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Today it is Friday. Muslims believe that Allah told them that Friday is the day to glorify. The Jews consider Saturday as their special holy day and the Christians celebrate Sunday.
Muslim men are obligated to participate in Friday Prayers and leave off business after the call to prayer has been announced. Early this morning, very, very early, I heard that call, floating in the still morning air.
It is Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, prayer and after-sunset feasts, gourmet dinners and parties. Almost all cafés and restaurants are closed, security shutters tightly down. You are parched in this 48C degree heat? Too bad! Forget having a thirst-quenching drink. Of course, you can go to the supermarkets that are open, and buy yourself a bottle of water, but don't even consider opening it and taking a swig! Nobody, apart from small children, the ill and expecting mothers, is allowed to be seen drinking or eating even the smallest sip or morsel.
Everyone, in the Middle East, no matter what religion or belief you are, no matter what race or nationality, has to abide by the total fasting rule, from sunrise to sunset. At least, in public.
Once the white hot ball has extinguished itself, you can eat all you like, party and make a thorough pig of yourself.
The adhān or azan, is called out by the muezzin in the mosques five times a day, traditionally from a minaret. In modern times, loudspeakers have been installed on minarets for this purpose.
Although I have been brought up as a Christian, I have always loved that haunting musical call whenever I have heard it. Today, it floated into the day as the sun had not yet cast its burning rays downwards to wilt anything in its path. The soft misty peach-coloured light added to the dreamy atmosphere and I decided that I would indulge myself with everything I love, the nearness of the animals, beautiful, peaceful music and light delicious food. Yes, non-Muslims or Infidels, are allowed to eat and drink in their own home, as long as they close all curtains and are not seen to be committing this breaking of the fast. Don't take a bottle of drink with you in the car either! If you can be seen drinking in the car, or anywhere else, you may get one warning and after that it is a hefty fine. If you happen to be a Muslim and get caught, you are in real trouble! No warning, no fine, very likely a whipping!
Friday evenings are very busy. After praying most of the morning, families go shopping or playing in the evenings. A lot of shops don't open till 2pm and close around 10 pm on Fridays.
A friend took me out for an early meal on Thursday night and he insisted that he wanted to show me the latest hot-spot, favoured in particular, by the Dubai women, ex-pats and locals alike. I didn't know what to expect but certainly not what I saw when we entered! The restaurant was called Shakespeare and the owners had decorated it in a style that they imagined was Victorian. It was packed, but how people could enjoy a meal in this over- dressed kitschy place was beyond me. It looked as if you were inside a courtesan's boudoir! It was decorated with masses of shiny gold, sparkling things, frippery, lace, cut glass chandelier bits, burgundy velvet, beads, artificial flowers and so many things in hideous sickly colors, it almost made me want to throw up. To make it worse, the ceilings were of rough wooden planks like in a barn! The food? Well, apart from the incredible choice of desserts, that had been decorated exquisitely, the food was no better than you expect in a local take-away.
The noise of the many women, catching up, was ear-splitting and definitely added to my indigestion. The place was a joke, but obviously a profitable one! Nevertheless, the women liked it and my friend wolfed down his meal of chips, or fries as they call them here and a chicken breast.
What did I eat? An open turkey sandwich, which was so dry that I had to leave most of it. I then opted for a chocolate éclair that had frozen cream in it and was iced with shiny GOLD icing! Yuk!
All I could think of was wanting a real Kiwi potato-top pie! Really healthy fare!!
Several of us are going to a Ramadan Iftar. Iftars are probably the busiest places in the evenings, but they can get quite pricey if you are not a big eater and go to a private restaurant. Still, if you have the chance to go to one it is quite an interesting eating experience with all the different foods they set out. It is a traditional Arabian experience to attend an Iftar or a Suhoor. They are often held in the relaxed ambience of a contemporary terrace tent. This is the time for families and friends to share while doing games, such as backgammon. The price is around AED 140 and lasts from sunset until 8.30pm.
Suhoor, that comprises of an à la Carte menu of Arabic dishes and flavours, starts usually around 8pm and is more expensive.
The Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, as part of its Ramadan festivities, has organized a mass Iftar tent at Al Muhaisana-2 area in the evenings.
The first meal, was attended by around 3,000 workers on the first evening of the holy month of Ramadan. The free Iftar meals were available for both Muslim and non-Muslim workers from all countries till the end of the month. With an average of 2,800 to 3,000 people on a daily basis, chefs will be cooking the whole day! And what a crush of people!
According to a senior official, the gathering, aimed to boost fraternity and unity among Muslims, develops non-Muslims’ awareness about Islam, and crystalizes the theme of this year, ‘A Breeze of Mercy’. Ramadan is also the month of charity and giving.
“Introductory lectures on the importance, benefits, and rewards of fasting in Ramadan will be given in Urdu, Tamil and Malayalam,” said Mohammed Al Hashimi, General Administrator of Ramadan Forum. That takes care of having to listen, seeing I cannot understand any of those languages! I am quite sorry though, as it would be interesting to try and understand how they think.
Meanwhile, simplified contests on Islamic culture are held during the Iftar. Gifts, CDs, brochures, booklets and cassettes are distributed as well. The food was very interesting too!
Less than 3 weeks left in Dubai. While driving in a Kiwi's late model Mercedes, I asked him how the Ex-pats could be driving the latest model Audis, BMWs, Mercedes and Porsches. "The Arabs buy a new model car, the minute it appears on the market, and the ex-pats buy the one year old cast-offs cheaply," he said. Not a bad deal!
I have found that Dubai is heavily influenced by American customs. The Americans also earn most and have the top jobs.
Before I sign off, I just want to tell you that the 30-day tourist visa, you receive at Customs on arrival at the airport, can be renewed for another 30 days, at AED720 (divide by 3.5 approx.) after that runs out, you need to phone the Immigration Department at Dubai 8005111 for further news. Try checking on the NZ Consulate's website in Dubai for further information.
Oh, and another interesting fact is that they do not have a postal delivery service and half the roads do not have names. Addresses in Dubai are not the same as in NZ as there is no postal service here so you will find that landmarks are the preferred direction indicators. Such as a Metro Station or a large hotel. When you take a taxi, you tell him the building or the business you want to go to, rather than the street.