One night in Istanbul, we sat down to eat dinner. The tables were half full. We had a few questions for our waiter, and he responded in an extremely agitated manner, nearly shouting his suggestions at us. I was a little dismayed at this and forgot what I had originally wanted. I pointed to the words yoğurtlu kebab on the menu, even though I didn’t know what it was.
A large family arrived and the waiter, now in a frenzy, barked orders at the bus boy to push some tables together. More people arrived and the place was quickly full. The waiter continued to rush around, gesture wildly and alarm the other diners. Totally. Out. Of. His. Mind. We thought it was probably a bad decision to eat here and wondered if it was too late to bail.
Then I noticed that the big family had all been served their food, but were just sitting there staring at it. The flat screen t.v. on the wall (an unfortunate “necessity” in all but the swankiest of places) was displaying a countdown, and the children fidgeted as the numbers ticked away.
Then we remembered that Ramazan had begun the night before. (Ramadan is called Ramazan in Turkish and a few other languages.) We had gazed at the Blue Mosque’s special kandil lights that welcomed the season of Ramazan, sampled impossibly sweet pastries at a special artisans’ exhibition, and watched the crowds of families socializing at Sultanahmet Square.
The waiter’s behavior made total sense now. We imagined how calm we’d be if we hadn’t had even a drop of water since sunrise but still had to suffer the July heat, go to work, smell the food being prepared, and serve guests at one of the busiest times of the year.
The minaret across the street blared the sunset prayer, the countdown on the t.v. hit zero, and the family drew their hands down across their faces and began to enjoy their iftar. Our food arrived and the yoğurtlu kebap, a dish of grilled flat bread and chicken smothered in creamy yogurt and savory tomato sauce, became one of my favorite Turkish dishes. The waiter disappeared for a while, and when he returned, he was composed and smiling.