Monday, August 8, 2011

Ramadan Kareem

I'm on my eighth day of Ramadan and you'll be pleased to know I'm surviving extremely well.

No, no, please, there's no need to pat me on the back. Yes, I know, this not fasting, not getting up early to pray, not making any kind of religious observance whatsoever, doesn't half take it out of a girl, but please, no, I really don't deserve your praise.

Seriously, though, fasting in the desert is obviously no joke.  No food or drink between sunrise and sunset is tough when the sun's fully up long before you're normally awake and sets between 6 and 7pm, and, of course, there's the temperatures and the ever present drying out air con which makes the lack of liquids particularly difficult.  To give you an indication of what it's like at the moment, we trundled past a temperature indicator on Beach Road this morning and it was 46degrees by 9.30am so kudos to everyone who's managing the fast.  

We have already noticed the effect of it on some of the people we meet going about our day to day business.

The Sand Warlock was in the post office the other day and his conversation with the man behind the counter went a little something like this.

SW: I would like to pay this parking fine and post these letters to the UK, please.

MBC: OK, that's 150 dirhams for the parking fine plus 10 dirhams for the admin fee.

(SW pays the 150) SW: And how much for the letters?

MBC: Oh yes, I'll weigh them.  9.50 for each of those and five for that one.

(hands over stamps)

MBC: Is that all?

SW: Yes, but I haven't paid you for the stamps.

MBC:  Oh, right, how much is it?

SW: Well, it's usually you that tells me that, but it's 24 dirhams.


SW: Here's the money.


Can I have my change?

MBC: Yes.

*another pause*

MBC: How much is the change?

SW: It's a dirham, but, again, it is usually you that tells me that.

MBC: You don't have exact money?

SW: Er, no.

MBC: *grumbles a bit then hands over a dirham.*

SW: What's the 10dirham admin fee for the parking fine all about? 

MBC: It's Dubai, they just find ways to take money off you. Don't complain.

SW: OK, thanks, cheerio.

Poor chap. Barely knew what he was doing and there was at least another six hours until sunset at this point.  A lot of offices and facilities, particularly the Government ones, close early during the holy month presumably because there's such a dip in productivity in the afternoons.  

There does appear to be some confusion as to who has to fast and when.  Despite what I thought I knew about it in the UK, it would appear that children are at least expected to have a go at fasting and those from aged 15 and upwards should make even more of a commitment,

I've also read on The National that diabetics have been given advice on how to observe the fast safely along with pregnant women, although I've seen conflicting articles in the last few days, first saying pregnant women do have to fast, then today the Gulf News  they don't unless they've had health checks first. 

The reason being for this is that, from such a height, the sun sets a little later and therefore, iftar comes later.  Incidentally, I have to get used to seeing the word "fatwa". Child of the 80s that I am, I still associate it with the "fatwa" against Salman Rushdie.  Remember that? Such fun. It meant that he was in hiding rather than being photographed at literary events looking increasingly grizzled with progressively younger women.  But a fatwa is not a death threat, it's more like a decree which may be related to Jihad but usually it's a simple rule for followers of Islam to observe.  

Anyway, my usual glibness and flippancy aside, Ramadan does affect all of us non-Muslims in this part of the world because it means a lot of cafes and restaurants are closed during fasting hours so the Dubai habit of barely using your kitchen goes to the wall and you actually have to cook for yourself.  It means that parts of Dubai Mall dedicated to restaurants look like the apocalypse has happened, if the apocolypse was a very orderly and organised event in which everyone left on a particular date, that is.  Some outlets, such as the Starbucks near my block of flats, are open but only for takeways and they have black screens up lest a Muslim pass and see someone consuming something. 

We're also asked not to eat or drink, even chewing gum or water, in public, in case someone sees us.  Even eating in your car is considered extremely disrespectful and you can get a police warning and then a fine if you're caught doing it again.  So, you really need to make sure you've had plenty of water to drink if you're going to be walking anywhere or outside for any period of time to avoid dehydration unless you can find somewhere out of sight to have a drink. 

Oh frabjous day, calloo, callay. I nearly forgot, a benefit of Ramadan, apart from the delicious Iftar suppers on offer at the hotels and restaurants, is that public music is not really the thing, so it appears to that the loud and offensively rubbish young people's music, drippy R&B with that annoying computerised voice effects, that they normally play in the gym, is turned off.  So, I can listen to CNN news or my own music without having to turn up my iPod so loud that my ears ring for hours afterwards. 

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