AD License Plate

AD License Plate

Saturday, July 12, 2014

You've Got Your Ramadan Problems, I've Got Mine

It’s been two Saturdays since John and I sat on our couch looking down along Electra Street watching a flurry of activity as Ramadan commenced.  We learned enough to not be surprised that the supermarket was doing brisk trade, but when we saw the cars triple-parked, lights flashing, with a chaotic charge of kundara-clad men and abaya-fied women heading into Starbucks for one last caffeine fix before the holy month began, I have to admit, we had a bit of a chuckle.

Since the start of Ramadan, I have felt a bit guilty about laughing at that frenetic sight. The tone that came over my neighborhood by the very next morning when I said good morning to my normally gregarious doorman and normally friendly shop workers at the dry cleaners was certainly a more somber one. So when John sent me a link to a BBC article about #RamadanProblems, a new trending term on various social media platforms, I felt a bit of relief.

When I’m not fed for a few hours (say, five) my blood sugar crashes and I go into a state that the hubs and I have come to term ‘bitch hungry.’ 

Bitch hungry, anyone?

You probably know the signs. Cranky mood, spinning eyes, on the verge of a meltdown at the slightest of triggers -- like if someone merely looks at me funny. Oh, and when I’m 'bitch hungry,' I find humor in absolutely nothing. For this reason, John can usually be found with a stash of granola bars at the ready whenever we go on a road trip or are out and about for a few hours… just in case.

So when I read about these Ramadan problems, I was impressed. Not only could fasting Muslims manage to last fourteen plus hours without any food or water, but they could LAUGH about it as well.  That said, this is my first Ramadan in a Muslim country, and if I plant my tongue firmly in my cheek, I guess you could say, I have a few #RamadanProblems of my own…

This... Worse than the white man overbite.
For starters, every day for me is like one big blonde moment. I find I’m constantly checking myself before I go out. Am I dressed modestly enough? (Yep, shoulders and knees are covered.) Am I eating a candy bar? (No, it appears not. I’m good to go.) Am I sure I’m not eating a candy bar? (Yes, no candy bar.) Or walking down the street with a slice of pizza in hand? (Nope, nope, they only do that in NYC, I’m good.) Then I slip on out to meet a friend and as I wait in the searing sun I think, “Oh, I should just pop into this store and get a bottle of water, since it’s so damn hot out.” And then I think, "DOH!" Because I can’t drink water in public. And really, I do something like this every single day.

Another Ramadan problem I’ve been faced with is going to the supermarket.  In the morning it’s fine. There’s still a sense of sanity, but one day I made the mistake of going in the afternoon and it was mayhem. What I didn’t realize is that despite the fasting, somebody’s got to prepare the evening and morning meals (iftar and suhoor). So not only are you dealing with people’s mounting hunger (ever on the lookout for those spinning eyes), there are so many large-scale family gatherings that afternoons at the supermarket is like food shopping right before Thanksgiving or Christmas -- a complete madhouse (and a complete madhouse for thirty days!). And while I maneuver through it pretty well, allowing people to cut me at the produce line and not even bothering at the ‘deli’ counter and keeping clear of people with their carts overflowing with food, all I can think is how pathetic I must look with my small shopping basket of cat food tins and a medium-sized slab of salmon to cook dinner for two.

What’s really noticeable is that during Ramadan, Abu Dhabi is a sleepy seaside town during the day that becomes pulsing and alive at night. After sunset, if you’re Muslim, there are iftars to attend, shisha to be enjoyed, family to gather with, and shopping to be done (not for food, but for fun stuff like electronics and clothes). At two in the morning there’s bustling street traffic and the shops and the malls and even my dry cleaning shop closes around one in the morning.  I haven’t hit up the malls at night since I prefer to avoid the crowds, and we haven’t done iftar, because if you’re not fasting the feeling I get that it’s probably just like going out for an Arabic meal, buffet style – and I hate buffets. But still, having a strong memory of my ‘party’ days back in NYC, there is this sense of ‘missing out’ on the fun. FOMO, my friends call it. Fear of Missing Out. But when you’re not Muslim, you really can’t expect an invitation to the party.

So really, Ramadan for the non-Muslim in the UAE is just a series of small inconveniences in exchange for some bonuses as well. The pubs may not open until after sunset, but there’s no music allowed so you can have a decent conversation with your spouse or friends. You may have to watch out for the driver who floats from lane to lane delirious with hunger or sleep deprivation, but the roads are overall quieter and less traveled (during the day at least). And while there are very few restaurants or cafes open, I can still buy bacon by the basket full.  

Being here for Ramadan was discussed as a ‘really big thing.’ I guess what I’m finding is that while this is starkly different to anything I have ever experienced before… it’s not difficult, or unbearable. Of course, that's easy for me to say as I eat a cookie and a full English breakfast at whim, but out of sight.

What I have learned is that as different as we are in our faith and practice of it, we’re all just people, doing our thing, getting by with a bit of humor... so we’re really not that different at all.

I just hope I don’t run into my fasting, b*tch-hungry nemesis any time soon.  ;-)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Cat Capers in Khalidiyah

I’m lying flat on my back, core tightened, sweating my brains out with three other ladies nearby in similar poses. You may be thinking this gal must have moved on from belly-dancing to Bikram yoga classes. But you’d be wrong. You see, this is the appropriate pose for 'kitten spotting in a car park.'

