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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.  ;-)

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