Since arriving in Dubai in March, there have been two events looming. It so happens that they occur simultaneously. Summer and Ramadan.
It was summer that I felt the most anxious about. This wasn’t helped by comments from long-term Dubai residents along the lines of “so how are you liking Dubai? You haven’t had a summer here yet have you?” Expressions such as “breathing fire” and “drenched in sweat” continued to paint a distinctly unappealing picture.
I’ve spent the last couple of months undertaking my own form of pre-summer training. This is included resisting catching super cheap taxis and instead walking around in the sun as much as possible, refusing to admit that I felt hot. It was way too premature to start talking about heat, even as the mercury started hitting the late thirties. In Sydney at 38 degrees day is considered a heat wave, in Dubai it’s greeted with the comment, “wow it’s great that summer hasn’t really hit yet.”
Last week as temperatures rose to the early forties and the humidity surged, I finally allowed myself to comment to someone that it was getting hot. This was responded with the retort of “this is nothing yet.” The best is yet to come it seems.
Understandably many foreigners chose to leave Dubai during the summer months. But many who don’t have that option, stay and brace themselves not just for the heat but the slow down that is Ramadan. From the new moon of July (July 8) Muslims undertake a fast, of both food and liquids, from sunrise to sunset for one lunar month. It is illegal to drink or eat in public during the day so restaurants and cafes are closed except for takeaway and home deliveries. Working hours are shortened and the city’s pulse only starts beating again when the sun goes down.
In classic Dubai style, it seems the breaking of the fast known as “iftar” has become a big, opulent, decadent business. Hotels and restaurants are currently furiously advertising special iftar deals – sumptuous buffets set up in tents around the city and the malls are gearing up for massive Ramadan sales. People can shop and dine the night away, and then sleep the next day away if you are lucky. I’m curious to try an iftar buffet, but considering my early-to-bed early-to-rise schedule, I don’t think it will be more than once.
I’ve been very interested to talk with students at the Yoga Room and learn more about the spiritual meaning behind Ramadan. While the Dubai-style iftars sound appealing, it seems to be quite a contradiction to the real essence of what the month of restraint is aiming to achieve. By fasting, Muslims are encouraged to cultivate compassion for the poor and needy. I can really see the value in this. It is easy to pity someone and feel sorry for them, but to walk in someone else’s shoes, even for just a short time, is a powerful way to develop empathy. Ideally, observers of Ramadan should also try to exercise self-restraint in all aspects of their lives during the holy month, from abstaining from gossip and harsh words to being more inward focused and reflective. It is a time to focus on the family, the home, charity and developing positive attributes of patience, tolerance and self-awareness.
Unlike the nervous anticipation of the approaching summer, I’ve actually been looking forward to the start of Ramadan and have been reflecting about how I can take part in someway. I love my post practice/teaching coffee (made on my home coffee machine) and contemplated giving this up. This seemed too drastic, so I’ve settled on giving up dairy and following a full vegan diet for the month instead. Sounds quite easy…but lately I have gotten quite used to regularly eating Arabic cheeses like feta, labneh and haloumi. And of course then there is dark chocolate….Wish me luck!
I went to Kinokuniya bookshop today to stock up on some books to see me through the next month of being more housebound than usual. Among other things, I picked up a copy of Thomas Merton’s “The Inner Experience, Notes on Contemplation”. Merton was a Trappist monk famous for his writings on the inner journey. I’ve often seen him referenced but have never read one of this books. I thought it was a suitable theme for the coming month. Looks like I’m ready for summer and Ramadan!