Holding Fast ...

The last day of Ramadan is almost here.  The sighting of the new moon, which we know will occur on either July 28th or 29th of this year, will signal the end of this Holy month of fasting, and the beginning of the celebration of Eid al-Fitr.  Nothing much more than a blip on the calendar if you're living in the West, but quite an event if you're living in the Middle East.

Today marked the last day of work for a number of larger national companies in Qatar (mostly oil and gas) for the next 9 days.  For the public sector (government ministries and entities), that break will extend to 11 days.   I guess it just simplifies things to declare the entire week off (the workweek here is Sunday-Thursday) even if the Eid holiday only officially begins on Monday or Tuesday, particularly since there will be very few office workers, either expatriate or national, left around to work in country next week.

I would actually hazard a guess that tonight marks the busiest night of the year for Qatar's brand new Hamad International Airport.  No doubt the holiday seekers are arriving at the new departures terminal en masse, anxious to climb aboard a freedom bird and trade in the August sand and heat for a blue sky and cooler temps (anything below 38C will be a welcome relief).

Doha, the capital of Qatar, will come to a virtual standstill over the next week.  Festivities will be had and restaurants will re-open during daylight hours, bringing a close to the month of daytime fasting but not to nighttime revelry.  Over the next week, celebrations will last through the day and night as the city and the country prepare for a return to normal following a month of lull.

As everyone anxiously awaits the escape and the celebrations, I find myself almost mourning the end of this period of calm.  I've spent every Ramadan in-country since moving to Qatar, and usually find myself going stir-crazy by the end of the month, but this year Ramadan has proven oddly soothing and healing.  It's been a welcome calm after months of storm. 

I've become more productive at work.  I've smiled at people who've cut me off mercilessly in traffic.  I've increased my water intake (behind closed doors so as to be mindful of those who are fasting, of course).  I've started physically training in earnest.  I've spent more time laughing with Kiddo.  I've spent more time walking with Smilin' Vic.  I've rediscovered a love of writing.  I've swapped pouring an evening glass of wine for juicing.  I've tried some new recipes.  I've cleaned out the messy spare room.  I've given clothes to charity.  I've read some books.  I've slept like a baby.  I've almost forgotten what lower back pain and sciatica feel like.  I've caught up on episodes of Come Dine With Me.  I've pushed my limits in an attempt to gain an appreciation for all I've been blessed with.  I've challenged myself physically, mentally, and emotionally.  I feel more alive and motivated than I've probably felt in the last two or three years.  

This will be the first time ever that we don't be going anywhere for Eid, not even to a local hotel.  Yet I'm not envying those boarding a flight tonight.  I'm not envying those who will break fast on Monday or Tuesday with a weeklong celebration.  I'm fully appreciating the greatness of being exactly where I am in the moment, whatever this day may bring.

Though I've not been fasting, I've been mindful throughout the last month.  I've actually put some thought into what passes my lips, whether it be words or food or drink.  I've focused on what I want to do, what I can do, rather than on what I wish I could do.  I've gained a renewed appreciation for my family, my job, my friends, my faith, my health, my body, my mind.

And I'm selfishly scared to lose the feeling.  

I'm holding fast, but I'm scared.  Scared to sink into the depths of despair that gripped me last April and May, scared to forget everything I'm so grateful for.  Scared to forget how to be thankful for the little things that really matter.

I'm holding fast to the mindfulness, and praying that I'm back to the 'me' I used to be, and that this isn't a phase.  

I'm not fasting.  

But I'm holding fast.

''Oh, a Very Merry Un-birthday to me, to me ...'

 Birthday breakfast mini-cake.

Birthday breakfast mini-cake.

I remember desperately wishing my birthday would fall in the summer months.  Summer is definitely the best season for birthdays in Canada.  The very luckiest June/July/August-born Canuck kids get to have pool parties, splash around all afternoon, cool off with cherry and banana popsicles, and finish it off with barbecued hot dogs, ice cream cake and gift openings around a picnic table or under a beach parasol.  