It started with a few of John’s office mates, who alerted him to an abandoned kitten left in the lower level of a car park near his office. On Wednesday afternoon, there were text messages, phone calls and images sent my way. Should we, could we foster? There’s already strong interest in ownership… just a matter of working around trips planned, etc.  Long ago, even before I arrived, I said no fostering… fostering leads to ownership… we already have two… I didn’t want to become a cat hoarder.

But how easily I broke surprised me, I hadn’t even seen the little thing and already I was committing to helping out.

The plan was I’d go to the Expat Ladies' coffee morning (priorities, priorities), then head out to the car park to try to capture the kitten. When I mentioned it to a few new cat-loving friends, the next I knew we had an afternoon planned. Tea with a quick visit of one of the ladies' own new kittens plucked up from a nearby school and picking up of cat carriers and off we went on our mission with Maggie, Lynda and Rhie – all cat owners and very aware of the plight of kittens here in Abu Dhabi.

Kitty in the car park
But this tiny kitten, not much bigger than the palm of my hand, proved to be a far larger challenge than any of us thought.

After a first go that included not only lying on the ground in the sweltering heat of the underground car park, but mad dashes and sprints as this nimble creature easily out ran and out smarted us all darting and hiding in the engine and undercarriages of parked cars.

Who the hell dumps a single kitten in an underground car park?

Well, no one. But car engines are warm safe spots so many a kitten here in the Emirates inadvertently hitch rides, finding themselves zipped across town, separated from their kin, with just a small window of opportunity to get help, get to safety, and to become something more than ‘just another street cat’ in Abu Dhabi.

Luckily, with the Cat Ladies of Khalidiya (which included John dripping in sweat in his business suit) at the ready, we weren’t about to let that happen. After terrifying the little thing with our first attempt at rescue and feeling a bit dehydrated (and unable to drink water in public due to Ramadan) we went home and regrouped, before having another go…

Unfortunately, the second go was as unfruitful as the first. This time the Cat Ladies of Khalidiya found themselves in the strange position of being caught surrounding a high-end Audi SUV with towels and sheets at the ready for when the kitty dashed off. When the car’s owner showed up he was a bit startled by the scene… what the hell were these women doing surrounding and shrouding the car? And despite his kindness and empathy for our plight (he’s probably still scratching his head at the thought of us), when he drove off (even after checking the engine, etc.), we were convinced we had lost the battle… that this kitten would be hanging on for its life in another trip across town.

Dropping the ladies off, sans kitten, was tough. It’s one of those little reminders here in Abu Dhabi that not everyone has it easy in these parts. Some situations feel downright desperate, especially when nothing you do seems able to help. But a final pass by the garage that evening with John proved that this kitten was even quicker than the eye. There it was, nibbling at the food that had been left out for it by its many, many admirers and carpark Samaritans.

It wasn’t until the next afternoon, after John put in a few hours at work, that we gave it another try. This time I had a full arsenal -- a carrier, a laundry hamper, towels, cat toys, cat food and even calming sprays.We had the exact same scenario with an SUV, our thinking the cat was in its undercarriage and a woman who drove off… but after waiting fifteen minutes, John spotted the little smudge of gray resting between two air compressors, oblivious to John’s presence. I got the carrier ready and with a swift swoop John scooped the kitty up and we were off in a flash, bringing the kitten back to our flat.


Kitten in captivity
Today we brought the kitten to the vet where we met another woman who found an even younger cat in her car’s undercarriage. When she learned she couldn’t just drop the kitten off, she ranted a bit. The cat would have to go back out on the street, she yelled.

“Next thing you know we’ll be leaving here with two fosters,” I said to John.

But before that happened, the woman left in a huff, cat in tow. We had our examination, and when we fell back out the door the woman had come back, looking a bit more prepared to take the care of her undercarriage kitten. 

“She chose you,” I offered. 

The woman smiled. From the look of her and her friend, I knew she relented. Another cat lady born. I’m not sure why this woman gave in, or why I gave in on the fostering front. I suspect it’s because it’s Ramadan. Everyone, Muslim or not, has thoughts of being a bit more caring, a bit more flexible, a bit more giving on their mind.

Anyway, our little thing, it turns out, is a girl. John has named her Parker because of her carpark beginnings and her Arabic name is Ooday which means ‘fast runner’ (great suggestion, Lynda and Rhie!). She’s already about eight weeks old. She hisses as well as she runs, so there’s going to be a slow introduction process for her and me and John… and later down the road to our kittens.

This gal cleans up well!
“It’s only temporary,” I have to remind myself while thinking that in reality, it’s not that big a deal, to be a professional cat fosterer while we’re here (especially if I’m not working). One thing at a time, I guess. For now, we’re plying her with warm comfy spots in a room all her own, along with plenty of water and kitten food and kindness.

It's kind of funny to me, how situations unfold here. One minute you're having coffee, the next on a rescue mission, bonding with good people while doing a good deed. 

I guess this goes down as a good week. We saved this scrappy little fighter, my abs feel tighter, and I’ve made a few more cat lady friends.