about the author
Jane Howard works for the Division of Communications at WFP’s Rome headquarters. A former BBC correspondent, she has lived and worked in Iran, Turkey, Syria and the former Yugoslavia.
The first evening meal, or iftar, of the holy month of Ramadan is a precious time for Muslim families everywhere but for Syrian refugees like Umm Majd in Jordan’s massive Zaatari refugee camp it’s a bitter-sweet affair.
ZAATARI (Jordan)--As she prepared the family’s food, chicken and rice with rosemary, ready to break the fast at dusk in their tent, Umm Majd remembered previous, happier times.
“Before the conflict, Ramadan would be a time when everything was glowing. Life was glowing,” she said. “It would be a time when we would go to each others’ houses or have people over and you’d really feel a sense of community. At the beginning of Ramadan you’d go out and buy fruit and vegetables and food for the month and everything was available in the markets. You can’t imagine how tasty everything was.”
Since coming to the camp, she cooks WFP standard rations, including rice, pasta, bulgur wheat and lentils, for her husband and three boys, Majd, 5, Yousef, 4, and Omar, aged 18 months. But for the first night of Ramadan this year, the family had saved up for something special. Donate here to help families in need this Ramadan
Chicken and rice
“We have missed this meal – chicken and rice. We have been here seven months and we have had chicken once,” she said. Her husband, Abu Majd, earns a little money by working as a porter, but he sends most of the money back to his mother and sister who stayed behind in Dara’a, over the border.
As dusk falls, there is a relaxed, almost festive atmosphere in the camp as residents wait for the call to prayer, the sign to break the fast. Small stalls sell sugary treats, tamarind juice and a truck offloads massive watermelons. But prices shot up ahead of the holy month, and food prices for special treats are beyond the reach of most families.
This year the residents of Zaatari received a Ramadan gift box of food from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, distributed by WFP and partner Save the Children, which included dates, jam and other goodies. “You wouldn’t believe the joy on Omar’s face when he saw the cheese,” says Umm Majd. In coming months, WFP plans to switch to providing food vouchers to the refugees, so they can choose their own food.
Ramadan at home
Last Ramadan they were still at home, but struggling to make ends meet, as Abu Majd, a stonemason, was sick and finding it difficult to get work. “If I had money I could go buy a chicken. If not, I’d make do with rice … and depend on the generosity of my neighbours – they’d bring food around,” said Umm Majd. Moreover, they would eat every night in the basement because of shelling.
Their neighbour Umm Mimyesser, 64, was one of the first arrivals at Zaatari camp, which is now a temporary home to more than 100,000 people. “It’s completely, utterly different – there’s no comparison,” she said. “In Syria everyone would invite their neighbours round and you had this feeling of togetherness. Today we don’t have that feeling. Let’s hope that next Ramadan we’ll be home – Inshallah even before then.”