August 14, 2011

Ramadan Ready - Experiencing some of Ramadan in Dubai, UAE

For a non-practicing Muslim in Dubai, you have to be very careful not to eat or drink in public or I guess you can say, get caught eating or drinking in public.  Ramadan is basically all of August 2011 from dawn to sunset, so most of the day.

Before coming to Dubai, I had heard these horror stories about Ramadan and how you needed to be prepared. I frankly wanted to just leave the entire month. In July, I read newspaper articles that said if caught, you could go to jail for a month.

Some of what I read and heard from taxi drivers and expats indicated as a breast-feeding mother, I was allowed to eat and drink and would be off the hook. But I really did't want to push my luck and find out if the locals thought the same way. I mean they might see me with a baby all the time but I don't have a sign on my chest that says - 'Breastfeeding Mother' so they might assume I am breaking the law first, and ask questions later.

I knew I could feed Rex without him going to jail. Children under puberty can eat during Ramadan. Additionally, Rex wouldn't fit into any jail uniforms yet and we are trying to keep a clean record for him to have a future career in politics  Anyway, I digress...

Burak had some time off and we had some things to buy for the house before our container arrived.  We planned to go to the mall. It took me a few more minutes that normally to get what I call 'Ramadan Ready.'

I packed some fruit and water for the car, made sure we had enough water for Rex in case I needed to make cereal or formula, and made sure to wear something to cover my sexy knees and shoulders.  Ok, that doesn't sound like a lot but I put thought into it.

We arrive at the Mirdiff City Center Mall and after a while I realize what seems weird, there is no music playing anywhere out of respect for Ramadan. Additionally, there are not a lot of people there. Then we continue to browse and shop. I get a little thirsty and hungry. Quick, I find the baby room of the women's bathroom and change Rex and close the door for a swig of water and a bite or two of an apple.

We finish with a trip to Carrefour, the grocery store, in the mall.  Ironically, we are all buying food but we can't eat it publically and Muslims can't eat it for several more hours.  Burak and I bought some food to eat in our heavily window-tinted car in the parking lot. We were so hungry from not eating for about 3-4 hours we were about to tear each others heads off, or something less drastic, but the hunger was getting to us. We finally got in the car, with the food, turned up AC, made the baby happy, and scarfed down food trying to make sure no one saw us. After a few minutes, our blood sugar went back to normal and we contemplated whether it was worth driving to another store before Iftar, the breaking of the fast.

We then went to ACE Hardware as we dodged drivers who had been fasting for 15 hours or so (ie dangerous!) and we arrived right when the Iftar started so we had the place to ourselves. Rex played with every toy I could find and Burak searched for his electric power toys.

The next day we went to Dubai Mall and had to get some things from our list.  We again got hungry and bought food to go from a restaurant in the mall with black curtains covering its door.  We asked if we could eat there and they said no. Apparently, if we get caught eating in public we get a 500 Dhs fine or about $135 - But I thought we had jail on the table too.  And if the restaurant got caught with people eating there it would have a 5000 Dhs fine, or about $1,350.

So we did what any respectable hungry person living in Dubai during Ramadan would do, we promptly took our 'take out' to the baby rooms in the bathrooms and ate with the joy of finally being fed and the fear of being caught.  Luckily, my baby room had a small room inside that I could close the door. Burak luckily had a baby room in the men's restroom but probably because 1. there aren't many people at the malls during the day of Ramadan and 2. I assume not a lot of men change their babies diapers if the wife/mom is around to do it, he had the baby room to himself.

After the call to prayer and Iftar begins, many people go to the malls and the hours are extended to 1-2am. I really don't know how people are surviving with weird hours and fasting but if I were them, I would sleep during the day if possible and stay up at night, if I could.

In fact, most Government-based offices close at 2pm during Ramadan. So unlike in the US in some places you have to be careful after 2am when the drunks are driving home from closing bars, in Dubai during Ramadan, you need to be careful around 2pm of the fasting drivers driving home on empty.

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