I landed in Dubai on a scorching 24th of April 1989. It also happened to be the 18th day of the Holy month of Ramadan that day. I was not expecting a hot gush of wind to knock me backward as I put my foot out of the plane onto the passenger stair. For a moment I stopped breathing as my nostrils felt the burn of heated desert air.
My uncle and aunt were there to pick me up and on my way to their place, they told me all the do’s and don’ts which I had to follow during Ramadan. Back in Goa, those rules did not apply and it was the first time I was being cautioned. “If you are caught drinking water or eating outside, your head will be shaved and you will be put behind bars until the day of Eid when you will be released”. The next day on, I was mortally afraid to even venture out of the house lest I fell into trouble with the police. As the days went by, I observed how devoutly the Muslims kept the fast and I learned to respect and admire their willpower throughout the 30 days of fasting. I learned that our 40-day Catholic fast during Lent was totally different from theirs (Very flexible and do-able). What got me was that the Muslims were not even allowed to swallow their own spit with the intention of quenching their thirst!
Subsequently that year, my first encounter with the June-July-August heat was unbearable! The public buses were not air-conditioned and the bus shelters were shaded but open. I remember how difficult it used to be to go out for interviews in the heat. Whenever I had to take a taxi, I would use the shared ‘Pathan’ taxis to save money. I learned pretty quickly to carry newspapers in my bag to cover the seat with, to keep the stench of sweat from rubbing onto my clothes. I was working as a junior architect in those days and had no experience of how harsh the weather was to construction workers. Not until much later (from 2011 onwards) when Ramadan was falling within the hottest months. By then, I was working on construction sites myself and carrying out inspections in the heat. I used to change my undergarments up to five times a day, depending on the inspection schedules. I saw workers swooning on the scaffolds, with only their safety harnesses saving them from fatal falls. But those harsh conditions would change nothing for those who were fasting. Whether it was in winter or summer, the devout Muslims would keep their fast, come what may! The only respite was the reduced work hours and the split shift to keep them away from the hottest hours of the day. I once tried to keep the Muslim way of fasting and I must confess that I failed miserably. I just could not do without water. It was fairly easy to be without food but water … no way!
This year (2018), Ramadan fasting period started in May and will culminate in the feast of ‘Eid-Al-Fitr’ in mid-June. Once again I am on a construction site and I can feel the heat rising. The fasting continues and although my Muslim colleagues are going through a tough time, they are smiling and working as if all is fine. Deep down, I know there is much introspection going on in their lives…Both the rich and the poor are praying, giving, sacrificing. But in a few more days those who have patiently kept the fast will be rejoicing on the day of Eid.
UAE has been a blessing to me and my family. I take this opportunity to thank and pray for UAE’s great leaders and their families, that they may have a truly blessed Ramadan and Eid-Al-Fitr. God bless you all!