When Kiddo was born in July, I was like ''YES!  I can now live vicariously through my daughter, re-inventing a childhood of dreary-month-of-March birthdays as luau parties!''  (Insert fist pump here!)

Unfortunately, Kiddo only got to enjoy one Canadian summer birthday, because when she was fourteen months we packed up and headed for the ME.  

And so my one chance at redeeming those pool party dreams got quashed because, quite frankly, July birthdays in Qatar suck.  The reasoning behind my disenchantment:

  1. It's 300 C in Doha in July.  It is the hottest month of the year on average.  People have successfully fried an egg on pavement.  (Bacon would probably work too, but public pork roastings would be frowned upon in these parts.)
  2. Humidity in Doha in July sits at about 98%.  Most mornings sunglasses are useless as they fog up the very moment you step out the door.  The hair on your arms starts to frizz, toenails start to sweat, and it's so humid sometimes even cigarettes won't burn.
  3. When it's not humid, it's windy.  And either way, it's still really flipping hot.  When the wind combines with the heat, it's like walking into the blast furnace from Hell.
  4. Last year, this year and next, Kiddo's birthday fall smack dab in Ramadan, which means no drinking, eating or general cavorting during daylight hours.  Which means no trips to the water park, nor to the movies, nor to one of the dozens of indoor amusement parks until 7:00 p.m.
  5. There are about 12 kids left in Doha over the summer months.  June marks the exodus of most stay-at-home expat moms and kids.  I think Kiddo is officially the only 9-year-old in town today.
 4:30 p.m. on a weekday afternoon in July ... it's still daylight, but the dust is blocking the sun.  

4:30 p.m. on a weekday afternoon in July ... it's still daylight, but the dust is blocking the sun.  

So it is that every year we plan an ''un-birthday'' in May, before the sweltering summer exodus.  Two years ago was a beauty salon theme, last year Master Chef, this year Inner Artist.  Although always a resounding success because of our tendency to overcompensate (working parent guilt, only child, and all that), we are still endlessly at a loss come the real deal in July.

Last year the three of us went to Paul's at sunset.  Paul's is a little mall bistro that makes Kiddo's favourite buffalo mozza sandwich.  This year, Kiddo asked if we could order pizza from Fabio's.  Since tomorrow's a working day, we were more than fine with that.  

(Speaking of work, this year, her birthday also gives me a legitimate excuse to skip the work team-building 10:00 p.m. Sohur.  While I'm up for any excuse to enjoy a meal at one of Doha's finest hotel's Ramadan tent, the thought of supper at 11:00 p.m. and bedtime at 2:00 a.m. on a work night makes me shudder.)

So last night I made preps for today, the Big Day, the True Birthday, the 9th Anniversary of Kiddo's birth.  I set about making mega muffins for her to bring to Summer Camp today.  One batch of vanilla and one batch of chocolate.  No nuts, just in case.  I also made a tiny cake in a mini-loaf pan.  For Kiddo's birthday breakfast - a mix of chocolate and vanilla.

Then I set about making home-made icing ... my first time attempt!  And it was delicious, albeit a bit runny ...

Next ... the cake.  Every year, I seem to top the baking atrocity of years past.  As much as I love to cook, I am decidedly NOT a baker.  NOR am I a cake decorator.  Nonetheless, I always give it my best.  This year, I decided I would make a piano cake since Kiddo has been doing so well at piano and all.  Convinced it would be my greatest masterpiece EVER, I proceeded to produce THIS:

 It looked so much better on Pinterest ...  still, I admit I'm still smarting somewhat from the gales of laughter this picture evoked when I showed it to the folk at work.

It looked so much better on Pinterest ...  still, I admit I'm still smarting somewhat from the gales of laughter this picture evoked when I showed it to the folk at work.

Chef d'oeuvre complete, I began wrapping gifts.  I always look forward to gift wrapping.  Until I actually sit down and start.  Then I get really grumpy.  So it was last night.  Three paper cuts (on wrapping paper ... how does one DO that?) before even getting started.

