Darkness falls, and the kids go nuts for a Ramadaan tradition
“AREN’T you glad you took a nap this afternoon? Now you can spend the whole night filling up your bags with nuts and sweets.”
Aqeel and Saabirah nod their wise little heads in agreement, as they take in the wonder of the Katara Cultural Village on this night of Garangao.
It’s their first experience of Garangao, an event celebrated on the 14th day of Ramadaan and unique to the Gulf region and Qatar in particular.
The origin of the word Garangao (pronounced Ga-ran-ga-oh) is the word “Gara”, which is the sound of things knocking together. In terms of the celebration, it symbolises the sound of nuts and sweets knocking together in the bags children carry around their necks, or the sound of the knocking on doors by treatseekers roaming the neighbourhood while singing traditional songs.
If Aqeel and Saabirah were to knock on the doors of the predominantly Western expat neighbours in our compound, though, they might well be met with confused stares and exclamations of “but I’m sure it’s not Halloween today”.
So Shihaam and I have decided to venture out, and it hasn’t been hard to find a spot where the kids can partake in the revelry of the occasion. Most malls, restaurants, parks, museums, hotels and educational, cultural and sporting hubs are offering Garangao-themed events.
The only catch is that festivities at most of the venues are slated to start only after 9pm and to go on until midnight, in keeping with the late-night Gulf culture, especially during Ramadaan. Fortunately, we discover that Katara is starting the party earlier, around 7pm, shortly after iftar and the Maghrib prayer.
And Katara is a beautiful place to stroll around at night, regardless of the 39ºC heat and high humidity due to its proximity to the sea.
The Katara Cultural Village, between the downtown West Bay area and the upmarket Pearl lagoon development, is home to the Doha Film Institute and an impressive amphitheatre that has hosted artists such as South Africa’s Johnny Clegg.
But tonight, Katara is all about the kids. The celebrations include activities for the children such as a puppet theatre, a reading corner and an art workshop. The main reason the kids have come out in their numbers to Katara tonight, though, is for one thing and one thing only – the promise of enough sweets to fill their Garangao gift bags.
At least, that’s why my kids are here. “Over there, over there,” says an excited Aqeel. “They’re handing out sweets over there. Let’s go.” And off he runs, followed in hot pursuit by his sister.
Thankfully Yaqeen, their younger brother, is fast asleep at home. Chasing after them through throngs of other kids and in stifling heat is hard enough as it is – I cannot imagine doing it while holding an eight-month-old.
We just about catch up with them when they spot the next collection point and off they go again. And that’s how the next hour goes, punctuated by periodic stops to gratefully accept the complimentary bottles of water being handed out.
Eventually, their bags bulging with treats, we settle on a bench to catch our breath and assess the night’s takings.
Saabirah seems like she’s ready to pass out and is more eager to use the bench as a bed than as an area to unload their goods. Aqeel, though, is showing no signs of slowing down. “You know that you’re not having any of this tonight, right? It’s far too late, you can have some tomorrow,” I tell him.
“But dad, just one sweet – pleeease?” Trying to avoid his mother’s steely gaze, I cave and say: “Okay, I’ll make you a deal. You can put your hand in the bag and the first thing you pull out, you can eat.”
“Yay! Thanks dad.” Aqeel’s face lights up, but what he doesn’t know is that I’ve been watching what the Katara staff have been dishing out, and I’m pretty sure it’s me who’s about to pull something out of the Garangao bag.
Aqeel dips his hand in slowly, feels around and triumphantly pulls it out. And his next words say it all: “Aw, nuts.”
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