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Ramadan banquets, a tradition turned into necessity in Tunisia

By Javier Martin

Tunis, Apr 21 (EFE).- Ramadan charity banquets, a time-honored tradition that symbolizes solidarity in the Muslim holy month, have become a bitter necessity in Tunisia, gripped by a years-long economic crisis worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.

In Hajj al-Shaabi, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the northeastern coastal city of Ariana, there are unpaved roads lacking street lights and piles of garbage dumped in street corners, with intermittent workers, earning a very low income per day, and hundreds of sub-Saharan migrants settling in Tunisia residing in the area.

“We come every day so that the children can eat,” Fatma, a mother to a 25-year-old woman and a grandmother to two children, tells Efe.

“We have no income and this is the only place where we can eat meat and chicken. Everything is becoming more and more expensive and there is no work,” she says from a small space with a kitchen where some 20 volunteers are kneading veal dumplings and cutting vegetables.

Hundreds of children and adolescents in the neighborhood do not have parks or leisure activities but Mohamed Ghayapha, one of Ariana’s mayoral aides, is determined to keep them busy.

With the help of volunteers, Ghayapha managed last year to dig trenches in the hillside and paved a staircase, among other projects. His dream is turn the hillside into a park.

And this year, he organized a Ramadan banquet serving more than 200 meals a day during the holy month, a feature deeply rooted in Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt but less common in Tunisia.

“We buy the ingredients thanks to the generosity of private benefactors, of wealthy people from the neighborhood who want to contribute to improving and helping it,” Ghayatha explains.

 “And the work is done by boys and volunteers. It is a necessary task,” he continues, regretting not having a state aid.

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