The first wrap was fancy indeed!

 Comments from the Peanut Gallery on the fact that the folds are crooked NOT WELCOME.

Comments from the Peanut Gallery on the fact that the folds are crooked NOT WELCOME.

I underestimated my paper requirements on the second.

 Yes, that is a Sketcher's shoe box peeking out where I ran out of paper.  But in my mind, the box colours complement the wrapping paper quite nicely.

Yes, that is a Sketcher's shoe box peeking out where I ran out of paper.  But in my mind, the box colours complement the wrapping paper quite nicely.

The last one was a pair of roller blades.  WITHOUT A BOX!  

 By this time, I've just wrapped an entire roll of paper around the skates and haphazardly plastered Scotch tape around it.

By this time, I've just wrapped an entire roll of paper around the skates and haphazardly plastered Scotch tape around it.

Seriously?

But in the end, it doesn't really matter does it?  Kiddo had cake for breakfast, Happy Birthday was sung at Summer Camp, the house is decorated, the pizza's ordered, the cake and the unwrapping are anxiously anticipated.  Plus we've managed to wrangle a random 11-year-old and 5-year-old wandering the compound to partake in the celebrations.  BONUS!

 Silly putty party favours for the kids at Summer Camp.

Silly putty party favours for the kids at Summer Camp.

 A duct tape wallet gifted to Kiddo from a little girl at summer camp.  This is serious craftsmanship by a 10-year-old (it even has slots inside for pictures and credit cards, and has Kiddo's name etched out in red and white tape).  I have a feeling someone is spending a lot of quality time with a Doha stay-at-home dad living out every man's duct tape crafting fantasy.

A duct tape wallet gifted to Kiddo from a little girl at summer camp.  This is serious craftsmanship by a 10-year-old (it even has slots inside for pictures and credit cards, and has Kiddo's name etched out in red and white tape).  I have a feeling someone is spending a lot of quality time with a Doha stay-at-home dad living out every man's duct tape crafting fantasy.

And Kiddo still insists that my cakes are the best and most beautiful ever.  She says she would be very unhappy with some fancy shop-bought confection.  Bless her.

 The cake was even worse for wear after a night in the fridge ... my black icing keys bled into the homemade cream cheese icing.  

The cake was even worse for wear after a night in the fridge ... my black icing keys bled into the homemade cream cheese icing.  

This is the real day.  It's not about the fluff, or the number of kids around the table, or the pool-side activities or lack thereof that we arrange for the un-birthday.  Un-birthdays can happen any old day.

Today's so much better than all that, despite the sand and the heat and the humidity and the isolation.  Today marks the day that Kiddo entered our lives and changed us forever, nine years ago.

Today's the day that has made every single moment of my life worth living.  Happy Birthday Kiddo!

Non-Muslims in Qatar During Ramadan ...

Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, began on June 28 this year (2014) in Qatar.  (Because it is based on sighting of the new moon, it can begin on different days throughout the world - this year it began on June 29 in the United States).  It is a month observed by Muslims worldwide through fasting during daylight hours, and is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which are:

  1. declaring there is no god except God (Allah), and Muhammad as God's messenger;
  2. praying five times a day;
  3. giving 2.5% of one's savings to the poor and needy;
  4. fasting and self-control during the month of Ramadan;
  5. pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) at least once during one's lifetime if one is able to. 

The month of Ramadan lasts 29-30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon.  

During the month of Ramadan, fasting is mandatory for adult Muslims except those who are suffering from an illness, travelling, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic or menstruating.  

Work hours in Qatar are shortened to 5h a day, in recognition of the strains fasting places on the body and mind.  Eating, drinking and smoking in public are strictly forbidden for all, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.  Alcohol is not served in any establishment in Qatar, the Distribution Center (Booze Shop) is closed, and restaurants do not open until after evening prayer.  All are asked to wear conservative attire, and during this month many Muslim women who do not normally wear the abaya will wear one.

