Monthly Archives: June 2014

Abu Dhabi Here I Am

I just recently got back from another Visa run in Abu Dhabi, and fell in love with the city all over again. The humidity was so high that my glasses would steam up when I walked outside, but the people there are so pleasant and the city vibe is so mellow, that I want to go for another visit. And, even though no taxi drivers propositioned me this time around, a tall, attractive Bosnian actually thought I was going to go home with him for a little one night stand! (Do people actually still do that!!!). I said goodbye to the 70s some time ago.

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I recently went to Abu Dhabi on a “visa run.” I had to renew my Saudi visa before it expired, and the company sent me to Abu Dhabi for a few days to do so. It was good to get away. I slept late, and felt grateful to be able to shed the abaya and hijab.

Abu Dhabi is a beautiful city. It is on an island sitting in the Persian Gulf, and is surrounded by many smaller islands. The water is a beautiful sapphire blue, and there are parks, beaches, and lots of green. The city has a decidely Western feel to it. And, were it not for the proliferation of thobes and abayas, I could easily imagine being back in San Francisco. The weather changes from warm to an evening cool and the city is brightly lit at night – like a perpetual Christmastime. And women are driving!…

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Ramadan Kareem!

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Ramadan Kareem. Happy Ramadan.

I haven’t blogged for some time now, but I would be horribly remiss if I did not write about Ramadan. Ramadan began on the new moon in the lunar month of June, and will last until the next new moon. Muslims around the world celebrate it by fasting, which includes abstaining from even water, from sunup to sundown. Some fast to get closer to Allah, some to be able to better empathize with people who are hungry, others to purify their body, or other significant reasons. I have read that Ramadan is one of the five tenents or pillars of Islam, the others being: Shahadah: declaring there is no god except God, and Muhammad is God’s Messenger; Salat: ritual prayer five times a day; Zakat: giving 2.5% of one’s savings to the poor and needy; and Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime if he/she is able to.

Of course, sunup to sundown is different around the world. Here is Riyadh, fasting begins at dawn, or around 5:00 a.m., and ends at about 6 or 6:30 p.m. In California, dawn to dusk can last for 14 or 15 hours! I have told my students that they are fortunate to be here in Riyadh, where the day is much shorter, and there is no such thing as daylight savings time.

My initiation into Ramadan began on Friday, June 27. And, while everyone told me that it’s a little like Christmas, no one told me about the supermarkets. I went to one of my favorite supermarkets on Friday afternoon. Big. Mistake. What normally would have taken 1 hour, took 2 ½ hours. Everyone in Riyadh was stocking up on food. Families, with the husband, wife, 5 children and Nanny in tow, were buying at least 1 full, overflowing shopping cart of food. And usually two full, overflowing shopping carts of food.

Why? Apparently, every evening there is a huge meal, and people continue to eat throughout the night and into the early morning. Days are mostly reserved for sleeping and resting. Offices, schools, and hospitals (except the emergency room) are open from 10:00 a.m.-1 p.m. and 9 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. Malls and supermarkets are open until 2 or 3 a.m.

I will be working the same odd shift at my language school. Non-Muslims are able to eat, but not publicly, and not in front of other Muslims. I had to grab a quick swig of water in a corner of the kitchen today and hope that no one was looking.

Tomorrow, I will look for a dark corner to secretly and silently inhale my lunch.

At the next new moon, there will be a holiday: Eid al-Fitr, which concludes Ramadan with a huge family feast, gift giving, travel and general merrymaking for 3 days.

I will checking in now and then to give you an update on the fasting festivities.

Ramadan Mubarak!