“When the day of the flood came nearer, the animals started coming in one by one. They were in pairs of males and females, and the prophet and the believers boarded and sailed in the ship,” read Alexandria resident Khadija Ismail to her six-year-old son Mazen as he listened impatiently to the story of the Prophet Noah.
Ismail had made a promise to her son that she would tell him a different story every day when the lockdown was introduced as part of measures to combat the coronavirus some months ago. She seized the chance of the Holy Month of Ramadan to tell her son religious stories of the prophets’ lives, families and friends.
Mazen has learned to pray and can read verses from the Holy Quran. “He is a fast learner when no one pushes him around all day, and he has plenty of time to do everything he wants during the lockdown,” Ismail said.
Mazen has also managed to find the time to train every day, as he is practising through an online virtual gymnastics class offered by the Alexandria Sporting Club (ASC). He is a promising young football player who used to play football five times a week before the lockdown as part of his ambition to become the next Mo Salah. “I used to play as many as three hours per day after returning home from school. Even on weekends, I played with my father in a neighbouring park,” he said.
However, Hussein, like many kids his age, has had his life turned upside down because of the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Although he found it difficult at first to cope with the lockdown, he has now adapted to his new form of life. “I am doing online fitness training as scheduled by my coach. My parents encourage me to learn new football skills at home, like dribbling the ball and improving my control,” he said.
“But of course I miss my club, and I miss playing with my friends,” he added.
“The club misses its family and all its members,” commented Ahmed Warda, president of the Alexandria Sporting Club, in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly. However, it is offering many online activities to suit members during the lockdown. “The moment the virus appeared, we made plans for all activities to continue in the cultural, sporting and religious sectors,” he added.
The ASC has been renowned for the religious atmosphere it has been used to create for all its members during Ramadan. This year, because of the changed circumstances, it is organising the online streaming of religious programmes by different sheikhs, Quran reciters and preachers every day. “We are keen to provide our members with prayers, advice and seminars during Ramadan to help them feel the religious atmosphere they used to feel at the club,” Warda said.
It has designed different competitions for different ages and different interests. For example, its cultural committee has designed tourist competitions to find out more about landmark places in Egypt and a fine art competition to help people to discover their talents.
“We designed a ‘Who is the Figure?’ competition addressed to young people to help them become more aware of Egyptian figures who have changed history,” he added.
In addition to the cultural online activities, the ASC has also been keen to provide fitness courses for players online. “It is very important to keep fit while staying at home for such a long period, and this is why we offer a variety of online fitness courses running throughout the day for all sports and all ages,” Warda said.
Besides keeping fit, children need to feel they are learning life skills during Ramadan like caring for the elderly, helping the needy, feeling for others and other skills. This is what Shaimaa Ali, an educational and parenting consultant, stresses this Ramadan.
All parents should make time for their kids to teach them the life skills they may not have found the time for earlier, she said. “We are all so busy and hurrying from one place to another all day long. Now when we have the chance to sit with children and read them stories, for example, we may see that we were just racing about thinking of no one but ourselves,” she added.
“I have set aside a room in my house for praying and reciting the Quran. When my three-year-old son sees me, he copies whatever I am doing and knows that this time is the time to feel close to God,” she said.
Children can be among those affected the most during the present lockdown. They have lost their schools, clubs, friends and playing areas to the need to observe social-distancing during the pandemic. Parents should explain to them why they can not go out, Ali said, adding that it is important not to “shut their world for children without giving a reason.”
“This is why creating a diverse range of human activities is a good idea for both adults and kids. Create all kinds of arts, read stories, learn new things, dance, practise yoga, reshuffle your home and move things around – make room to enjoy yourselves,” Ali added. “You can go for online virtual tours offered by museums before iftar, for example, and this can be particularly valuable for kids.”
“We may never return to our old hectic lives whenever normal life comes back,” she said, commenting that she had made a promise to herself to make the best of the experience for her family and herself during this locked-down Ramadan.
A popular online activity, especially in Ramadan, is online cooking. People love eating when they have completed their daily fast, and they enjoy creating new dishes and preparing kahk biscuits for the Eid. The Baking House is a pioneer baking manufacturer based in Alexandria with branches in Cairo and Siwa that started 20 years ago as a manufacturer of biscuits and a subsidiary of a larger company called Shahd founded by the late Dorreya Abdel-Salam.
It has been helping people to enjoy this Ramadan. “We decided to establish Baking House as the first online baking store in Egypt. We started mainly with biscuits but the enterprise grew bigger to include all kinds of cookies,” said Ahmed Kamal, the owner of Shahd and Baking House.
“We think physical stores will be out of fashion in ten years, which is why we offer convenient prices for our customers at our online store. Instead of paying for electricity and all the costs of renting a physical store, we are investing in the quality of our products, and more importantly we are trying to make the whole buying journey as convenient as possible for customers,” he said.
“The fundamental value we have is to keep our cultural and family heritage. So, the kahk biscuits are just as they have always been – tiny crumbly cookies stuffed with sweet surprises and buried under powdered sugar.”
The Baking House has surprised its customers this year by creating colourful kahk biscuits in red, blue, purple, crimson, strawberry, cherry and many more. “During Ramadan, the process of baking becomes even more enjoyable as we are imagining, originating, recreating tastes and satisfying our five senses,” said chef Khaled Ahmed.
He highlighted the importance of feedback and the recommendations he gets from online customers. “The feedback we get guides improvements to the customer experience, and empowers positive change in any kind of cooking or baking,” he said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 May, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly