Thursday,20 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1395, (24 - 30 May 2018)
Thursday,20 June, 2019
Issue 1395, (24 - 30 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Awakening love and faith

Mai Samih meets a female traditional mesaharati who is reviving Egyptian heritage this Ramadan

Hajja Dalal
Hajja Dalal (photo: Mohamed Hassanein)

Traditionally, Ramadan has been signalled by the fawanees (lanterns) decorating the streets of Egyptian towns and cities, the sound of the song Ramadan Gana (Ramadan has come) by Mohamed Abdel-Motteleb being played everywhere, and the presence of the mesaharati, the person who wakes people up for the pre-dawn meal of Sohour, in many urban districts.

The mesaharati traditionally walks through the streets with a drum and calls people to wake up during the holy month of Ramadan. While most people are used to seeing this as a man’s job, there is at least one woman working as a mesaharati. Her name is Hajja Dalal, or Umm Youssef, and she works in the Dar Al-Salam district of Maadi outside Cairo. Her full name is Dalal Abdel-Kader Mohamed, and she inherited the profession of mesaharati from her brother who inherited it from their father.  

She tells of how she became a mesaharateya, or woman mesaharati. “My family originally worked in ironing clothes, but the job is a tradition in our family. My brother worked as a mesaharati, and when he died I took it upon myself to work in his place and wake up the people of the district for Sohour,” Mohamed said. If a person does not do the job with love, he won’t be able to do it at all, she said. She started to work as a mesaharateya some seven years ago. 

“The job of mesaharati is not exactly a job, but more of an old tradition, like the fanous [plural fawanees] and the konafa [an oriental sweet] eaten in Ramadan. It is one of the cornerstones of Ramadan, which is why it is necessary to preserve it as a wonderful old tradition,” she said, adding that it was essential that such beautiful traditions not be allowed to fade away.

Most of the year Mohamed works as a makwageya (ironing clothes), and she has four children. She is also responsible for her nephews, the five children of her late brother who died in 2011, and the four of another brother who died three months ago. Two of his children are very young at just 10 and 12 years old. “We are a middle-class family managing to make ends meet by the blessing of God. I make the efforts I do for the sake of God and for the sake of my nephews,” Mohamed said, adding that she starts her mesaharati rounds in the Ahmed Zaki district and ends in Fayda Kamel.

She would like to see people keep the spirit of cooperation they have in Ramadan all the year round. “Many people nowadays have become different from those in the past. I would like to see this difference act for the best. But some people have changed from having patience and wishing well to others to the opposite,” she said, adding that this was one of the reasons it was essential to keep up the old traditions.

“Some children in the district nag me to call out their names and their parents’ names for Sohour. This is something that needs to be developed. We should have 10 mesaharaties in the district, or even 100, so that the coming generations do not forget what a mesaharati is,” she said.

“I feel happy since this is the only month that has such beautiful spirituality associated with it and when people live in direct communication with God. I am doing something that I like to do as a mesaharati, and I am helping to make others happy as well. Since you can’t help people financially, you can help them in other ways if you have the will to do so, even if just by a smile. People who are deprived of something can really feel for others, and this is one of the gifts of Ramadan for me,” Mohamed said.

She is also not afraid of walking the streets at night. “I am a woman who believes in God and knows how to make people respect me when I walk in the streets at night or at any time of the day. I walk with love, and people help me. The men in the area stand by strangers, and not only people from their district. I am also from a well-known family in the district,” she commented.

“What should be added to the job is a positive sense of carrying on a tradition and of wishing each other well. Being a mesaharati is not just a job; it is a tradition. It needs love, patience, effort, and faith because you walk in the streets for two or three hours each morning. It can be very tiring, including for the voice,” Mohamed added.

However, the rewards are the happiness of others and the sense that you are doing something to uphold important traditions. “You must love what you are doing, be patient, and bear happily the efforts you make, so that God will bless every step,” she concluded.

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