Egypt woman breaks into men-only Ramadan wakeup call job

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CAIRO –  Dalal Abdel-Qader, a 43-year-old mother from Cairo, is doing something that has for centuries been the exclusive domain of men — being a “mesaharaty,” or the person who walks the streets before dawn calling out to wake up the devout for their last meal, “sahur,” before their dawn-to-dusk fast.

It’s a seasonal job that lasts for the duration of Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims during which they refrain from food and drink from dawn until sunset. It’s neither salaried nor full time, but those who take up the job do so in part to serve their community and make a little extra money in tips.

Abdel-Qader, also known as Hajjah Dalal, does not deviate from the methods of her male peers, following in the footsteps of her late brother Ahmed, a mesaharaty before he died. She beats a drum on her nightly rounds, chants Ramadan-related religious phrases, and even calls out children by name as she passes by their homes in the poor Cairo district of Ard el-Besary.

Abdel-Qader, whose full time job is at a clothes factory, is proud of her side job and says she does it in part to honor the memory of her brother. Her son Mahmoud accompanies her on her nightly three-hour rounds so she is not alone at such a late hour.

“This job requires no official permits,” said Abdel-Qader, who contends that the main requirement for the job is a loud and attractive voice, as well as friendly relations with her neighborhood’s residents.

“Although many people already are up late because this Ramadan fell during the summer, they still like to hear their names called out.”

“I make about 50 pounds ($2.7) every night,” she says, “It is not much, but they are worth millions to me.”