Though fasting from dawn until sunset means refraining from food, beverages, smoking and engaging in sexual relations, these are allowed before sunrise and after sunset.  

In Qatar, the hours following sunset involve many a feast, with breaking of the fast marked by Iftar (usually breaking fast with dates and/or water, sometimes soup), followed by Sohur (main meal eaten between midnight and dawn).  

The streets become extremely crowded after the breaking of fast, and tents are set up throughout the country, on hotel grounds, in empty desert fields, in compounds, and outside private villas, to welcome visitors, Muslim and non, to partake in the meals that follow sunset.

You might think the grocery stores would be empty these days, what with everyone fasting, but the reality is, stores are never so full as during Ramadan.  Families fill shopping carts to capacity at 2:00 p.m. in anticipation of the feast to come that evening.  Since much of the premise of Ramadan is charity, tents and homes are open to the less fortunate, and as such, food is prepared in huge quantities in anticipation of many hungry mouths to feed.

As non-Muslim expats, we abide by the rules and avoid eating or drinking out in public, but in all honesty, we have our coffee and breakfast under cover of our homes after sunrise before making our way to the office.  We may thirst a bit at work, but chances are there is a break room set aside for us to discretely go have tea, coffee, water, and a snack if we've brought one with us.  We probably have a bottle of water stashed in our handbag or car, ready at the handy in case we get too parched on the ride.  As soon as we get home, we head to the water cooler or coffee maker.

We are discrete, because anything less would warrant a reprimand, but we still manage to go about our lives in relatively 'normal' mode.  Every once in a while we're jarred back to reality, like yesterday when I went to get Kiddo a Subway sandwich after work (her regular Thursday treat) and saw the 'Closed' sign on the door (restaurants don't open until after fast has broken, i.e. around 6:30 p.m.).  While grocery stores are open throughout the day, restaurants are not.  So yesterday we created our own Subway station at home.

 Kiddo's Home-Style Subway Station ...

Kiddo's Home-Style Subway Station ...

 All the pickings ... who knew we could do this at home?

All the pickings ... who knew we could do this at home?

 Adding a little spice to the mix ...

Adding a little spice to the mix ...

 Vegetarian Subway sub looking good ...

Vegetarian Subway sub looking good ...

 Yummmm!  Yup, better than shop bought!

Yummmm!  Yup, better than shop bought!

Many of us tend to avoid  venturing out into traffic at night during Ramadan.  Fasting Muslims tend to sleep a lot during the day in Qatar and go out all night, every night, during Ramadan.  Night becomes day, and streets, malls and restaurants are filled to capacity.  The streets are full of revellers, and the traffic can be chaotic.   So it is that we take advantage of the relative peace of the hours between working and waking (usually the quietest times are between 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.) to do our shopping and errands, before returning home and tucking in for the night.

Occasionally, we'll go on a Qatari-like spree, stocking up as if there were no tomorrow, in an effort to avoid having to take to the roads for the next week or two.  Case in point, our trip to MegaMart today:

 Spoils from Mega Mart, which stocks many specialty and imported goods.  Pockets empty, fridge full ... we're ready for company!

Spoils from Mega Mart, which stocks many specialty and imported goods.  Pockets empty, fridge full ... we're ready for company!

Kiddo's birthday will fall smack dab in the middle of Ramadan, and this means that there will be no opportunity to go buy her ice cream, bring her out to lunch or go see a movie during daylight hours.  This is the second year this happens, and even though she doesn't yet get it, she accepts it.  As doting parents, we celebrated her birthday two months early, before the Expat Exodus, when her friends were still in town and drinking and eating during daylight hours were no big deal.  On her birthday, we'll have a cake, open gifts and bring her out for dinner after sunset, but we'll remain thankful we made the day magic in May.

 Poster for Kiddo's painting party, held in May this year, 2 months ahead of time.

Poster for Kiddo's painting party, held in May this year, 2 months ahead of time.

 The 'tableau' ...

The 'tableau' ...

