For those that saw the title of this post and clicked on it thinking it must be a cultural post about a historic monument in Abu Dhabi, you are going to be disappointed. In fact the “Abu Dhabi stone” refers to the amount of weight that expats traditionally put on in their first twelve months in the country (more generally known as the “expat stone” as it happens elsewhere as well).
We spent a couple of interesting hours at ADIHEX today. ADIHEX is the Abu Dhabi International Hunting & Equestrian Exhibition, one of the four biggest hunting shows in the world, which has been running for the last few days at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
As I sit here killing the final hour before my taxi arrives to take me to the airport to fly back to the UK, the UAE Government has just announced that the Moon Sighting Committee (it really exists) has witnessed the Shawwal moon (Shawwal being the tenth month of the lunar Islamic calendar), meaning that Ramadan ends today and the Eid Al Fitr holiday begins tomorrow.
Over the last couple of weeks I have been keeping myself busy in the evenings by volunteering with INJAZ UAE to run a career development program for a group of students who have secured scholarships from one of the most prestigious companies in Abu Dhabi.
The students were selected after an assessment program that started at an early stage of their schooling and in the next few weeks will head off to the US to complete their final year of school before going to University. When they return to the UAE in four years time they will be in a strong position to secure an attractive job with the government entity that is sponsoring them.
“Remember: mirror, signal, manouvere”.
They’re having a traffic safety campaign during Ramadan here in the UAE. There are regular slots on the radio where they remind us how to drive, with the help of experts who sagely advise us not to brake too hard because the person who is driving right up our back bumper may crash into us (never mind that they shouldn’t be so close to us in the first place).
Tomorrow sees the start of our first Ramadan in the UAE, this year coinciding with the hottest part of the year.
A quick overview for those not so familiar with Ramadan. It is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims worldwide fast during daylight hours. Observing the annual fast is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and is obligatory for all adult Muslims, except for those who are ill, travelling or pregnant. The month lasts 29 or 30 days depending on the sighting of the crescent moon. This link to the lunar calendar means that Ramadan moves forward about ten days each year.
Whilst fasting from dawn to sunset (about 15 hours in the UAE at this time of year) Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquid, smoking, and engaging in sexual relations. Each day before dawn many Muslims observe a pre-fast meal or suhoor. And at sunset the fast breaking meal is know as iftar, with many hotels offering special buffets to entice people in.
Non Muslims are expected to respect the fast given that we are guests in a Muslim country, which is fair enough. That said, most offices will make a room available for people not observing the fast to have a sneaky drink or snack, and some restaurants are open during the day with specially screened off sections for non Muslims to go and eat without offending anyone.
Work and school hours change during Ramadan. School starts a little later than normal (8am rather than 7:45am) and finishes at 1pm rather than 2:30pm. I will still start work at 8:30am but will finish two hours earlier than normal at 3:30pm.
To be honest we’re not really sure what to expect, although from listening to the radio, speaking to friends / colleagues, and reading other blogs, the common advice seems to be:
- Do not be seen eating, drinking or smoking in public, and remember that your car is considered to be a public place so the rules apply there just like out in the street. It may be a myth but people have apparently been stopped by the police for breaking this rule.
- Don’t play loud music in your home or car. Ramadan is a time of reflection and loud music isn’t good for this. So Flossie will have to stop blasting One Direction out 24 hours a day, every cloud, etc.
- Rush hour changes from 6pm to 2pm / 3pm because that is when most offices close. Apparently the normally “erratic” driving we see here becomes even more “erratic” when people haven’t eaten for seven or eight hours so one needs to be even more alert than normal. In light of this I’m not sure its a good thing I have at least two days in Dubai this week!
- The driving is even more hazardous at around 6pm when people are rushing home for iftar, so some people advise you to stay off the roads all together at this time.
- Dress more conservatively than usual when out in public.
In terms of doing business, I’m told that things slow down considerably, with people working shorter hours and not being in the mood for work due to frayed tempers. Apparently it is a good time to catch up on things that have been outstanding for a while, or to do some strategic thinking. This remains to be seen, all I know at the moment is my diary this week looks just as packed as always.
Jo has the right idea. The kids finish school on Wednesday, and they are on the first plane out of here on Thursday mainly to escape the heat, but the bonus for them this year will be that they are away for most of Ramadan. I will do my best to enter into the spirit of things by observing the fast, who knows maybe I’ll even manage to lose a few pounds.
I shall return in a few days to let you know how it is going.
As always thanks for reading, until next time, Ramadan Kareem (which I think means “Generous Ramadan” or something similar, anyway it is one of the traditional greetings).