I am awakened at around 3am by a furious sound of drumming on the other side of the window. What is it?

A traditional part of Ramazan are the Ramazan Drummers.

These men wander the streets before sunrise to wake people from their sleep so they can eat breakfast before the fast begins at day break.

This year Fethiye Belediye has appointed the drummers for the town.

They have advised citizens that their services will be free but that they are, of course, encouraged to make donations.

Ramazan has been going just over a week so you’ll probably have already heard the drummers.

But what if you’d never heard of the Ramazan drummer before, how would you react to rude awakening?

Well our story below tells of one such person and the potentially disastrous situation.

The Ramazan Drummer

In June 1972, I moved from Istanbul to Bodrum, then a small fishing village, with no idea it would one day be hailed as the St. Tropez of Turkey. During my three years in Istanbul I had somehow avoided being awakened by Ramazan drummers, indeed I had never even heard of them, but that was about to change.

In Bodrum I found a Turkish female friend, Ayse, a few years older than me, who also lived alone and worked at the museum in the Castle. She had graduated from Ankara University in archaeology in 1970, and had first come to Bodrum in 1969, when she spent her summer vacation on work experience, sketching finds that were brought up from the site of a Roman wreck.

Now she specialised in glass restoration, was the only woman I had ever seen play backgammon against Turkish men, and was a mine of information on local history and village life.

Ayse only spoke Turkish and, under her direction, my Turkish improved in leaps and bounds as she took the trouble to correct my mistakes and teach me new vocabulary.

As summer drew to a close, Ramazan started. On the first day I drink tea with Ayse at lunch time on the harbour and she checks that I know Ramazan has started. Then she says, “Meet me out of work at 5 o’clock and I’ll show you something interesting”.

I wait at the Castle gate, she emerges and we walk into the centre of the village where Bodrum’s only doctor at that time had his office. When we turn the corner to the small square where the office is located, I am surprised to see a long queue of men stretching around three sides of the square and into the building where the doctor works.

Ayse explains, “They have fasted today, the first day, now they are going to see the doctor because they are not well and they will get a letter from him that excuses them from the fast. They don’t lose face because they did try to keep the fast, but now they can go back to smoking and drinking for the rest of Ramazan.”

A few days after my visit to the doctor’s queue, a friend arrives from Istanbul and I give up my bedroom and move downstairs to sleep on the divan by the fireplace. My head is under a window that opens on to the street. I am awakened at around 3am by a furious sound of drumming on the other side of the window.

Initially I can’t believe my ears then, when the noise continues, I decide it is a drunk and I will deal with him. I get up and totter across the courtyard to the kitchen where I fill a bucket with water. As I emerge from the kitchen into the courtyard I hear the sound fading away, so leaving the full bucket by the kitchen door, I go back to bed.

Within what seems like moments I am awakened again by the same horrendous cacophony. This time I will have him, I think, and go out, pick up my bucket but, by the time I have opened the gate to the street, he is a dim figure in the distance. I leave the bucket just inside the gate, knowing that if there is a third outbreak, I will have the satisfaction of drenching the drummer. But he doesn’t come back and the next day I tell Ayse about my disturbed night.

As soon as I mention the drummer she starts to smile, by the time I finish she is shaking with suppressed laughter. “Thank God you didn’t throw the water,” she says. “That was a Ramazan drummer, not a drunk. People pay him to wake them up to eat in the middle of the night so they can fast all day.

Your devout neighbours opposite are wealthy so they pay double. Then if they don’t wake up on the first pass, they will surely wake when he comes by for the second time. But really they are showing off their wealth, they want everyone to know they can afford to have the drummer come by twice. My God, I dread to think what would have happened if you’d thrown the water.”

Somehow I survive the twice nightly visits from the drummer for the rest of Ramazan and am amazed that even now, almost forty years later, the Ramazan drummers are still a feature of the fast in Turkey.

Originally published in 2009. PT

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