 Blank slate ... ready for imaginative minds.

Blank slate ... ready for imaginative minds.

 Our outdoor drying gallery after the fake birthday party in May.  Some masterpieces here I do believe.

Our outdoor drying gallery after the fake birthday party in May.  Some masterpieces here I do believe.

But I'm actually grateful in many ways to be in Qatar during Ramadan.  Traffic eases slightly, life slows down a bit, the office becomes less hectic, spring cleaning finally gets done, we get to hunker down and catch up on Survivor and Master Chef on Mac TV.  The work days are short, family time is abundant, and life is generally easier.

And even though we don't fast beyond office hours, Ramadan is a good reminder to all of us to tip a little bit more to the gas station attendant, the grocery bagging boy, the compound maintenance staff, the delivery man.  It's a reminder to give thanks for what we have.  It's a slowing of time that reminds us to stop and say 'thanks', 'how are you', 'have a nice day' to the person in front of us, beside us, behind us.  

Ramadan Kareem.



Frequently Asked Questions About the ME ... Part 5

The Riddle of Strider
 
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
(J.R.R. Tolkien)
Ramadan is a time of reflection.  So even though I am a non-muslim, I felt compelled during this month to write a reflective piece on the Islamic State that has graciously accepted me as a resident for the past (almost) seven years.
Every once in a while, someone asks me what I think of Doha, what I think of Qatar.  It's never an easy question to answer.  
On the one hand, there are so many things that I love about this country.  Oddly enough, it's not about the amazing architecture, the endless and sumptuous culinary feasts or the incredible wealth that literally seeps from every grain of sand.  While these initially piqued our interest and brought us here, they're not what have kept us here for close to seven years.
No, at the top of the list is that it's probably one of the most child-friendly places in the world.  Our friends and family back home are always a little skeptical when we say that, particularly those who still refuse to believe we live in anything other than a bedouin tent and ride on anything other than a camel.  But ask any expat family who's lived here with young kids; they'll all say the same.
When we first moved here, I suffered numerous panic attacks as restaurant servers and shop keepers would reach out to touch Kiddo, to take her in their arms, even to whisk her away to parade around to their colleagues or patrons.  My skeptic's head was filled with visions of child nabbings back then;  I didn't realize that many of the people working in the service industry here had left little ones like her back home, that they wouldn't see them for two years or more.  I couldn't initially fathom that they just genuinely loved kids.
We would go jogging with her in the jogger stroller on the Corniche on weekends, and laborers would stop us to ask if they could get their picture taken with her.  Our North American mindset would raise flags immediately, until we'd realize that these men had nothing to fill their one day off a week but a game slightly reminiscent of hopscotch.  The sweet giggles of a child were likely a balm to their calloused bodies and minds.  They would gather 'round her, each making funny faces in an effort to get her to focus her bright baby blues on him.
The attention didn't stop there.  I remember walking through the shopping mall and having fully veiled Qatari ladies stop me so they could kiss the top of Kiddo's 14-month round head and give her a hard candy.  Qatari men would lay a hand on her head and utter a small blessing.  At airport customs, we would get whisked to the front of the arrivals line as soon as she got spotted.  The one time I lost sight of her in a grocery store I panicked, and then found her sitting contentedly at the produce weighing counter, munching on the contents of a fruit bowl given to her by the clerk who had seen her wandering alone.
Second on the list would be the surprising acts of kindness, generosity and compassion that we have experienced when we least expected it.  A few weeks ago, I was leaving the grocery store and a Qatari man stopped his truck to let me cross to my parking spot with my trolley.  My trolley got stuck on the curb, and I signaled him to drive on; it was the start of Ramadan, and I didn't want to be contributing to the impatience that sometimes comes during the initial days of fasting.  But the gentleman didn't move.  He put his truck in park, opened his door and got out, and came over to help me lift my trolley off the curb.  Such a small act of kindness, but for some reason it really stood out.
