MIRROR, SIGNAL, MANOUVERE

“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).

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COUNTING THE DAYS

It's ten days since I waved Jo and the kids off at the airport, and 17 days (not that I'm counting) until I see them again. I am missing them like crazy, even the bickering and crying (and that's just Jo I'm talking about ;@)), so the time is passing very slowly.

They have definitely done the right thing escaping from Abu Dhabi. Whilst the temperature hasn't really increased since they left (still early 40s most afternoons), the humidity certainly has. It was over 50% today which meant that the heat index (what the heat feels like to the human body when the temperature and humidity are combined) went above 51 degrees centigrade (122 degrees Fahrenheit) this afternoon. I'm now at the stage where my glasses steam over every time I set foot outside, which is a little annoying.

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MA’A AS-SALAAMA

Two days from now I will be saying “ma'a as-salaama” or “goodbye” to Jo and the kids as they head back to the UK for the summer. As I've said previously many expat wives and children do this as soon as school finishes because the summer heat is far too punishing to spend any amount of time outside, and there are only so many times you can go bowling or to the cinema.

I'll see them again in four weeks time when I fly into the UK for a few days before we head off for our summer holiday in Spain, and then I'll return to the UAE about ten days ahead of them. Before you ask, I know it is a little strange to holiday in Spain when we have a whole new part of the world to explore on our doorstep, but the holiday was booked before we even knew we were moving to the UAE (so much for long term planning!). Next year we hope to be holidaying in this part of the world.

Back to the matter in hand, I know four weeks apart isn't long at all compared to many people's circumstances, but it's the longest we will have been apart as a family, so it is going to very strange not seeing each other for so long. It will be even tougher because as a family we have done so much together over the last year. Of course there is always Skype, a godsend for many expats, although the children haven't yet got past the stage of clamming up or acting silly when given the opportunity to speak to grandparents so I'm not sure how much interaction I'll get from them!

Anyway, enough of the self pity. The summer here is a time for lots of goodbyes, not just families disappearing for the summer, but also people moving on permanently. Contracts may have come to an end, employers may be sending staff to a new country, or people may have decided to head back to their home country. Whatever the reason, one of the things you have to get used to as an expat is the transient nature of this part of the lifestyle.

It affects all of us. Two of the best friends Henry has made have already moved on with their families, and a couple of Flossie's classmates won't be returning in September. One of the first families we made friends with, and very much enjoyed spending time with, headed back to the UK a few months ago (or the wife and children did, the husband will follow them in a couple of months), and a number of Jo's friends are heading off on new adventures.

Jo recognized very early that it is important to develop and nurture a wide circle of friends, so that things don't have to start from scratch if a friend disappears. She has been unsurprisingly good at this, helped I think by the fact that many of the wives have the same attitude, so friendships tend to develop very quickly because everyone is in the same boat. The husbands of course, are hopeless, and find it easier to allow our social lives to be organized for us. Still, it all seems to work pretty well.

Archie has a very healthy attitude to the whole thing. When we were chatting about it over dinner a few days ago he was reflecting on the different countries his friends come from, and how the expat life means that he is “going to have friends all over the world”. It was great to hear him say that, especially as he was the one that we thought may struggle with the move.

I'm starting to plan how I will spend my time whilst I am on my own, especially as during Ramadan I will have a couple of extra hours to play with most days. Obviously (honest) I'll be in the gym opposite the house every day, and will be developing my domestic skills (mind you, there is a long list of restaurants that do deliveries here that I need to work through), but I've also started a list of places to go and things to see (actually if I'm honest there's only one thing on it at the moment, but I'm thinking hard).

And of course, you'll all be delighted to hear that I'll have more time to blog. You have been warned!

As always, thanks for reading.

PS: I said I'd report back on how I am finding Ramadan. Three days in the main things I've noticed are that the roads have been quieter on the drive into work in the morning, and a little busier on the drive home. It's been easy enough to find somewhere private to have a bite of lunch or a drink. There have just been a couple of instances where I have been desperate for a drink but unable to have one as I was in public, but that's not much of a hardship really.

 

Ramadan Kareem

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.

Ramadan

 

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.

 

Ramadan Kareem 2

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).