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Friday, June 27, 2014

A Ramadan Knock-Knock Joke

Knock-Knock.

Who’s there?

Ramadan.

Ramadan who?

Sorry to say, I don’t have a punchline. It’s just that Ramadan is knocking on our door and it’s no joke. It's serious. There is no Muslim equivalent to being a ‘Christmas Catholic’ here. People are preparing, discussing, and fleeing town. The holy month begins here on Saturday evening, with the first full day of Ramadan on Sunday.  And John and I are here to see our way through it.  

As most know, Ramadan is a time when Muslims around the world fast during daylight hours. But what I didn’t know is that the month of Ramadan is not about atonement, and the fasting that Muslims do is not about looking for forgiveness for sins. It’s actually about living more simply, self-reflection and becoming closer with Allah. So, this is not exactly a somber time, even though I suspect I would feel a bit somber if I had to abstain from food and water for 14 hours a day for 30 days. In fact, the word ‘celebrate’ is used a lot when referring to Ramadan and there are sparkly lights being put up all around the city that reminds me a lot of… Christmas.

A light display in our neighborhood

Christmas? Well, that’s confusing, right? Let’s confuse things more. Because, right now at the supermarkets, there are heaploads of foodstuff on display complete with point-of-sale promotions, discounts on staple items and festive decorations that say “Ramadan Kareem!”

But it’s all about fasting, right? Yeah, but, after the fasting comes the celebrations.  This is where we get into Iftar, which are these large elaborate meals that ‘celebrate’ the breaking of the fast.  Iftar meals seem to be large banquet-style affairs or family meal gatherings, usually set up in a tent. So far I’ve seen iftar tents set up at hotels, in town squares next to a mosque near Hatta a few weeks ago, and even next to a private villa in our neighborhood. John and I have even been invited to an Iftar hosted by his company. (I can’t wait.)

Of course, being non-Muslim, I haven’t bought anything to prepare. I wonder if it’s like not buying milk and bread in advance of a snowstorm, or not having flashlights and a generator at the ready in advance of a hurricane. Right now our pantry is not exactly stocked (I’m kind of a buy-as-you-go kind of gal) and I feel like I should be squirreling away food, putting together meal plans and hoarding a supply of pork products or at least a package of dates. Oops?

As an expat newbie in a Muslim country, I’ve asked everyone from my seasoned expat golfing ladies to my taxi driver what it all means and how it will impact my life. On the surface it seems simple enough. Work hours are shortened. Restaurants, cafes and food courts at the shopping malls are closed during daylight hours and shops may or may not be open. If they are, the hours may be odd. The other thing I was told is that dress needs to be really kept in check, so any knee-baring skirts will be put into the back of the closet for a few weeks (as a rule, I generally don’t wear shorts outside of the home or on the golf course). Oh, and there’s also the issue of food and drink. No food or drink (even water) out in public during the fasting hours.

Seems simple enough, right?

Well… yes and no. The challenges begin to dawn on you when you start preparing for your day-to-day activities…

For instance, Sunday is a golfing day for me. Usually I get up, throw on my golf shorts/skirt, crack open a diet coke and grab a granola bar and depart the apartment with both in hand. Then I drive to the course, radio (sometimes) blaring with one of the morning shows from Dubai. Out on the course, I’ll drink lots of water, eat a pineapple Popsicle, and then meet the ladies for coffee or tea and maybe a bite of lunch in the clubhouse before heading home.

But this week, I will wake up earlier so that I have time to eat in my home (if I’m seen drinking water or eating in public or even in my car, I could be arrested, fined or publicly scorned). I’ll put my golf shorts on, but will throw a long skirt over it as well. In the car, I’m not sure if radio stations will be playing music (music is not allowed), so Lady Gaga may be on hold for a while and I’ll have to be more mindful of drivers who are fasting as there are warnings about increased accidents and road rage. As for what happens on the golf course, it’s anyone’s guess. I suspect thirst will be an issue and forget the Popsicles, and it’s only about 104 degrees here at Midday at the moment. Back at the clubhouse, they may serve food and drink, but it may be in a partitioned area away from any public view. Or it may be closed until the evening hours. I just don’t know.

When I asked the taxi driver the other day how this will all go down, he responded, “It will be extremely quiet. No one on the roads. Everything shut down during the day.” I asked if he will continue working during the day since the hubs relies on cabs to get to and from the office. He shook his head. “I will stop work from 2 p.m. until 7 p.m.” He explained that he will rest during this time, waiting for his fast to end… which means if my husband hangs out at the office, I may become his personal chauffeur for the month. In the evening, “everyone will be out, the streets, the malls, the hotels will all be busy, people will be everywhere.”

I’m not sure how this will all shake out. In the big scheme of things, this isn't going to be too big a deal. At least I hope that's the case. And there are several things I like about Ramadan. I like the idea that fasting (and also refraining from water, caffeine, cursing, smoking and a few other things) is a way to get closer to one’s faith versus what I originally thought was some sort of self-punishment. I also like that getting closer to Allah (or any god or higher power) is seen as something to celebrate. I’d like to believe that if there is a god, then s/he needs to be a kind and generous one. I also like the focus on celebrating iftar with others, whether it be family, friends or friends you just haven’t met yet at the iftar tent. The sparkling lights are nice, as are the small acts of kindness and generosity that also go with Ramadan. Charitable giving is in focus during Ramadan, as well as just being kind to your neighbor.  And just like Christmas, there are megasales going on, if you're up for going to the mall at 10 in evening…

Anyway, I suspect this slowed pace will provide for some introspection and stock-taking of our own as well, but for now I do have a few Ramadan projects:
  • John and I have a ‘playlist’ of television shows and dvd box sets we are going to watch. Apparently, our Muslim counterparts will be doing the same, as AIrabic television shows will premiere their newslate of shows, with series’ running through the month and ending at Eid. (Fascinating!)
  • I’ve got to clean my computer files, and rejigger my email folders. This could take weeks.
  • I’m going to begin writing a new script. It would be amazing if I could jam out a first draft in thirty days, but that’s not going to happen, I just don’t write that way. At least it will get started. 
  • I will be focused more on developing my writing life here. I need to develop a schedule, set some goals, treat the writing like a very important but (for now) unpaid job. Until a paid job appears or I sell a screenplay. I will continue to job hunt in the travel/tourism sector here.
  • I’m already reading more, but I will read EVEN more! I’m aiming to read 15 scripts in 30 days and finish reading two books. 
  • Finally, I am going to attempt to construct a cat tree for my two furry housemates. I think our apartment suits them very well, but they are tree dwellers and need high perches, of which we have none at the moment.  I tend to start and not finish projects like this, so I will be mindful to only start what I know I can finish. This will take planning, and tools, and possibly the use of a saw and staple gun (thank god for that upholstery class I took last year!).

I will play less golf, socialize less during the day (lots of people have left for the summer anyway) and not go to the beach (can’t drink water unless I sneak into a toilet stall). I will shop early in the morning instead of in the afternoon as I usually do. We’ll likely not go out much in the evening, though we’ve been told our local will be open after 7:30 p.m. each evening.

I’ll keep you all posted on our Ramadan experiences. In the meantime...


Ramadan Kareem!



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