Smilin' Vic once had a minor accident on his bike, nothing major but enough to get him to pull over to the side of the road to recover his bearings and sort himself out.  A Qatari man who saw the incident pulled over and offered to assist.  A slightly embarrassed Smilin' Vic smiled, told him all was fine, and waved him off.  The gentleman drove off, only to return several minutes later with his young son, some water and a first aid kit in tow.   Such a small act of kindness, but never to be forgotten.
I worked with one particular Qatari lady who was fully veiled.  The only thing we would ever see of her in public were her eyes.  But she had the most amazing, expressive smiling eyes I have ever seen.  I will never forget those eyes, not even if I live to be a hundred.  Everyone was drawn to this woman with the smiling eyes.  You would walk up to her and her joy at seeing you was palpable, even though she wore a head to toe cloak of black.  You didn't need to see the smile.  You felt the smile.  You felt the compassion, you felt the humanity.  Such very small crinkles at the corner of each eye, yet they spoke of a lifetime of kindness.
Third on the list would be the rediscovery of the true meaning of some of our most commercial Christian holidays.  Every year spent here for Christmas and Easter, we have opened our home to near strangers less fortunate than us to partake in a traditional North American holiday meal, a prayer of thanks, and a laugh with us.  We've gotten to know some amazing people from the Philippines, from Ethiopia, from Sri Lanka, from Nepal.  While we miss our family so much, we've been so blessed to have these people come into our lives.  Kiddo always looks forward to the "after festivities", when we pack up containers of food and sweets and go visit compound security and maintenance staff.    
Fourth would be a deeper understanding of other faiths.  I am so grateful that we have had the chance to meet people of different cultures and religions who have been willing to share with us the meaning behind many of their practices, holidays and beliefs.  I really do feel like I've grown into a much more respectful and reflective human being by living here.
Fifth would be the understanding that at our core, we're not all that different after all.  The last company I worked for employed more than 80 nationalities.  While we might differ on work ethic, or procedure, or approach, there were always similarities (whether or not everyone would admit to them is another matter!).  But I have sat in a room and shared a laugh with Syrians, Egyptians, Columbians, Venezuelans, Americans, New Zealanders, Iranians, Qataris, Pakistanis, Philippinos, South Africans ...  I have commiserated with Scots, Australians, Indians, Nepalis, Malaysians, Sudanese, Spaniards ... I have shed tears with Ukranians, Brits, Dutch, Lebanese, Iraqis, Palestinians, Jordanians ... at some point in time, some or all of us have managed to find some point of commonality, some common bond.  The differences aren't so scary once you've gotten past the similarities!
So I guess that would be my long-winded partial answer to a question that I find so very hard to answer:  "What do you think about Qatar?"  
But the full answer is really hard to pin down.  What I'd really like to answer is closer to Tolkien's poem above.  And that's not really an answer.  More an impression, an interpretation:  
What would appear to impress us most in this land somehow leaves us rather indifferent.  What impresses us has nothing to do with glitter.  I am no more attached to Qatar for its architecture or its wealth than I am to Canada.  
My Canadian roots are strong, and I am an expat, not an immigrant, so I naturally find myself longing for my culture and my heritage. 
And one day, inevitably, I will return to the land that beckons.
We really are grateful for the opportunity to be here, and there are so many experiences to be had.  It's different for everyone I guess.  For us it's not the massive crystal chandeliers, the sky scrapers, the Versace boutiques, the Dammas jewelry shops or the multitude of Bentley's and Ferraris cruising the streets of Doha.  It's simply that we've built a life here for now, and collected the most amazing moments and friends and memories along the way.
 
IMG_1189.jpg

July ... The Long Month

July in Qatar seems to drag by so much more slowly than any other month of the year.  

Not because it has 31 days.  Six other months in the year can lay claim to the same.

Not because the daylight hours are that much longer.  Sunset only varies by about 1 hr 20 min throughout the year. 

Not because there is anything exciting and dangerous going on (apparently the brain produces an illusion of time warp in emergency situations).  Nope; everything pretty much slows to a snail's pace in Doha in July. 

