Maverick Citizen

Sharing & Solidarity

Celebrating Ramadan by sending ‘boeka’ plates around the world

Left: Sumayya Omar shares her boeka platter with all her sisters and brothers in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and across the world. Centre: Graham Krige shares his boeka bowl of zucchini pasta with a friend in Hamburg, Germany. Right: Basel Agbaria shares this boeka meal from Palestine with a friend in Cape Town. (Photo: Sumayya Omar / @sumayyao) | Graham Krige / @gumbykrige) | Basel Agbaria / @baselagbaria)

Food, and the sharing thereof, has woven ancient tapestries of connecting and bringing people together for centuries. A new social media initiative aims to continue this tradition together apart.

“Boeka” (a Cape Muslim Afrikaans word for breaking one’s fast at sunset during Ramadan) is synonymously celebrated in the Cape with the sharing and exchange of boeka plates with neighbours, family and friends. This is a food dish your family has prepared and shares.

Growing up in Woodstock, before boeka or iftar, my mother would send my siblings and me to our neighbours with a boeka plate of something sweet or savoury to share. In exchange, the neighbours would share what they had made. When we got back home, we would put all these plates out on the table, and my brother and I would excitedly open them to see what each neighbour had sent. 

It was a big treat! 

Nasreen Khan shares this boeka meal from Seychelles with her siblings and parents in Ladysmith. (Photo: Nasreen Khan / @msnasreen)

Our boeka table would be filled with a variety of different dishes. It was all about sharing the little you had and the abundance and blessings thereof.

In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, this tradition was for the first time not possible, physically. It is the first Ramadan that I can recall, where no boeka plates are being exchanged. I missed this Cape tradition that is inherent to my culture and upbringing. 

Stuart Coffey shares this Thai pineapple fried rice with a friend in San Diego, US. (Photo: Stuart Coffey / @stucoffey)

To bridge this gap, I imagined and created @boekawithoutborders – an Instagram platform where anyone anywhere in the world can share a virtual boeka plate from their home across streets, neighbourhoods, countries and oceans during this blessed month of Ramadan, while under lockdown. 

The platform is not limited to those observing Ramadan as it is centred around the universal value of sharing food to connect and unite.

Zara Amina Chotia shares this boeka plate of kheer from Johannesburg with a former neighbour and dear friend in Dubai. (Photo: Zara Amin Chothia)

Nadia Kamies from Cape Town, who shared a @boekawithoutborders plate, recalls:

“I grew up in Walmer Estate where people of different beliefs lived side by side but there was a strong sense of community. Our Christian neighbours would send Muslim children home before the athaan and where Muslim youth also gathered at church functions. And during Ramadaan children would criss-cross the streets sharing boeka plates with neighbours irrespective of their religion.” 

For Nadia: “In this time of global crisis and social distancing @boekawithoutborders reminds us that we are still connected in ways that go deeper than physical contact.”

Esther Mena Alarcón in Spain shares this sentiment: 

“My experience with Ramadaan is unorthodox. I was born and raised Christian in Barcelona but have spent most of my adult life in Geneva, where I had the opportunity to meet people from the whole world. People were very generous and shared with me their culture, traditions and religions. I have many Muslim friends who used to invite me every year to share Iftar. It was such a magical moment of solidarity and communion that my words fail to describe what I feel. This year I was supposed to spend my first Ramadaan in Barcelona. The Covid19 and lockdown happened. @boekawithoutborders initiative has provided me with the opportunity to send some of the dishes I cook during this holy month to my Muslim friends far away and to be part somehow of this spiritual experience.”

For Noncedo Gxekwa, who shared Ulusu Mogudu tripe with her family in Richard’s Bay, this platform “is a reminder of how powerful sharing food is… how it is a ritual that we are reminded of more during this time and it is how we express our love for each other”.

Basel Agbaria in Jaffa, Palestine, says that when he received a virtual plate: 

“It reminded me of the old days where I as a child walked to the neighbour’s house and gave them a food plate and got one in return. It’s actually quite funny that we feel social media abolished these traditions but @boekawithoutborders used social media to bring these habits back in difficult times.”

@boekawithoutborders aims to create a spirit of community and solidarity through the virtual exchange, and sharing of boeka plates to spread the spirit of Ramadan throughout the world among people of different religions and nationalities. It uses creativity and technology to foster human connection during these unusual times while a large percentage of the world is experiencing some form of lockdown.

Although this initiative was only started within the last month, people are appreciating the idea and cross-cultural connections have been formed via this platform. Boeka plates have been sent and received in more than 55 cities around the world, including from the Seychelles to Switzerland, Cape Town to Calgary, Palestine to Peru, Bloemfontein to Barcelona, India to Ireland, Durban to Dakar, Albania to Australia, Zimbabwe to Zambia, Mali to Manila, Ladysmith to London, Namibia to Nigeria, Istanbul to Italy, Malawi to Madrid, and the list of cities continues to grow. 

Let’s keep spreading the spirit of Ramadan all over the world. 

Tag @boekawithoutborders #boekawithoutborders in your post. 

Let’s boeka together apart! DM/MC

Ayesha Mukadam is an art director/social designer/artist. She started her career working as an art director at renowned advertising agencies in Cape Town. Over the years she started exploring and pursuing her innate passion of using creativity and design for social change. Her love for food, its strong connection to people and storytelling narrative have been the core and driving force behind some of her latest installations and design work.


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