This year, for the first time in 9 years, I'll be leaving Qatar for a week and a half during Ramadan.
And a part of me is quite sad. Because even though we aren't Muslim and we don't fast per se, we do tend to take advantage of the spirit of the month to slow down a bit. We use the shorter workdays (5 hours) to work out a little more, plan our meals a little more carefully, reflect a little more, clean out the junk drawer, play board games ...
We tip a little more, drink a little less, and catch up on sleep. We're thankful for the empty streets and for the price cap on many food staples (about 400 items including milk, chicken, bread, ...). We watch acts of kindness abound; Muslims of all nationalities defying the thirst and hunger that accompany them throughout the day to open up their homes and their kitchens to strangers for Iftar, after the sunset call to prayer. My colleagues bring Garangao bags for my daughter on the 14th day of fasting. Tents open up all over the city at night and offer up feasts for those less fortunate.
All around, it's a good time to be in Qatar, and we've always spent the month here. But this year, today (18th June) is the first day of Ramadan (it falls about 10 days earlier every year) and my Mom's 80th birthday falls on the 21st of June.
My sisters and I planned a surprise cruise for her, and Kiddo and I are headed out to meet them all tomorrow. We'll all meet up on the ship on Saturday, and though she knows she's going on vacation with my sisters, she doesn't realise Kiddo and I will be there too. How exciting!!!! (shhhhhhhhhh! It's a SECRET!)
I've been so busy preparing for the weeklong trip and thinking about the fun we're going to have, I never really stopped to think about much more.
Like the fact that most of the staff on the ship are Indonesian. And that a good portion of them are likely Muslim. Which means they will be fasting for Ramadan. That thought finally hit me today.
Hospitality staff on cruise ships are known to work extremely long hours, reportedly up to 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. They serve a slew of demanding customers in questionable attire and varying states of sobriety. They are expected to smile and cater to every little whim. Even on an ordinary day, well fed and satiated, this would prove too demanding for most. But when you add fasting to the mix, catering to a bevy of insatiable vacationers seems like an almost insurmountable task.
No one's to blame really. It's not like most of us set out to completely disregard what others are going through. It's more likely that people all over the world just aren't that different ... we come with a sense of entitlement, a sense of having sowed the good that we reap, and the occasional inkling that we could do with a bit more. So the ship passenger, the hotel guest, the restaurant patron, the boutique client all feel like they have totally earned being catered to. Allow me to plead guilty first ...
I feel like that quite a bit ... I'm not judging, I'm just observing.
I'm trying to work my head around it. Here in Qatar, it's easy for me to be entirely respectful of religious and cultural norms, no doubt in large part because it's mandated. No eating, smoking or drinking in public during daylight hours. No risqué dress. No loud noises. Shorter workdays. Most businesses only open after sunset call to prayer. The booze shop is closed. Hotel bars can't sell alcohol and only a few serve food during the day. All public restaurants are closed until nighttime. People of all races, religions, nationalities and cultures are generally on their best behaviour.
But not so on a cruise. On a cruise, passengers are pulsating with excitement. They're ready to party; it's holiday time! But not for everyone. For some of the staff, it is the Holiest of months. It is a time for fasting, not feasting. It's a time for introspection, not extroversion. It's a time of worship and sacrifice, not excess.
Even if I chose not to eat or drink in the presence of fasting attendants, thousands of others would be carrying on as usual, so my efforts would be for naught, particularly since my actions wouldn't be driven by any personal religious conviction or gratification. I guess I could ask staff if they are fasting, and wish them a Ramadan Kareem. It just all seems a little futile, and it's made me realise that as sensitive I've become to my fasting neighbours in the ME, I've not really learned much about how to show that respect outside of this protected society.
I'm hoping to learn a little over the next week, maybe let go of that sense of entitlement a little. Learn to look around a little more, not because I have to but hopefully because I'm a little more aware. Because I'm interested. Because I realise that there is beauty in sacrifice. Because I realise that there are a lot of people around the world who are sacrificing a lot this month. Because even though we don't share the same religion, we are all humans, and we all feel hunger, thirst, entitlement, desire, ... Because even though things slow down in the ME for Ramadan, they don't everywhere. Because even though I'm cruising through Ramadan, not everyone is.