So why do I feel like time the days simply drag by?   

I can't be certain, and there's no science behind my assumptions (other than a few Googled observations on temperature), but I tend to believe that the following contribute directly to the illusion of time dilation in July in Doha: 

  1. On average it is the hottest month of the year.  Outdoor activities are not only difficult, they can be quite dangerous if you're not sufficiently hydrated.  Daytime temperatures can reach well up into the high 40's (Celsius ... or 104 - 118 F).  While nighttime temperatures may dip slightly, this is when the humidity tends to kick in, often reaching upwards of 84% for three days out of four towards the end of the month.
  2. It is preceded by the end of June, which marks Exodus in Doha for expat wives, moms and kids.  All of them wise enough to escape the July 57C (137F) heat index (combined measure of heat and humidity).
  3. Kiddo's birthday falls smack dab in the middle of the month ... which leaves us scrambling to gather enough friends to throw a half-decent party.
  4. I'm not working outside the home this summer. 
  5. This year, the month of Ramadan covered most of July (July 8 - August 7, 2013).  During the Holy Month of Ramadan in Qatar, the following applies:

  • No eating or drinking or smoking in public during sunlight hours.
  • Restaurants do not open until Iftar (meal served after sunset to break fast during Ramadan).
  • Hotel restaurants and venues are totally dry (no alcoholic beverages are served).
  • Cinema halls are closed until Iftar.  
  • Most entertainment venues (indoor amusement parks, bowling alleys, skating rinks) are closed until after Iftar.
  • Residents are asked to pay particular attention to appropriateness of dress and social decorum. 
  • Some large grocery chains are open from 9:00 a.m. - midnight, but your usual corner store may be open 9:00 a.m. - noon and 7:00 p.m. - midnight, or 6:00 a.m.- 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.  Pretty much left to you to figure out.
  • Government and most business working hours are cut down to 5 working hours a day.  This makes going anywhere between 9:00 - 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. virtually impossible, extending a 15-minute drive to an hour or more.   
  • Trying to drive anywhere after 6:30 p.m. or so (after evening prayer) becomes an unforgettable lesson in peril and patience.

But while finding a way to pass the days can be a challenge, it can be done.

  1. Do your best to socialize, to get outside for a bit, and to enjoy the outdoors where possible.  We've enrolled Kiddo in a sports camp for the month.  The venue allows kids of all ages to socialize and make new friends, practice indoor sports, go for a short daily swim outside, and get creative.  I've met a few moms there and we've arranged to meet up with the kids for playdates, which gets me out of the house as well.  Driving Kiddo to camp and doing groceries and running errands in the morning at least gets me out there.  
  2. Catch up on things you've been meaning to get done (I've completed a few organizational projects that I kept on putting aside, and we are catching up on recorded episodes of Jr. Master Chef, America's Got Talent and Come Dine With Me in the evenings).  
  3. Focus on staying healthy.  Take advantage of those long afternoons to go to the gym, work out at home, or prepare a new healthy recipe that you've been wanting to try for a while but never got around to. 
  4. Find places to go in the evening that aren't too far away, and hire a car if you really don't feel up to fighting the traffic alone.  The streets will get crazy after evening prayer, with many people off to visit friends and family, enjoy an Iftar meal at one of the many Ramadan tents set up for this purpose, head to the mall, or simply "cruise" (unlike us 'unsociables', there are a good deal of people out there who actually enjoy the crowds and the chaos of traffic on the Corniche).  Even though we get frazzled by the intensity of it all, we still try to get out a few times during the month for a meal, a trip to the movies or a visit to some friends.  
  5. Go easy on yourself, and allow yourself to enjoy that oft-saught after daytime snooze.  Or just take the opportunity to rest up doing something you love.  Finish that book, do some arts and crafts with the kids, play the piano mid-afternoon.  Just choose one of the things you're always complaining about "not having time to do", and DO it! 

July ... the long month. 

August ... are we there yet????