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Observing the holy month - By Rebecca Wicks

It's that time of year again - when all the taxis mysteriously disappear after 6pm and you're left stranded by the side of the empty road, wondering what's going on. All of a sudden it clicks. It's Ramadan. So you go back inside and hang out on Facebook for an hour, until life gets back to normal.

For those newbie's who have never experienced Ramadan in Dubai before, it can be a disorienting time, but for non-Muslim residents who have never observed the holy month at all, it can also be quite eye-opening. We live in a melting pot of culture, yet we still adhere to western ways of life, a lot of the time. All of a sudden, it's disrespectful to be seen drinking water or chewing gum in public and of course, things like this can throw a few unsuspecting people, if they're not prepared or aware.

But that's the beauty of it, really. Learning as we go. There's no better time to truly live out the expat dream - to experience the change of scenery we dreamed about from shores afar. Not only do we get to live in a place of eternal sunshine, where the streets are clean (except for sand) and taxes don't exist (yet) but we get to be a part of tradition. We're welcomed as guests into Ramadan tents, fed till we're stuffed at iftars, and our ears are soothed by the mellow sounds of the oude and Arabic music, even though we might not feel particularly deserving. It's as though we belong here - even though we might not. It's a fabulous feeling to know generous, hospital people are willing to share, willing to help open our eyes, and willing us to see tradition in the same light that they do.

The other night, I was taken to the iftar at Sloanes in Grosvenor House. My friend and his brother had been fasting and I could tell they were ravenous! You know how men get when they're hungry - a little snappy. A bit moody and distant. We took our seats and waited for prayer so we could eat. It happened as I was sniffing the incredible buffet - loading my plate with lamb chops, caesar salad, lamb ouzi, kofta bel saniya, lobster bisque and chicken shwarma… I could have eaten everything, I was so hungry myself. By the time I got back to the table, they were already chowing theirs down - in fact, their plates were pretty much cleared by the time I started eating! The food at Sloanes is amazing and I can highly recommend it if you want to sample traditional Arabic dishes, as well as a western mix. Yes, they even have pizza and chips, if you really want to lower yourself to that level (tut).

At the weekend, a group of friends and I are planning to sample the Jumeirah Beach Hotel's suhour, right on the beach from 8pm till 2am. Most bars in London don't even open that late! It promises all manner of shisha and strange, delicious new soft drinks that have never before blessed our tastebuds.

The shopping's malls are quieter too, in the evenings. In fact, here's a tip. If you're planning a humungous shop, save it all up till 6pm and head to Carrefour. No one will run a trolley over your foot while you're reaching for the cheese, no child will slide into you on wheely-heels and you definitely wont have to queue for half an hour. You won't have ever seen it so empty.

When all is said and done and we return to our regular ways, I think everyone will have taken something away from Ramadan. It's a time of thought and reflection for everyone, no matter which culture from which we hail.

Speaking to a few of my friends, mostly westerners, the general consensus is that we don't really mind the usual weekend haunts being closed for the month, either. Regular visitors of Friday brunches and Saturday lunch spots, it's actually pretty nice to have a month of chilling together, without the usual fill of liquid or vast amounts of food. Filling up on conversation, catching up on movies, playing games and waiting till the evening for a meal we're really ready for is something that appeals to everyone, it seems, whether we're observing Ramadan in all its forms, or not.

Posted: 07 September 2008

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