You may have seen the post on Easy Expat Blog about "Respecting Ramadan as an Expat or Traveler" and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Qatar during this month which is so holy to Muslims. I lived and worked in Qatar during Ramadan when the sun beat down searing heat of 40 °C (104 °F).
As a non-Muslim, the custom of fasting presented certain problems for me, especially because I intended to work normal days while many of the natives take a relaxed attitude to work during Ramadan. Dressing modestly was not a problem, as I’ve never been one for wearing shorts in the office, but skipping meals is not an option for me due to a stomach ulcer.
During Ramadan, Muslims like to stay up late and enjoy feasts of delicious food. This meant that my co-workers were tired during the day, especially so since they had no breakfast and were thirsty in the scorching desert heat. The office, like most places in Qatar, was heavily air conditioned so that it was actually quite chilly inside, but it dries out the air making me thirstier and my throat dry and parched. Fortunately for me, many of my colleagues left work early and encouraged me to do the same. This gave me an opportunity to find some food and drink, but during Ramadan, most cafes and restaurants are closed until sunset leaving fewer options when it comes to lunch time.
I managed to purchase bottled water and sandwiches in a supermarket where Muslims stock up on supplies for the evenings. But where was I to eat lunch without offending the Qatari people? Most Qataris are actually very permissive when it comes to non-Muslims during Ramadan. They realise that we don’t need to participate in their fasting rituals, but all the same, it is disrespectful to gobble down sandwiches in plain view of everyone else while they are starving from the fast. I sometimes paid to go to the cinema just so I could eat my lunch in the dark of the empty theatre without being disturbed or upsetting any Muslims.
Scurrying off into unseen places to wolf down sandwiches was my undignified but respectful solution to the problem of lunch during Ramadan, but staying hydrated was a more serious matter. Alternating between freezing air-conditioned offices and shopping malls and the unbearable heat of the desert is thirsty work. I would sometimes sip water down a back alley like a drunkard during prohibition. Other times I would take long drink in the privacy of the lavatory. There was one occasion where I had been unable to find a drink for quite awhile, having walked through Doha with waves of heat flying up at my face from the baked tarmac. I hailed a taxi, eager for the cool relief of an air conditioned vehicle, and the Indian driver, a Hindu immigrant, took one look at my sweaty red face and handed me a bottle of water. He insisted that I need not worry about abstaining from water in public, especially in this heat.
Perhaps he was right in this situation but expats and travellers should be conscious that it is not always appropriate to drink in public during the daylight hours of the month of Ramadan. I am not a smoker, but smokers should be warned that you can’t smoke until the evening either. So bring nicotine patches if you are addicted to tobacco!
At the end of Ramadan, I highly recommend attending an Eid feast if you are invited by Muslim friends or colleagues. This is a joyous occasion when, after many prayers and weeks of fasting, everyone can enjoy a sumptuous banquet with many sweets followed by a huge meal with plenty of meat and spices.
By Tom Rowsell, a professional writer and film maker. He is currently employed by the London based translation and interpreting agency, EmpowerLingua.