Before moving to Saudi Arabia I had a very vague notion of Ramadan. It was something about fasting.
Well, 7 months in this country and I’ve just learned a little bit. Correct me if I’m wrong but I guess Ramadan is a time of reflection and the fasting is about self-control and learning how to sacrifice.
A few months ago my friend told me that Muslims would get very offended if you ate or drank in front of them during their fasting time. She recounted the time they went sailing during last Ramadan. The crew hid all the food (it’s usually laid out on the tables) because the yacht always passes the Saudi coast guards and it was disrespectful to rub all the glorious food in starving people’s faces. The captain told them they could eat as soon as they were far enough from the coast guard outpost. They were really good about that until it was time to come back. One of the people on the yacht completely forgot and was stuffing his face as they were passing the coast guards. One of the coast guards was so furious that he actually stepped onto the yacht to confront the guy. All the other passengers (all non-Muslim) sat with their eyes downcast and nervous. They weren’t sure what was going to happen to them and how serious this whole thing really was (Would they go to jail? Get fired? Deported?) . The captain had to intervene and try to calm the coast guard down. I suppose he said that guy eating is an idiot and made a mistake, please forgive him, etc. Eventually everyone calmed down and all the passengers on that yacht learned a very valuable lesson they would not soon forget.
Jose told me that he’s heard of one professor who stopped giving lectures (asking students to copy notes instead) during Ramadan just so he could avoid swallowing his own saliva–something considered sinful. I suppose this is for the most conservative of followers because I don’t think everyone does that. When in public non-Muslims should also make sure not to even drink water in front of fasting Muslims. I don’t know how Jose is coping since their office doesn’t have walls so it’s not easy to hide if you want a sip of water. It hasn’t affected me much because I’m mostly at home with the baby.
All of the restaurants except the campus diner are closed for lunch but have extended dinner hours. Even our supermarket is open ’til about 3am!
Well, one of the most joyous things during this period is iftar, or breaking fast. As soon as the sun goes down people start getting ready for their feast–a big spread of drinks, appetizers, soups, entrees, desserts, etc. I guess it’s the equivalent of Christmas for us but their’s lasts a month! When they finish their dinner they still need to go to prayers so many people don’t get much sleep during this time. Fasting+lack of sleep=low productivity. Many offices close early as well.
One of the PhD students in Jose’s lab, Amal, invited me and some other girls over to her place for iftar. I was very excited because it was going to be a new cultural experience and also because I could get away from my responsibilities a little bit. Amal is a Saudi woman who is always gracious and sweet. Before that night though I had never seen her face because she wears a burqa that covers everything except her eyes. So when she opened the door I had to make sure,
“Yes, it’s me!”
Amal says they usually break fast with dates and laban, a yogurt drink. I guess they need something sweet for the instant energy after starving all day.
She had gone back home to Jeddah the day before and she and her mother cooked and baked some of the food that she prepared for our iftar.
Oops I just realized all the photos are blurry. Oh well. Oh and Amal wore a beautiful dress that she says is traditionally worn during Ramadan. Since I am not allowed to take a photo of her (she was uncovered), she told me she’d send me a photo of the dress.
She was very nice and even made sure that we took some food home with us. I got bread with cheese cubes baked inside. So delish!
Jose and I also went to the Al Marsa Yacht Club for iftar buffet a few days later. It was all right. There are several places around KAUST that offer iftar buffets so I guess we need to try them as well.