Within the next few weeks we will be starting the Holy Month here in the Middle East…a time of fasting between sunrise and sunset for Muslims, and for those expats who are not fasting, a time of challenge ,to ensure that we somehow manage to still eat and drink at work, without causing offence to our Muslim co-workers and friends. No one is actually permitted to eat or drink or smoke in public at all. There are a few people who are exempt, but for the most part, we are all expected to comply with the law at this time.
A lot of expats really struggle with Ramadan but after 13 years, I have certainly become used to making a few sacrifices when it comes to finding a private space somewhere to eat and drink. In most of the Shopping Malls, there are restaurants which remain open, having applied for special permits from the Municipality for this purpose. In order to remain open , however, they have to curtain or shield the restaurant off completely ,so as to avoid causing any offence or offering temptation to any Muslims who may be walking past.
This may seem very strange to anyone reading this, but when I first arrived , all those years ago, Ramadan was truly quite a hardship for most expats as none of the shops selling food or drink of any kind were allowed to open at all! During the hours between sunrise and sunset, no stores were open except for one or two gas station convenience stores.
This meant that every trip anywhere had to be planned ahead of time as one could not even get a drink or food from a take-away restaurant! Nowadays, the curtained off areas make life so much easier for us! I must say, I have often wondered how Muslims in predominantly Western countries manage their fasting…..I am certain that none of the restaurants would shut down or screen areas off for them so I imagine that would really test your resolve…..almost all my Muslim friends have said on numerous occasions that it makes no difference to them if we drink a cup of tea in the office, or have a glass of water to drink, even if they can see us. Out of respect , though, I avoid it if I can..I think it must be really hard to fast while people around you are not!
This year, Ramadan has fallen over the middle of the summer which will bring its own set of extreme challenges, particularly with the excessive heat we are currently experiencing …our daily temperatures are between 46 degrees C to 50 degreesC , dropping to a “cool” 37 at night!! I cannot manage without at least 2 litres of water a day in this heat and I usually drink much more than that, particularly when I am on site! How the devout Muslims who are fasting are going to manage is a mystery to me…all of our work hours will of course be much shorter and our day will end at 2pm , in order to allow most people to drive home and at least be out of the heat for the rest of the day. This afternoon time also allows the women to take time to prepare the Iftar meal which will break the fast int he evening.
Unfortunately, this will affect our production on site, as my teams will (by law) have to leave early or be paid overtime rates. As you can imagine, fasting combined with the heat does not exactly contribute to an energy filled work-force…so we have to adjust our schedules to accommodate these challenges!
One of the main things I love about Ramadan is that life slows down to a completely manageable pace during the Holy Month….it is meant to be a time of reflection and a time spent with family and loved ones so partly because of this, and also because of the fact that the day ends early, the roads are much quieter and easier to navigate, stores and shopping malls are less crowded and generally , life seems to move much more slowly.
This year I have more work than ever before(for which I am so grateful), so I am not sure how much I will be able to slow down, but I am certainly going to use the time to take a breath ,and possibly get together with some friends and family in the evenings and also catch up on chores at home which I simply have no time for during the busy weeks.
Ramadan is also a great opportunity to try and break bad habits which one has fallen into….such as eating the wrong foods, not exercising enough, going to sleep too late…..mmm, I may just need more than a month!!!
Last year I wrote a post on the wonderful Ramadan decorations in Emirates Mall and this year I am really looking forward to seeing what they do and how they compare to last year!!