Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ramadan Kareem

The Christmas/ Fourth of July/ Thanksgiving/ Halloween of the Middle East!

But seriously. 

When it was coming close everyone started chattering about it and I didn't know why it was such a big deal. I mean I have lived in a world where it existed my whole life and it never had much of an impact. BUT OH MAN. Living in a Muslim country when Ramadan hits is a WHOLE DIFFERENT STORY. 

Let me start with explaining exactly how Ramadan begins because unlike American holidays, this one has no true start date...until that date has come. What happens is a religious leader (not sure exactly who) goes into a mosque (not exactly sure which one) and if he sees the moon then Ramadan begins, if not then the world waits another day. Kind of like the groundhog seeing his shadow? Too much of a stretch? Okay well yeah you get the point. 

So when it begins the first huge thing that happens is that all Muslim people go into a daytime fast. Basically while the sun is up, they fast and when the sun goes down they feast. The impact that this has on everyone else is that literally no one else in the country is allowed to be seen eating or drinking. 
This is a rule because it would be tempting for the Muslim people to want to eat if they see others doing it but I guess out of sight out of mind? 

Seriously though, when I say you can't eat or drink I mean you literally cannot eat or drink ANYTHING. You literally can't even drink a sip of water while driving in your car! It is THAT strict!! Even at work you must not eat where you can be seen (or smelt!). In many offices, people must only eat or drink in private break rooms but as for me and my office, well we just had a filing closet. A literal filing closet. So I am not even kidding, the tea boys moved a desk into it and that is where everyone had to eat lunch (and breakfast and drink water) for the entire month!

Don't believe me??? 

Three of my co workers DRINKING COFFEE IN A CLOSET. 

I know it sounds like a terrible thing but because of the sensitivity to the Muslim people, the work hours are actually cut short too. So instead of working 8 hours days, we just work six! FOR THE WHOLE MONTH! I think I can trade in eating in public for working short workdays. Yep, sounds like a good trade to me. Lol 

So okay you are not eating in public, you are working shorter hours then what happens when the sun goes down? THE PARTY BEGINS! 

Muslim people break their fast with a huge meal called an Iftar. Usually, they start by eating some dates and then move into a full out feast, usually buffet style with a desert at the end. Because of this, basically every restaurant during the month of Ramadan serves an Iftar meal. Many of them ONLY serve an Iftar for dinner during the month (oh I forgot to mention that until the Iftar, the restaurants shops etc are all CLOSED so literally during the day the whole city kind of shuts down). Even five star top of the line restaurants (which this city is full of) will only serve an Iftar meal during this month. Eating out gets pretty expensive when the only meal you can buy costs around 250 riyal or $70! 

In America, many companies will throw big Christmas parties or Christmas dinners for their employees during December but here in Qatar, they throw big Iftars! I was so excited because it meant I would get to partake in the special meal and see what it was all about. (Without breaking the bank no less!)

The first one we went to was for Zach's job, held at the Marriot Hotel. 

Out front there were to REAL LIVE CAMELS. 
We acted like total tourists and got photos. 

We then went inside and saw a falcon trainer??! 
You know I was all over that

Next we went into this huge ballroom where the Iftar was being held. 

The tables were pre-set with dates and the walls were LINED with all kinds of food, many that I had never seen/tasted before lol. 

It is traditional for these meals to be decorated with a Arabic designs and actually to be held inside of tents. Most hotels actually set up tents for the guests to eat in but our ballroom was so big that they just had a smaller version outside more for show. 

We like your effort Mariott! Haha

Two days later we went to the Iftar for my work. Which as I will explain in a later post is with the same company as Zach-- only since I am working on a different project it was a whole different dinner. 
Except it was at the same hotel. 
Had the same food. 
The same week. 
Just two night later.....

But this time, we were BRAVE! 
My Z worked up the guts to hold the falcon lol. 

One nice thing is that we were in a different ballroom and you can see the dates right here on the table.
Speaking of, I never really tried dates before but since moving here they are literally one of my favorite foods.  Like I LOVE dates. And apparently they are much different in the Middle East than anywhere else? Man will I miss them when we move... ( one day!) 

Zach worked up the courage to hold the falcon and I worked up the courage to take food photos! :)

Fortunately all of the food was labelled...unfortunately names of the majority of these foods didn't help a bit in identifying them for me lol
Has anyone ever even seen this dessert before? It is a cheese based dish. 
Usually Iftars last from about 6:30 to 9 or 10 o'clock 

After, Muslim people usually rest and relax then at about 11 they have their second meal called a Suhur. Next comes a bit more resting then at about 3 or 4 in the morning they have their third and final meal.  Phew! That is a lot of food! 

We did not part take in the two final meals. The Iftar held me over until about 12 the next day on its own! 
Hehe how could we resist another camel photo? :) 
What you don't see is the moment when Zach, full dress clothes and all, climbed on top of the poor guy! You'll have to check out my Instagram to see the video ;) 

As many of your know, I love to cook so we didn't go to nearly as many Iftars as most people, but we did go to one more for our friend Vanessa's birthday. 
She chose to go to a restaurant called Eatopia. It was extra special because this particular restaurant doesn't serve buffet style EVER. It is a once a year sort of thing for them because normally they have many different areas set up, each with a different style of food and you go around and pay per dish from whichever area you choose. 

Same style but all included during Iftar. Whoop! 

They had everything from sushi...
To bruschetta 
To made to order pastas 

Even this delicous Qatari version of a quesadilla! 
Not to mention dessert!

And here was our group--yay :) 
P.s. Countries represented in this group of people include Scotland, Russia, India, China, AMERICA and others that I am forgetting (sorry!) 
Happy Birthday Vanessa (in the blue blazer). 

Midway through Ramadan another special night happens where the children all go door to door (much like Halloween) and ask for treats from their neighbors. Now I am pretty sure that they do not dress up and instead of receiving loads of chocolate, they receive more healthy treats. 

At my work, a few "goodie bags" were delivered to celebrate. 
Clearly their bags are much smaller than the pillow case I toted around as a kid.  Lol

Inside were some nuts...and weird little rice cracker things???? Needless to say, I didn't much dig into the "treat" bag. 
Finally, when the holy month of Ramadan ends, the party gets EVEN BIGGER (is that even possible)?!
It is called "Eid" and the national holiday lasts for three days ( yes you get 3+ days off work). (As if working only 6 hours a day wasn't a treat enough?!). 
During this time it is kind of like Christmas Day in America where families gather together to celebrate. 
What I was not expecting was for the ENITRE CITY to celebrate. 

Even the decorations at the mall were like what malls do in America only Ramadan themed. 
They were even decorated with "Christmas lights"
And EVEYRTHING is branded 

Zach and I happened to go by the mall he first night of Eid and OMG. IT WAS FULL TO THE MAX!!!!!!
During this time, the malls actually put on shows all throughout the day (for three straight days!) and our mall was putting on Peter Pan when we arrived. 

The show was complete with silk dancers and everything!!!! 

Packed! The mall garage meter (that shows how many available parking spots are left) that usually holds about 1,500 cars, WAS FULL. These roads are normally fairly clear and quiet but during Eid are COMPLETELY GRIDLOCKED! 

Each night there was a huge fireworks show!!!! 


Christmas, Fourth of July, Halloween and Thanksgiving all in one! 

It was certainly something to experience! 
We had a blast, we learned a lot and in exactly 70 days the "Second Eid" comes and the whole country celebrates and gets off work for three days again! I tell you what, it is not a bad life over here in Qatar. Not a bad life at all! 

Shokran and Gig Em,


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