In Saudi, probably the most significant thing to happen since my last post was Ramadan – the holy month of fasting in Islam. This means nobody should eat, drink (even water) or smoke during the day. It came at a tough time of year with the longest and hottest days in June. Of course, me not being Muslim and me just being me, I didn’t fast. I spent more time plotting where to eat or smoke in secret than doing any spiritual reflection. One thing I discovered for sure is that the crunch of a Dorito is A LOT louder when you’re trying to do it quietly. I’m pretty sure that all of Riyadh knew I was wolfing down that bag of chips.
I decided to do a sort of “fast light” one day because my colleague was kind enough to invite me over to join his family for a traditional Saudi ‘breaking the fast’ dinner. It seemed like a good idea to at least be pretty hungry for it. He came and picked me up and we stopped at a store so I could pick up some dessert to add to the meal. I asked if we could find a place for me to sneak a cigarette (behind a pile of trash or something) before we got to the house. As I said, it was “fast light”. We couldn’t find a place where I might not be spotted so he suggested we get on the highway and open the window and I could smoke in the car. I was so paranoid that someone would see us that I didn’t really enjoy it.
On the way to the house, he showed me the place where they buy the live goats that we’d be eating at dinner. For some reason, however, they don’t slaughter the goats in the same place so you have to transport them up the street. For your average Joe, this means wrestling it into the trunk while it tries to break free and then listening to it try to kick its way out. It reminded me of that opening scene in Goodfellas.
The dinner itself is divided into two main parts. The first part includes dates and some light pastry along with some Arabic coffee. For the people who have been fasting the correct way (everyone but me), it means it’s the first thing they’ve had in over 15 hours so there’s just a little sustenance before they go pray. After that prayer time is the main event. Honest to God, the food was amazing!! It wasn’t just the goat, but there was everything from lasagna to vegetables and chicken. The men and the women eat separately, as is the custom. So it was just us guys digging in with our bare hands – tearing apart the meat. It was a great time. Nobody can ever say that Saudis are not hospitable.
Work-life was certainly different as working hours are reduced to 10-4 to help people cope with the fasting. The earlier finish gives people enough time to get home to be with their families to break the fast together too. It’s a bit of a mad rush at the end of the day with very hungry, thirsty people desperate to make it home in time, but not as clear-headed behind the wheel as one would hope by this point in the day.
The month closes out with about a week-long holiday where basically the whole country shuts down, so I went to Boston – missing the last week of Ramadan and the holiday at the end. When I got back to Riyadh, it was business as usual. No more huddling in the closet devouring a Snickers or hiding on the 123 degree roof for a puff.
Sorry for the delay in posting. I have more to come soon!