I’m back on the blog wagon after an unplanned break away. Gosh time flies doesn’t it? Suddenly it’s nearly the end of August and y’all must have been wondering where on earth I’ve been.
Ramadan falls in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, beginning following the sighting of the crescent moon, and lasts around 29-30 days. Ramadan is observed through a month of fasting daily from sunrise to sunset. Prayer increases and more time is spent reciting the Quran.
I am not Muslim thus this was a completely new experience for me. What I didn’t realise is that fasting means you cannot eat or drink anything, water included. As Qatar is an Islamic country, these rules apply to everyone in public, and also in our workplace. Cafes are no longer open in the days, meaning no more coffee runs at work, you cannot chew gum, sip water, eat outside or in front of people. The desire to do a jig on the street had to be promptly quashed as music, singing and dancing was no longer allowed. The country also becomes dry, with the only alcohol centre closed for the duration, along with bars. Restaurants could open specific hours, but no alcohol was available.
Suddenly this underground society opened up to cater for those not fasting. Restaurants had their blinds down, hidden from the masses, and are only open to those who know they are. People began sneaking into dedicated ‘eating’ rooms just to sip water. Coffee was being hidden in travel cups, wrapped and sealed in plastic, tucked into handbags and smuggled in. Martini Mondays moved from the Four Seasons to our apartment, catering for Westerners desperate for a taste.
At work we basically began fasting ourselves, it was easier to avoid anything rather than hiding things away and being sneaky, worrying that someone might see you and be upset or disappointed, or even worse, complain. In reality, this meant that we were eating dinner around 7pm, having some water before bed at 9.30pm, then not eating nor drinking until we arrived home from work the next day at about 3. Even with my cactus-like conditioning going a long time without food or water was difficult in the hot condition of the desert. Before Ramadan began we were warned by Muslim colleagues that the quality of their work would deteriorate during the period, as they would not be able to concentrate due to the lack of food and water. When I explained how we were eating/drinking I think they were shocked. Yes, I was getting a decent amount of sleep in comparison, but my fasting was ending up often longer than theirs – in Qatar you can break your fast with iftar (breakfast) at sunset (6.30pm or so, much earlier than the UK), and eat suhoor after evening prayers at around 3am, before sunrise.
Jumping in the car after work we’d quick grab a sweet and shove it into our mouths while pretending to cough or yawn as it is still very much frowned upon to be seen to be eating, even in the relative privacy of your vehicle. Racing home we’d grab a sugary drink and eat something light. Thus beginning the cycle of Work –> Eat –> Nap –> Eat –> Sleep.
Ramadan also meant we had to be much more aware of cultural values and dress more conservatively. Arms, legs and chests had to be completely covered. The previously bearable 40+ degree heat suddenly became more difficult to manage while fully attired and layered. Due to the difficulty and limitations in wardrobe choices, the other girls on my team opted to wear an abaya, the black gown of traditional dress that goes over your clothing meaning that underneath you could wear a light summer dress and no one would know.
Ramadan did bring with it some positives. Our working hours decreased by 3 hours (in reality we were still doing nearly the same most days), and the slightly later start made us feel a little more normal. People started disappearing on their summer holidays to go somewhere cooler to enjoy being outside in the summer sun. But the best thing about Ramadan was Eid.
Eid al-Fitr, Feast of Breaking the Fast, is a celebration where Muslims show unity. In Qatar we heard rumours that this special time of the year was rewarded with up to 10 days leave, granted by the Emir. However, such leave is only confirmed at very short notice, and with the recent change in leadership people were unsure if the new leader would be as generous or hoped he would be even moreso! And thus, on the 3rd of August, the Emir announced that 10 days leave would be granted to government employees beginning 6 August.
We’re back at work on normal hours now, but the summer holiday feeling is still very much there, with many people away until September.
We survived our first Ramadan. And you know what? It wasn’t as bad as we anticipated.