more efforts to coordinate visits and visitor gatherings in the waiting areas. Time slots are changed so they don’t conflict with Iftar.”

“It can be hard to cope with Ramadan’s social demands and our work as doctors, and we understand that our occupation comes at some cost,” Yehia concluded.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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