September 9, 2008

A clarification and a couple responses to comments

The dress customs I described apply only to Dubai, each country or region has their own twist on fashion. I was looking through a book of photographs of Dubai from the first half of the 20th century and, clearly, the dress for different age groups differed from the current practice, just as American fashions from 1950 differ from 2008. Burqa has been used to refer to the whole outfit, head to toe, but it is actually a leather or metal mask that covers some of the face (nose and cheekbones).

As for ogling, I do not make eye contact. The ogling happens even when I am walking with Daddybird. In part, I wish I could stare rudely right back at them. It is amusing to see just how far they will turn their heads around to watch a woman walk by. If their eyes could pop out of their heads, like in the cartoons, they would. Some women are bothered by it and take offense. I don’t feel threatened or creeped out. It just amuses me how extreme it is and how abnormal it seems.

John G – As for the Amazing Race, we will probably be completely in the dark on that one. We don’t have a TV and I haven’t had time to read newspapers. Maybe Paul keeps up with the news better than I do. If I see crazy Americans running around trying to catch a taxi, boat, or whatever, it will probably not stand out as unusual. Although, the cameramen following them might.

When we looked at our apartment, there were two apartments open in the building. The one we didn’t choose was on a lower floor, next to the elevators, and a little smaller. Daddybird started to make an argument for the smaller apartment, but I insisted on the larger one. Bigger is always better and I thought there might be noise from the elevator. There is a mosque across the street from this smaller apartment and therein lies the real rub. The call to prayers is broadcast 1 1/2 hours before dawn and several times during the day. Had we taken that smaller apartment we would have been waking up to the call to prayer everyday. Our apartment is on the other side of the building, so we are hearing the construction noise from the rapid transit train that is being constructed (and yes they are working around the clock), but that will eventually end. Most nights I can sleep through it.

Now, what’s new? It’s Ramadan! We can tell you now what we’ve been told to expect and later we can blog about what we actually observe.

Ramadan is a 29-30 day period determined by the lunar cycle. Even though the cycles of the moon can be predicted, the timing of Ramadan is still determined by the physical sighting of the new moon by a committee. Muslims fast from 1 1/2 hours before dawn until after sunset. This means not just no food, but no liquids either, which seems a little dangerous in a desert climate. The elderly, pregnant women, and others with physical challenges are exempted. However, when the sun goes down — party on. The feasting begins. Imagine 29-30 Thanksgiving dinners in a row. There is a lot of visiting of relatives during this time. There are also extra prayer times and meetings in the mosques where they endeavor to read through the entire Qur’an before
the end of the month. Then there is a big breakfast that must be completed before the morning call to prayer (1 1/2 hours before dawn). There are also special soap operas that air only during Ramadan and the devoted fans record them and watch them all. So, when do these people sleep? I do not know.

How does this impact us? Not much, except that public behavior is somewhat restricted. Out of respect, non-Muslims don’t eat or drink in public (the culturally sensitive ones, anyway). There is also no smoking, alcohol, dancing, or public display of affection (holding hands, etc.). Most (read 99.99%) of restaurants are closed during the day and open after sunset. Banks, stores, businesses change their hours of operation. Most people work only 6 hour days instead of 8.

At work, there is a coffee shop that is set aside for non-Muslims to go for eating and drinking. It is “closed” in that the coffee shop personnel are not there and we cannot buy coffee or food. We have to resort to instant coffee and whatever food we bring from home. The windows are papered over, so that no one can see us eating and drinking.

The Marks and Spencer and Toys R Us across the street are covered, and I do mean covered, in strings of what we would call Christmas lights. (As you can see in the picture at the top of this blog entry. I tried to add it here, but was unsuccessful.) They turn them on after dark (possibly only while they are open).

Immediately following Ramadan will be a three day festival – Eid Al Fitr – with more feasting and visiting relatives. I will have these days off from work, so hopefully we will be able to get out and participate in some of the festivities.


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