Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ramadan Kareem! Year 3

We're about halfway through Ramadan and it dawned on me that I hadn't posted anything about it. This is our 3rd Ramadan in Abu Dhabi - hard to believe! and every year we learn a bit more about this holy month of the Islamic calendar. A few reminders and new tidbits for all my friends and family back home.

The holy month of Ramadan is the 9th month in the Islamic calendar and is significant because it is believed to be the month that the holy Qur'an was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). It is meant to be a time of reflection, prayer, thanksgiving and celebration.

Most of us non-Muslims know it as a month of fasting from sunup to sundown, but it's much more than that.

But first, that fasting - really? For a whole month from sunrise to sunset? Yes. Really NO food, NO drink, not even water? Yes. For the WHOLE month? Yes. I'm told by my Emiratis colleagues that the first few days are the worst and then you get a bit more used to it and the benefits kick in. The idea is that the empty belly and thirst do wonders in giving you a renewed sense of appreciation for all the blessings you've been given. It's also a humbling reminder of how others in more difficult circumstances may be suffering. The fast is broken with the Maghrib call to prayer at sunset and the meal is called Iftar.

In the work environment, the working hours are shortened by two hours to accommodate those who are fasting. Because we're an international 24/7 airline, a lot of people continue to work similar hours, but you definitely feel the slow down and things wrap up earlier during this month. I was curious about how individuals make this work, so I've been taking advantage of the Emirati relationships I've built over the past year and ask whenever it's appropriate how they do it.  A couple of examples:
  • One of the ladies I know says she leaves work around 3:00 and then sleeps until Iftar (around 7:15 this year). She then has Iftar with her family and they head to the mosque for 2 hours of prayers and reading of the Qur'an. She gets home and watches some TV and hangs out with her family, etc. until about 3:00am when they have Suhoor (the morning meal before sunrise). Sunrise is around 4:00am and she starts her fasting for the day. Yep, only a few hours of sleep a day!
  • Another says he doesn't stay up all night but goes to sleep after the late evening prayer and wakes up for morning prayers at sunrise. He said he's too tired to get up for Suhoor so just fasts from the time he goes to bed at night (probably 11:00-midnight) until Iftar the next day!
With those examples, you can imagine how tired and muddled you might feel for the month. And, while there are reduced working hours, it's still quite a schedule to maintain for a month.

And fasting is more than just the food and drink. In addition, you are not supposed to smoke, engage in sexual relations or have any negative thoughts or deeds. The idea is that you exercise patience and self-restraint in all things from sunrise to sunset. Quite a tall order. Imagine first that it's around 105 degrees F with 40-50% humidity. You've had nothing to eat or drink all day and you're supposed to be patient, forgiving and calm.

We have a work Iftar coming up on Sunday and I and a few other colleagues have decided to fast for the day in our show of support and to try and understand a bit what it's like for our Muslim colleagues. I did it last year and did pretty well - let's see how this year goes. I'll probably have a harder time with the patience and positive thinking than I will with the food and drink! Right, who am I kidding - I'll be day dreaming about food all day long! :)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sri Lanka: Shopping

Our final adventure of the trip was a little shopping. We visited a local market where Brian ordered some custom made shirts and I found a couple of silk scarves for next to nothing. Here are a few of the pics.
 Local market similar to the markets we've seen all over the world. Crammed stalls selling everything you can imagine.
 This photo gives you a better sense of how crowded the aisles are.
 On this hillside you can get a glimpse of the 'tuk tuks' which are the taxis of Sri Lanka. They are kind of like 3-wheeled golf carts and they are everywhere.
Here's Brian with our driver for the day. His ancestry is a mixture of Sri Lankan and Scottish so he spoke English very well and had a scottish name like MacSteven or something that. He chattered away the whole trip and took us to the "best place" for whatever we were looking for. At the end of the trip, he gave me a hug, which was surprising after the strict culture in Abu Dhabi. We wondered if maybe we had been 'taken for a ride' and that's why he was so grateful. :)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Sri Lanka: Tea Factory

Our next adventure in Sri Lanka was to a tea factory. We had actually hoped to visit a tea plantation, but that would be a full day's drive round trip and with such limited time, we decided to stick with the factory. We love to visit factories to see how things are made and processed so we very much enjoyed our visit.
Sri Lanka is famous for it's Ceylon tea. These are the tea leaves recently harvested - they take only the top 1/3 of the plant to get the most tender leaves. They are moved slowly along a conveyer belt for about a day to dry them out a bit.
They are then dropped into this grinder and the process of separating the leaves from the stems begins.
The leaves go through 3 different sized grinders to get to the consistency desired.
A close up of the grinder and below is how they come out when finished.
The next step is to put them in a dryer oven type machine to fully dry them out and then they are ready for packaging.
Belt used for the packaging - the leaves are stored in big gunny sacks or boxes and then shipped to packaging plants.
Our guide was talking us through the different type of tea this factory produces.
After the tour, we were treated to a free cup of tea in the shop. It was nice as the room overlooked the street so you could sit, sip and people watch.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sri Lanka: Temple of the Tooth Relic

Our next adventure in Sri Lanka was a visit to the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy. This is an important Buddhist religious site that protects a holy relic from the Lord Buddha. It's said that when he died, parts of his teeth (a tooth relic) was saved from his burial pyre in India. Then, one of the princes of India fled to Sri Lanka with the relic hidden in his wife's hair. They came to Sri Lanka to avoid persecution and rescue the tooth relic. It is now housed in this temple and revered as a sacred relic. There is, of course, much more to the story, but this will give you the highlights.
Our first stop was one of the vendors outside the temple grounds selling piles of jasmine petals and lotus flowers you could give as offerings in the temple. Our guide purchased one and the vendor gave Brian one as well ... or so we thought. Then he chased us down to get his payment. :) Ooops.
A beautiful shot of the outside of the temple at dusk.
Inside the temple, the monks were playing drums really loudly. Each evening, there is a bit of ceremony as the monks deliver offerings to the sacred tooth relic. They are playing here outside a door to some stairs that will take the monks up to the tooth relic shrine, which is closed off to the public.
Here's a better shot of the door.
A table with the many flower offerings to the relic.
This is the best shot of the relic we could get. The place was absolutely packed and the relic is held in this gold shrine, which the public can glimpse through a window.  

It was an interesting visit, with much more to see than the photos suggest. Unfortunately, by now we were getting really tired - the long trip and jet lag were catching up so we weren't as alert and interested as we probably should have been.