Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Survival Tips For Your First Ramadan

So you are about to experience your first Ramadan.  You may have heard lots of stories and are starting to feel a little anxious and worried. While your routine may change during these thirty days, I have some tips to make the experience a smooth and hopefully memorable one.

1. Cover Up

Throughout the year this is important but it is especially important during Ramadan. When in public you  should take care to cover up. This is not the time to show off your cute new tank top. In general it's best to cover from your wrists to your ankles.  During Ramadan people are more likely to be offended by your dress and won't hesitate to make a complaint. So be more conservative than usual.

2. Keep the Peace

Ramadan is meant to be a time of quiet reflection. Be mindful of your noise levels whether at home or in your car. My neighbors love to have conversations in the hallways (the tiled and echoing hallways) so I plan to  make a note to gently remind them that my husband is in observance of the holiday. Also know that loud music or even TV can be cause for the police to intervene.

6. Keep It Under Wraps

Yes all the rumors are true. Virtually the whole country does not eat from sunrise to sunset so you will not be either. Well, not in public. Think of it this way: the whole country is on a diet and you want to have a big ol' piece of chocolate cake with hot fudge and vanilla ice cream. Would you eat it in front of everybody or would you feel self conscious and eat it when no one is looking? It's the same during Ramadan. They are not eating and they don't want to see you eating either.

Start carrying your water bottle in a bag. Have kids? Keep their snacks there too. It is against the law to be seen eating or drinking in public during Ramadan. Even if you are in your car. As gross as it sounds, if you really need a drink or snack and you are in public, it's best to find a restroom stall to lock yourself in. Or wait until you get home. This includes your children.

4. Plan Ahead

During Ramadan many shops will close or change their hours. The malls will be open but most stores will not. Your favorite delivery places will not be answering their phones and it will feel like the town's on lock down and you're a prisoner. Most people will spend the day sleeping. After sunset and Iftar the town will come to life and most businesses will have late evening hours.  Life will return to normal - in the evenings at least.

For these reasons it's best to plan your meals and food shop before Ramadan starts. Once Ramadan begins (this year it will be on Thursday) you might want to wait to do your shopping until just before Iftar (around 4 pm - 6 pm).  There will most likely be no crowds because they will all be preparing their meal for the night.  Be careful not to go too close to Iftar because traffic will be a nightmare and most accidents happen at this time.  While you can still count on having a nice restaurant dinner in the evening, if you don't like crowds it's best to avoid dining after Iftar.  Also remember just because the restaurant is open, they will not be serving food until the proper time (Iftar and sunrise) so be prepared to be seated and then wait.

5. Join In

There is something quite special about being a non-Muslim in a Muslim country during this holy month. Seeing an entire country coming together for prayer and practice is motivational. Even if you are not religious, it can be a powerful experience. So join in! Grab a friend and go to one of the many Iftar buffets. Then just sit back and observe. Try not to be first in line at the buffet. Remember you are competing with people who haven't had food or water all day!

Ramadan only happens once in a year.  Yes, it can be an inconvenience but with the right attitude and some pre-planning it can be a memorable and enjoyable experience for you.  Looking for some more information?  Check out this great article here that talks all about the history and meaning of Ramadan.  Also look at this for more tips and laws during Ramadan.

Note:  Picture sources are from my personal photos of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi - definitely a must-see place to tour!

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