iftar handout

Ejo #113 – And So, This Is Ramadan

Most of my readers will already have some idea of what Ramadan is (they’d better – I write about it often enough!!!).  For those who don’t know, Ramadan is the most important month of the Islamic lunar year – a thirty day period of spiritual growth and introspection, during which Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex during the hours of daylight in order to commune with their god. One of the traditions of Ramadan is, of course, the celebrated breaking of the fast – and in Dubai this tends to be a pretty lavish affair. Five star hotel restaurants put on huge spreads every single night, tables groaning under the weight of platters of Arabic and international cuisine. It’s truly a sight to behold. Though not necessarily a good sight. At least not if you are aware of the monstrous amount of food that is wasted each and every day during Ramadan.

Iftar buffets produce 500,000kgs of food waste every Ramadan in Dubai.

Apparently, in the UAE, about 500 tonnes of uneaten Iftar food gets thrown into landfill during Ramadan. That doesn’t even come close to the 400 tonnes a day wasted in neighbouring Bahrain during the holy month, but it’s still a shitload of food that gets chucked away. Which is a disgrace when there are half a million impoverished labourers in Dubai. A lot of these workers are Muslim, which means that during this year’s Ramadan they are going without food and water for fourteen hours a day, while toiling in the harsh sun.  These are the guys that should be enjoying five star buffets laden with extravagant food every night.  But they’re not.  They’re breaking their fast with whatever scraps they can afford – which is not much.  It’s enough to make you want to organise a food handout!!

Indeed it is!  So, on Friday 24th May, just before sunset, David and I joined our wonderful friend Roshni and her amazing team of volunteers at a labour camp in Sharjah to help distribute hot Iftar meals to some of these men.  Remarkably, we were able to give out 1000 meal packages consisting of dates (traditionally eaten to break the fast), water (to quench the thirst of many hours of dehydration), a delicious and nutritious chicken biryani (packed full of flavour, energy and protein), and a piece of fruit for a simple dessert.  Nothing fancy but definitely fancier than nothing.

As always I have taken lots of photos of the guys as they receive their dinner package.  The reason I do this is because sadly, the labourers of the UAE are an often unacknowledged demographic. I want to humanise them, because despite being treated like slaves, they are real people, like you and me. I want to show their dignity and uniqueness.  I want you to look into their eyes and recognise that they may have dreams and hopes and aspirations.  That they may experience irritation and depression. Joy and laughter and gratitude. That being poor in worldly possessions doesn’t make their lives any less valuable.  I hope that by looking at these pictures you can find just one face that you can connect with – because ultimately we’re all the same.  Some people are just luckier than others.

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The sun beat down hard – at 6pm it was still 37°C.

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The men lined up in an orderly fashion.  Unruliness was dealt with firmly.

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I’d like to say a very special thank you to everyone who contributed to this year’s Ramadan handout.  You are wonderful.

 

 

Ejo #102 – One Iftar At A Time

David and I have just lived through our 10th Ramadan in Dubai – though it is a bit cheeky to say that we’ve “lived” through it. I don’t believe in any gods, so I have never regularly prayed, let alone five times a day. I’ve never fasted. And you can bet your bottom dollar that my thoughts and actions are as impure during the holy month of Ramadan as they are during the rest of the year.

But Ramadan still does have an impact on me. Personally Ramadan means not eating, drinking or chewing gum in public, and particularly in front of my Muslim colleagues during daylight hours. It means trying to remember not to play loud music, or sing and dance while I’m driving. It means toning down my swearing (which, believe it or not, is already pretty curtailed anyway). And it definitely means avoiding the roads just before sunset. Why? To clear the roads for thousands of exhausted, thirsty, hungry people who haven’t eaten or drunk anything for 14 hours, all driving with the sole purpose of getting home to break their fast. On the other hand, the city is deserted in the hour following sunset.  Because everyone is at home, or at the mosque, eating their Iftar meal.

And that’s actually the biggest part of Ramadan for me. The fact that Dubai’s population also consists of a lot of blue-collar workers who aren’t so well off. That so many hard-working men who contribute so much to the city live in labor accommodations and are not able to eat a very nutritious, or extravagant, meal to break their Ramadan fast. Which is why it’s become an annual tradition to get involved with the amazing work that my friend Roshni does

For those of you who don’t know, Roshni is Project Manager and Co–Founder of Care2Share, a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative run by Medulla under permit from the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department – Dubai, in partnership with the Emirates Red Crescent Society. Basically Care2Share exists to identify and support the needy in the UAE. I feel lucky to have met, and honoured to know, Roshni. She does incredible work all year round for the blue-collar workers in the country, particularly ramping up her efforts during Ramadan.

This year, David and I and several of our wonderful friends got involved and bought hearty, tasty and nutritious meals for 667 blue collar workers. I took a few pictures so that those who purchased an Iftar meal might see the gratitude of a worker and feel a connection to someone that they helped through their generosity. The world feels like a shitty place lately, but kindness and goodness do still exist. If you don’t believe me, just check out the pictures below.

