We have returned from the UK to Dubai and now find ourselves in the middle of Ramadan. So, here's the educational bit (after which you will find out what it's really like for us western expatriates):
The Educational Bit: "Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Lunar calendar and the holiest of the four holy months. It begins with the sighting of the new moon after which all physically mature and healthy Muslims are obliged to abstain from all food, drink, gum chewing, any kind of tobacco use, and any kind of sexual contact between dawn and sunset. However, that is merely the physical component of the fast; the spiritual aspects of the fast include refraining from gossiping, lying, slandering and all traits of bad character. All obscene and irreligious sights and sounds are to be avoided. Purity of thought and action is paramount. Ordained in the Quran, the fast is an exacting act of deeply personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised level of God-consciousness. The act of fasting redirects the hearts away from worldly activities, towards The Divine.
The month of Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, prayer, doing good deeds and spending time with family and friends. The fasting is intended to help teach Muslims self-discipline, self-restraint and generosity. It also reminds them of the suffering of the poor, who may rarely get to eat well. It is common to have one meal (known as the Suhoor), just before sunrise and another (known as the Iftar), directly after sunset. This meal will commonly consist of dates, following the example of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him. Because Ramadan is a time to spend with friends and family, the fast will often be broken by different Muslim families coming together to share in an evening meal."
So, what's it really like . . . . rather weird actually. Normally, I leave the house in the morning, drop the children off, potter around a little bit, doing jobs, meeting people and the like, before picking up the children, having play-dates and then going home for dinner time. Within that schedule, I will always have at least one bottle of water in my handbag and probably some fruit or a sandwich - not only is it scorching outside still (40 degrees+) but the air conditioning is very drying so I feel as though I am always drinking . . . . but no, not now. Out of respect for the country that I am delighted to be in, I have to go through my day WITHOUT the bottle of water in my handbag - all coffee shops are closed, McDonalds and other fast food chains are shut until sunset. If I want to drink or eat ANYTHING, I need to bring any food and drink with me from home and then I need to find somewhere to eat or drink in complete and utter secrecy. I know people who have had something to eat in the bathroom - the other day I had to have a drink practically lying on the floor in the car so that I wouldn't be seen. I have a friend who was opening a juice box in the car for her child and had a sneaky sip from the straw - unfortunately she was spied and received some rather nasty hand gestures.
Tim isn't having too much of a bad time at work. He is allowed to eat and drink in the pantry in his office, but that's it. He is also supposed to have a shorter day. Government and UAE offices have different working hours in Ramadan - usually 9-3pm or something similar. Despite this though, I haven't really seen Tim that much earlier home than usual. Shame really. The children get a shorter day at school - 2 hours less than usual, but they are largely unaffected by Ramadan - they can eat and drink as usual.
At about 6pm, it is then mad-panic for people to go to their final prayers before Iftar. Then, most people go to restaurants or other people's houses, eat and party the night away, before it all starts again the next day.
We are going to an Iftar on Thursday night - I will make sure that I take some pictures and post them so that you can see what it is like!
The traffic on the roads though is something to be seen. I don't know whether there are more people on the roads at the time that I am, but the traffic congestion is unbelievable in Ramadan. A journey that was supposed to take me 25 minutes yesterday took me 80 . . . . during that time, I was nearly taken out a few times, but primarily by Arabic women . . . . . . Today, admittedly via the supermarket for milk and the petrol station, my journey home took me 2 hours and 30 minutes! Fortunately, I have a DVD player and screens in my car - thank goodness I do or my journey would be even worse with the children screeching in the back!
It's the traffic congestion, if it continues like this, that will bring me home . . .