Saturday saw the start of the holy month of Ramadan. This is one of the most important periods in the Islamic calendar and something that obviously then becomes part of my expat life. It can be something that both newbie and long standing desert girls find hard to adjust to, as everyday routines get turned on their heads and we all rush to remind ourselves of the dos and don’ts. Even though in last 3 years, I have not had to live to a schedule, have a 9 to 5 to conform to, why is that as soon as I know my day to day is going to be thrown out of whack, I find myself bewildered and lost?
We all know that Ramadan is approaching and it becomes this neon sign in the distance that we all know is coming and when it does, will turn everything upside down, especially socially. Many people have a misconception that if you are not a practicing Muslim that Ramadan has little or no impact on you but this isn’t strictly true. Last year I delved into the facts and gave an insider view to the fundamentals of what this means for everyone in Kuwait, however I didn’t touch on how I deal logistically with the changes.
I remember my first Ramadan experience, almost a year into my arrival, I was so scared of putting a foot wrong, getting arrested or causing deep offense, I wasn’t sure I should even leave the house! I quickly realised, that whilst there is a massive shift in activity, I didn’t need to hide away but just let my cultural awareness kick in. Soon its just another element of your life here and part of the desert experience.
Last week I was truly a social butterfly, flitting from one social gathering to another. The lead up to Ramadan is always a busy one, as everyone crams in events and “to do lists” whilst there are no restrictions. We all band about the phrase “I’ve got to get that done before Ramadan” as anything bureaucratic or appointment based will just become slower, less convenient as working hours change, and not surprisingly, output becomes compounded by fasting. It’s a race to the finish line, trying to alleviate any additional hassle and my Starbucks intake goes into over drive.
As I enjoyed our last Ladies that brunch gathering, I realised that actually for some round the table, this would be the last time we would see each other until September! To an outsider, that seems somewhat ridiculous, as we are only in May, but as soon as Ramadan starts obviously the grabbing of coffees, catching up over eggs and a quick morning gossip over the spin bike will cease. Before we know it, schools break up, bags are packed and the great summer expat exodus will begin. So there it is, the reality that social interaction with a lot of my desert girls will now be on hold for the next 4 months!
It not just our schedules that change, but husbands and kids have to adjust to the change in working hours. The kids start later, which most are happy about meaning those 5am starts are delayed but an hour and husbands reduced to a 6 hour day. Whilst this seems like a great idea in theory, the same amount of work needs to be done and it’s just another thing throwing us all off kilter. My mummy friends are suddenly unable to get on with the routine, as mornings now have all the family vying for attention, prolonging the house from emptying, so domestically, we goddesses can’t get on with the jobs of the day.
My desert salvation has to be the gym and the beach club. This haven of normality that has become fixed firmly in my day to day and social hub of activity. Alas this is also taking a hit and whilst I can do my own workout and chill by the pool, the restriction on eating and drinking, can make this difficult. In year one, I ignorantly had no idea that even water intake was restricted in the fasting hours, for both Muslims and non!? This was one of the hardest transitions, how could I possibly work out, not rehydrate and deal with soaring temperatures? It’s not ideal and yes could be avoided by staying at home, but that isn’t the answer being cooped up for a month. So I do yield and attempt to be as normal as possible, hitting the water bottle as soon as I’m home.
Don’t get me wrong, yes it turns my desert life on its head for a few weeks, but I do totally respect and admire the millions that part take in this sacred period. It is such a massive part of the local culture here and the fact my day changes has little consequence and whilst we are living here, expats should respect and accept this cultural importance. It maybe a strange time to be here, but in some ways I do actually quite like it. Everywhere is so quiet during the day, the roads are empty, the gym is a ghost town, allowing me to get onto all the equipment no issues, the pool is tranquil until the kids get out of school (then its kids soup!) and I get to have a few extra hours to chat with Hubby over our morning coffee.
There is a wonderful atmosphere that starts to build in the up and coming days. I watch my neighbours spend hours decorating their front door with fairy lights and the traditional lanterns. There is a flow of people coming and going, arriving with arms of Ramadan gifts and children receiving chocolates and sweet treats. The Suhoor (pre sunrise) and Iftar (post sun set) tents go up around our local mosque, knowing soon they will be flowing with people and bringing the community together for a common cause.
As the schedules change, so too does the hive of activity. As nightfalls, the city comes alive, the sun sets, the buzz begins and everyone gathers at Iftar celebrations and nocturnal routines are in full flow. Yes, most expats will avoid the roads pre sunset as the mad rush to break fast begins and I certainly wont be hitting the malls. I will however, attend a couple of Iftar meals. Hubby and I always try to do at least one during the period and whilst we aren’t fasting, we love the coming together and atmosphere that this sunset ritual brings with it. Seeing families gathering, as they follow the traditional routine of breaking fast with dates, soups, the enjoyment of sharing dishes with loved one and unified in their mutual belief and commitment.
So to all those celebrating, Ramadan Kareem and to those not, be patient, respectful, go out and enjoy the evenings, that are filled with the buzz of middle eastern hospitality.