American in Arabia digests the fasting month with the ghost of Ramadan past!
Ramadan is almost Rama-done. When I arrived in the Middle East in '07, I couldn't even remember the holdiay greeting "Ramadan Kareem'. (I had to create a pneumonic trick and say, "Rub it on Cream" to get by.) But now I’m on my fifth round as an expat during the Islamic Holy Month and by rights a seasoned pro. Last year I sang the praises of this month long holiday/test of human restraint and I stand by every word: Ramadan is a phenomenon.
After reading this very helpful piece on the dos and don’ts for Westerners during this time, I thought I would add a few more observations about daily life during Ramadan.
The Storm before the Calm
Naturally when people have been forgoing food and drink all day, they are in a bit of a rush to get home. So about an hour or two before the Iftar, the roads can get a bit dicey. Not surprisingly, I’ve seen many accidents during this time and find it amazing there aren’t more fender benders because I know I can’t even drive well without my morning cup of coffee. Imagine working all day and then driving after nothing but a full Cup o’ No.
As soon as that call to prayer goes off though, the streets are practically bare and the entire city turns into a quiet diner at 6 in the morning. The only noises are utensils hitting plates and the low hum of families chatting and chowing down together. Sometimes I grab a bite to eat at home beforehand and walk through the neighborhood just to take in the peace of the Iftar meal sounds.
Morning and Noon Breath
One of the other natural repercussions of abstaining from all things all day is a bit of bad breath. Well, maybe a little more than a bit. In fact, if the police really wanted to check to see if someone was truly partaking in the fast, they just need to take a whiff.
I’m not being critical and it gives me a little more respect for the chap who chooses piety over Pepsodent. In fact, Islamic weddings aren’t even permissible during this time which is probably a good idea- that first kiss would be brutal.
Like any rule, there is no inherent power in said law to fulfill it. Not everyone can keep the fast all month, which is really between him or her and God. Let's face it, all of us expats are impressed when someone does it for even one day! That being said, as the month is winding down, I’ve walked into a few situations where I thought I had stumbled upon a robbery.
Here's a classic example: Yesterday, I decided to pop into my buddy’s office for a visit during lunchtime. After I knocked several times, he cracked the door, saw my face, yanked me inside and slammed the door shut. After bolting it tight, he embarrassingly smirked, “Sorry man, I couldn’t make it.” That’s when I saw the Big Mac and fries strewn about his desk. I insisted his apology was not necessary and then threatened to call his parents if he didn’t split his fries with me.
Again, I find this season to be special and unlike years past, I have looked forward to its arrival. As a Christian, I am still allowed to get off work early, go to all the events and see my Muslim friends in their absolute best. I do have one complaint- why don’t they make those ridiculously awesome pancakes all year around!
By Brett Weer