Last time I wrote about Sameh Hassan and Kamal Hassan, manager and general manager of C-Town respectively (and no relation), they were .
That was in February, 2011, days after Hosni Mubarak resigned his presidency; a people's ongoing protestations had paid off. At the time, both Hassans were overjoyed with the prospects of what could come to their homeland.
Chat with them now, weeks into the country's first democratic election in its history, and they are much more contemplative. Add to this the fact that both Hassans, along with several other employees of the store, including the chef, are partway through the month-long fast of Ramadan.
As an Egyptian Muslim, Kamal Hassan has been fasting annually, he said, ever since he was 7. At this age, kids start getting acclimated with fasting, in smaller doses, until by the age of 10 they are ready to deny the urge to ingest anything from sunset to sundown for 30 days straight.
Kamal said the fast cycle goes by lunar month from the new moon onward. He has been in the United States for 14 years and Canada for 10 before that, and never has he missed a year of fasting. In fact, he looks forward to it.
The reasons these guys love their fast (and love sharing its benefits) is manifold. Of course there are the spiritual elements: the fast, said both men, makes you appreciate what you have and sympathize with those who don't have as you both experience their hunger but have the luxury to break it at the end of the day. You learn discipline. You learn you have the ability and strength, said Kamal, to "handle your system without anything."
Then there's the proportionate goal Sameh Hassan discussed of one-third air, one-third food, one-third water comprising one's daily routine. He said he feels lighter with less consumption and more able to do the movements involved with the praying.
Then there is the health aspect. Kamal and Sameh believe in the necessity of this annual long-length cleanse as a means to sort of reset their physiology. Kamal smokes and drinks coffee and he can't do either during Ramadan. At the end of the day, he craves it all less and only has a cigarette or two, which sticks when the fast is complete.
The coffee habit, said Sameh, is at first tough to break. For the first few days of fasting, he takes Advil, but soon he's fine.
It's one thing to fast, but imagine doing it in the midst of the grocery store where anything and everything exists right before you in abundance. And the smells...
“The smells go into my nose, the fresh crossaints... It would just be nice to have a coffee,” said Kamal, seeming about to jump into the warm buffet. But he said the chef, Mohammad Elsawah, who prepares food all day has the real test.
The day is long and ritualistic during the holy month. Kamal said he'll wake up by 3:30 a.m. and eat a little something before dawn, then go back to sleep for an hour and awake finally to get to work by 6 or 6:30 a.m. Then it's a work day of absolutely nothing – not even a piece of gum or a sip of water when the heat tops 90 for weeks – until sunset.
Finally, at sunset (about 8:15 p.m. these days) it's home to eat a light meal (“You don't want much more, you can't," Kamal said) and prayer, more prayer. The first thing Kamal wants to consume is water and dates. After the meal, there's sweets and at last a cup of coffee. By 11:30 p.m., Kamal is in bed, but he often wakes up again at midnight to start the new day with prayer.
While Kamal is eager to talk about the fast, he is not so conversant on the state of his birthland right now. “I'm not happy with it. I didn't know what's going to happen but I didn't expect it to go like this," Kamal said, not wanting to discuss it further.
Low voter turn-out was reported in a nation of many competing parties. People in the end had only two options (an Islamist and Mubarak's last Prime Minister) to vote between when many might have wanted neither.
All the many groups will be “filtered down” in time, said Sameh. He, unlike Kamal, feels more optimistic. He finds the Brotherhood party of victor Mohamed Morsi to be the most moderate. He likened the Egyptian struggles to the French Revolution which took 10 years afterward, he said, "to fix things."
“Change is gradual from here,” Sameh said. "We take things for granted," repeating the same statement he had made about the lessons lived through fasting.