Photo by Angelos Viskadourakis

“كان يا ما كان…”

(Once upon a time…)

Yassin and his father settled into their village home arriving one day before the beginning of Ramadan, feeling exhausted from their travels. The father carried his sleeping son and brought him to bed. As the father stepped into the living room, his feet led him to a door he rarely opened. His eyes fell on the garment folded neatly on the top shelf and at the bottom rested his tabla (drum).

For the father, Ramadan never really started until he put on his traditional garment. So with an eagerly, recharged spirit for the upcoming 30 days he got ready, wearing his garment, wrapping a white sheet around the top of his head and taking out his trusty tabla. The father was just about to leave the house when he suddenly heard his son calling out to him. Closing the front door, he stepped back into the bedroom only to see his son sitting up on his bed, looking at him with sleepy eyes.

“Father…” Yassin gasped. With a warm touch from the hands of his father he was put at ease. Knowing that his father was close, Yassin rested his head back on the pillow.

He started eyeing his father a little closer, noticing the festive yet simple apparel he was wearing. Yassin remembered that whenever his father wore this, it meant his father leaving the house in the middle of the night, never knowing exactly for what reason.

“Are you going to leave now, father?” Yassin asked, curiously.

“Yes, but I’ll be back before you know it.” He assured him, with his signature warm grin.

“Where do you always go?” Yassin wondered.

The father chuckled lightly at the question, “I’ll tell you what my father once told me when I asked him the same question”.

Moving a little closer to the curious eyes of his son, the father started his narration, “Our family has been part of this tradition for many generations. It has been kept up since the Ayubiyeen dynasty I once told you about Yassin, remember? On the eve of Ramadan, it has always been the sound of the drum and its echo through the streets that would mark the beginning of the holy month.” The father was glowing with fulfillment. Yassin was beaming with pleasurable anticipation. So many questions sparked up inside his head that even when his father told him to go back to sleep, he couldn’t. He told his son he would tell him more tomorrow..

And so Yassin’s father marched out of the house at the speed of a seasoned soldier with the tabla in his hand. Lead by his impassioned curiosity, Yassin hurried out of bed and grabbed a chair from the room, pushing it towards the window. He listened to the sound of his father’s voice and tabla fill the streets of the village, until it was out of reach.

Next morning, Yassin was undoubtedly vibrant with the surge of passion. As soon as he saw his father, he ambushed him with a drilling questioning, not wasting a single moment.

“If the tradition is so important then why aren’t my cousins doing it as well?” he asked his father.

“Because young people aren’t interested in taking on the task. They would rather seek out different tasks that they like” he answered.

Yassin’s face lit up with a glow of admiration and resolve, gathering up the courage, he asked the question he most wanted an answer for, “Can I do it?” “You cannot wonder the streets when you’re supposed to be in bed sleeping.“ replied his father.

Yassin spent the days begging and pleading his father to take him, but all his attempts were unsuccessful, until his father finally promised to take him the coming week. However, impatient as he was, Yassin decided to take matters into his own hands.

After Iftar, when all had broken their fast at his uncle’s house, Yassin asked if he could play outside and his father agreed. Instead, Yassin headed back home alone. He grabbed his father’s turban, struggling to wrap it around his head, and the tabla, which was heavier than he expected it to be. He left the house looking like a miniature version of his father, filled with a youthful energy that was contagious. However, with every step the drum felt even heavier than before, but he could not help but encourage himself to continue.

Absorbed in the scent and murmur of the night, Yassin was ignorant to the people shouting words at him. Thrilled with a sense of strange adventure, Yassin walked even further, repeating the words he heard his father say. As he stepped into another alleyway, a woman started calling out for him, but he did not budge.

She ran after him and tapped on his shoulder.

“Young boy! What you are doing is not funny. You have disturbed the sleep of many tonight” she said, as a tenderness breathed from her “Suhoor isn’t for another few hours”. Yassin was startled; he had no idea what wrong he committed. “But I have to carry out this tradition from my family so it’s not forgotten” he confessed. The woman sighed.

“Where did you get the tabla from?” she asked. “Yassin!” the father called out. He was searching around for Yassin when he spotted him as he was passed past the alleyway. “I can do it too;” joy rioted in his large dark eyes as he expected his father to feel proud of what he did.

“You couldn’t listen to me, could you? Didn’t I say I would take you next week?” retorted the father, lips parted while eyes looked questioning himself more so than his son. “Yassin…what a wonderful name” the woman interfered, seeing that the father was struggling on what to do next. “But you should have listened to your father”.

Yassin, shameful, realized that he had been too rash, too impatient to wait on his father. The father took his son’s hand in his and was about to say goodbye to the woman when she asked “Why do you still maintain this tradition…especially here in our village?” Yassin’s father replies “It’s fading away in the big city, so I would rather seek out those who do” he said hesitantly “Besides, a ‘mesaharaty’ is not a beggar, I’m carrying out the tradition as my father before me and his ancestors before him. The best reward out of this is keeping the tradition alive and hopefully passing it onto generations still yet to come” the father said as he proudly flung his arm across his son’s shoulders.