Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Ramadan Meal

One of the cool things about being a computer programmer is that I get to work with people from all over the world, with different backgrounds, religions, cultures and languages. And occasionally I even get to take part in their celebrations and festivities.

For example, a few years ago my cousin Elizabeth went to India on a missionary trip. I asked her to bring a statue of Ganesha home to me, because I used to play a game where my character's name was Vighnaraja, and "Vighnaraja" is one of the incarnations of Ganesha. Ganesha is the Lord and Destroyer of Obstacles in the Hindu religion, so I keep the statue of Ganesha by my desk and then any time I can't solve a complicated computer problem, I turn to the statue and say, "Well?!? Are you going to help me out or what?!" (I usually talk to it in a nice voice, but occasionally I do plead for it to just write my code for me.)

I work with several people from India, and one day last year I got to work to find flowers in and around my Ganesha statue. It turns out that one of my coworkers, Vineela, placed flowers on the statue because it was Ganesha's birthday that day.

Pretty neat! But then I felt bad, because all I had gotten Ganesha for his birthday was a big pile of projects that I wanted him to complete for me.

This year I was invited to take part in a Ramadan meal. I've always known that Muslims celebrate Ramadan but only learned this year what it's for: Muslims fast so that they understand the hunger of poor people, and it reminds them to be thankful for what they have and encourages them to give to the poor. At the end of Ramadan, Muslims have a big meal to celebrate - and because they're hungry!

(Thanks again, Elizabeth, for your great blog on that topic!)

I'm not one to turn down a meal, especially when I get to take part in something that I've never done before, so I went to two of my coworkers' apartment and had lunch with them. Not only did they invite me to their place and cook for me, but they also agreed to let me take pictures and write a blog about my experiences.

First, introductions: Pictured here is Vineela, who was the head chef (and who left flowers on my Ganesha statue). Vineela is a Hindu from India. In the background is Nawaz, who invited us into his home for the Ramadan meal. He's pretending to cook, but we all know it's just for show! Nawaz is also from India but is Muslim. Both Vineela and Nawaz worked on my programming team at one point, but my other coworkers have stolen them from me. Several other people were invited for lunch, so Vineela cooked for a lot of us.

[Vineela adding the finishing touches to our meal]

So like I said before, I took pictures of everything. Nothing was off limits! I wanted to be immersed in this experience. For example, I took this picture of a beautiful adornment on the wall, as well as the ceremonial Microsoft basketball goal right next to it.

[Wall adornments]

I also took these pictures of traditional Indian trophies and medals.

[Trophies!]

Actually, Nawaz was the Indian Student Body President at his college, and one of his statues is to commemorate that achievement. He's also won several tennis championships in Baton Rouge and throughout the state.

Nawaz also won a medal for his ability to set the table. Good job, Nawaz!

[Proof that Nawaz helped]

Nawaz even let me take a picture of him after he changed into a traditional outfit. I also changed into my traditional lunch outfit, which involves unbuttoning my pants so that my gut can hang out after I eat. Most people wait until after they eat to unbutton their pants, but I like to get a head start.

[Nawaz's traditional outfit]

On to the food!

Vineela made a three course meal for us! First was the appetizer, which consisted of chick peas and a potato thingy. I don't know what it actually was, but I liked it! And of course, being of Lebanese descent, my family is used to scarfing down chick peas in the form of hummus, so I felt right at home.

[The appetizer]

The entree was chicken and rice, which was right up my alley because that's what we always eat down in Louisiana.

[Chicken!]

Of course, this chicken and rice had different spices than what we in Cajun Country are used to. I've eaten at a few Indian restaurants with Vineela and Nawaz on different occasions so I at least knew what to expect. And I have to say, Vineela's cooking was better than the Indian restaurants here in Baton Rouge.

[And rice!]

Served along with some bread, the chicken and rice made for a tasty meal! I liked it so much that I had seconds.

[My plate]

But my favorite part of the meal was dessert. It was vermicelli cooked in milk and sugar, covered with nuts and raisins... it was awesome! I had never eaten vermicelli cooked like this, so the texture was new to me, but it was really good. I liked it so much that Vineela has volunteered to show Betty how to make it.

[My favorite part of lunch - dessert!]

So that's my Ramadan lunch. Thanks again, Nawaz, for inviting me into your home for lunch! And thanks again, Vineela, for cooking for us!

And thanks again, Brian, my coworker who not only stole Vineela from my team last year but also stole the couch after dinner!

[Brian stole the couch!]

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