Hello and greetings from Riyadh where it’s another day of sun! Temperature today 38 degrees at 11am – although I am told this is mild for May.
This month we’ve been experiencing our first Ramadan in a Muslim country so I thought I would write about what that experience has been like :0).
Ramadan lasts for four weeks and the start is timed to coincide with the cycles of the moon. For Muslims Ramadan is time for reflection, contemplation and celebration. They fast from sunrise to sunset which is 5am to 6.30pm and fasting means no drinking or eating anything during the hours of daylight. They break their fast at sunset with a meal called Iftar and later at around midnight they have another meal called Suhoor.
During Ramadan working hours are shortened to make it easier for those who are fasting – so generally office hours are 10am – 4pm (with no lunch break) – some offices will close at 3pm. Shops , including supermarkets, still open during the day (but close as usual during prayer time). Restaurants, cafes etc do not open during the day – they will generally open 6.30pm – 2am. The children are also on holiday from school and shopping centres put up decorations so there is a festive feel everywhere.
The evening Iftar meals are a big event – families gather to share the food and huge feasts are prepared. Hotels and restaurants also put on massive buffets. We have enjoyed a number of Iftar meals and were lucky enough to be invited to share a meal with the family of a Saudi colleague of my husband (see photos above).
We also had an Iftar meal with friends at at restaurant:
An Iftar meal traditionally begins with dates, Arabic coffee and lugaimat (small, sweet, fried dough balls) This is then followed by salads, samosas, stuffed vine leaves, and then a range of meat koftas, chicken and lamb dishes with rice – and lasagne appears to be popular as well! Afterwards there are sweet milky deserts flavoured with rose and pistachio, honey cake or baclava – all washed down with water or pomegrante juice.
Our compound Wadi Quortoba also put on an Iftar for residents with entertainment including a camel and pony offering rides for the children and a man pouring pomegrante juice from a large jug-like contraption on his back…
During Ramadan families also like to gather together outside after sunset, and this year there was a special festival put on at Al Bujairi Heritage Park with pop-up shops selling traditional crafts, coffee stalls, demonstrations of traditional crafts and live storytelling. These type of festivals are still very new in Saudi Arabia where until recently people had not been encouraged to gather. Al Bujairi Heritage Park is on the banks of Wadi Hanifa where old Diriyah (the forerunner to modern Riyadh) was founded and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. It is being renovated and is due to open in 2020, with a bridge over the Wadi linking it to the Heritage Park.
There was a lovely atmosphere at the Heritage Park, there must have been thousands of people all milling about as it covers a huge area with everyone just soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying all the entertainment, food and drinks on offer.
And that’s been our experience of Ramadan in KSA! Ramadan is followed by a five day national Eid holiday when many people go on holiday – including ourselves, so the blog will resume in a couple of weeks time!
I’m off to pack!!