I was reading the post by blogger-friend Nurie the other day about her experience of fasting and other activities in the month of Ramadhan in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This is the second year she is spending the holy month away from home. Her observations on some of the differences between fasting in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia can be read here -> Ramadan 1429.
Nurie's post reminded me of the time that I spent working in United Arab Emirates two years ago. I was posted to a project site in the Emirate of Fujairah, about 130km from Dubai. When Ramadhan arrived that year, it was towards the end of the summer. The weather was still hot where daytime temperatures range in the mid-30 degrees Celsius, sometimes touching 40 degC. It was a really trying first day because the heat made me very thirsty. But then, a fast without the trials and tempatations would not be a fast at all.
There is no such thing as a `Bazaar Ramadhan' over there. No place where you can feast your eyes on a whole variety of cooked food for sale. For iftar (the breaking of fast), you either cook your own meal, buy take-away dinners from the Indian restaurants or join other muslim brothers to break fast at mosques. In addition, there are some well-to-do Emiratis who offer free iftar meals at their houses to anyone who wish to join.
My local sponsor is one such generous person (a `sponsor' is an Emirati citizen who, for a fee, supports your work permit application). Since I was a temporary bachelor, I mostly took my iftar meals together with about 200 other foreign workers at the large courtyard within the compound of my sponsor's house. We would all break the fast initially with some dates and a yoghurt-like drink locally known as `laban'. The sour taste of the laban actually complements the sweet taste of the dates.
The congregational maghrib prayers would then follow. After prayers, the area would be cleared, plastic sheets rolled out on the floor and the main meal would be served. The meal consist of briyani rice with both mutton and chicken, local Arab flat bread, vegetable curry, fresh salad and sweet desserts. I try to remain low-profile and like to have my meal sitting next to other foreign workers, normally Arabs from other middle-eastern countries such as Jordan or Egypt. But sometimes, I am spotted by the host, and he would gesture to me to come sit next to him. My sponsor is somewhat of a local dignitary but he is a very kind and gracious person. He would ask how I was doing and then ask about my family back home in Malaysia as well.
The food portions were always generous and we were encouraged to pack the unfinished portions to take home. Most of the other workers would do this as it saves them the trouble of preparing the sahur or pre-dawn meal. But I never did so because I preferred to cook my own sahur. Having chicken or mutton briyani day in and day out can be a bit boring after some time.
My sahur meals were rather simple. Rice with fried eggs and fried ikan bilis (which I had brought from Malaysia). Sometimes, I would make do with fried rice using the pre-packed flavorings also brought from Malaysia. I would then eat my sahur quietly and alone. Perhaps the saddest moments to experience during my time being posted overseas.
Looking back now, I savour the experience... but given a choice, I would always want to spend Ramadhan with my family.