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Ejo #45 – Iftar Meal Handout

 

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an ejo asking for people who were interested to contribute some money towards buying some of the less fortunate residents of Dubai a nice, hot, tasty meal to break the Ramadan fast. As well as David and me, FIFTEEN others stepped up and sent me money. Every single cent of that money went towards the food. Here’s how it all went down:

 

It was somewhat fitting that the day of the Iftar dinner handout was particularly hot and humid. After all, should I really expect to feel comfortable whilst handing out food to impoverished people on the street? I don’t think so. Unfortunately for me, I was also feeling a little bit under the weather from a pretty bad head cold. And to top it off, I’d only had two hours sleep the night before. We arrived home from a trip to Switzerland at 1.30am and I had to wake up at 3.45am to get to work. I can hear you: Trip to Switzerland?? And you want us to feel SORRY for you?? I guess not, but c’mon, two hours sleep is still only two hours sleep. Anyway, to sum it up, I was feeling pretty crappy and I would much rather have been at home in bed sipping on chamomile tea than driving around the back streets of Satwa trying to find a parking spot to set up the handout. But I had made a commitment, and nothing was going to stop me from honouring it.

 

The amazing Green Palace Restaurant that packages the meals for handouts at a SUPER reasonable price.  Thank you so much to the guys that help out with organising the food!!

The amazing Green Palace Restaurant that packages the meals for handouts at a SUPER reasonable price. Thank you so much to the guys that help out with organising the food!!

 

416 meals at 12dhs each comes to 4992dhs.  Thank you to each and every person who gave money towards this cause.

416 meals at 12dhs each comes to 4992dhs. Thank you to each and every person who gave money towards this cause.

 

When Roshni finally found a place to park and set up, men were already beginning to form an orderly line. Thanks to the wonderful and generous people who parted with their hard-earned cash to share a meal with someone in need, we had 416 packages to give away. And we had 416 men with hungry bellies and grateful eyes lining up, ready to receive their gifts. Each package contained dates (traditionally eaten to break the Ramadan fast), a hot chicken biryani and samosas, a tub of yoghurt, fruit juice, a crisp apple and a small dessert.

 

Getting in line.  Throughout the handout some cheeky men tried to cut in line but we sent them right to the back!  The whole thing ran like a very well oiled machine!

Getting in line. Throughout the handout some cheeky men tried to cut in line but we sent them right to the back! The whole thing ran like a very well oiled machine!

 

I started handing out the meals to the men, the sun beating down on all of us. Before long my jeans were sticking to my legs, sweat ran down my back and trickled down my face. But I didn’t care. I was just so happy to be doing what I was doing at that very moment. And the men were hot too, some of them soaked with perspiration. For me it was a temporary discomfort, for them it was probably something that they have to live with all day, every single day. I kept handing out packages. I tried to look each man in the eye as I handed him the bag containing his food. Not all of them looked back at me. Some just wanted to grab the meal and go. And that’s OK. I absolutely understand that. The ones that did make eye contact though, the ones that looked me in the eye and said “thank you” and allowed me to say “you’re welcome”, the ones that connected with me, brought me such an intense shot of sheer joy that I felt like I was going to burst with happiness. I was grinning from ear to ear.

 

Trying to balance all the boxes in the car with Mridul's help.

Trying to balance all the boxes in the car with Mridul’s help.

 

If you look closely you can see that the guy in the foreground has two different shoes on.  He probably just found them on the street.  That's the level of destitution of some of these men.  And it's heartbreaking.  Particularly in this supposedly RICH city.

If you look closely you can see that the guy in the foreground has two different shoes on. He probably just found them on the street. That’s the level of destitution of some of these men. And it’s heartbreaking. Particularly in this supposedly RICH city.

 

Look at that beautiful, happy face.

Look at that beautiful, happy face.

 

Sweaty, but happy!

Sweaty, but happy!

 

More happy customers.

More happy customers.

 

Smiles all round.  The good feelings were palpable!

Smiles all round. The good feelings were palpable!

 

Bon appetite!

Bon appetite!

 

Some of you might be aware (maybe because I keep going on about it????) that I’m not really loving living in Dubai right now. I don’t feel like I’m at home here. I haven’t found my “people” so I don’t feel like I belong. And this puts me in a perpetual state of lassitude. If I’m not sad, I’m feeling disconnected, switched off and isolated. Naturally, this is not a very nice way to live and I am hoping it’s just a temporary phase. But until it’s over, I’ve found that (short of actually getting on an aeroplane and getting the hell out of the country) not much alleviates this melancholia. But you know what does make things better? Getting involved in this kind of charity work, alongside one of the most generous, giving, empathetic, compassionate and hard working people I know – Roshni Raimalwala. I drove home from the handout absolutely floating on air. In fact, I was so emotional, so overwhelmed with how good I felt about what we’d done, that I actually had a little cry in the car on the way home. But it was a good cry. Tears of joy.

 

To give money to charity is wonderful. But to actually hand a person something that they need is something else altogether. To touch that person’s hand, and see the gratitude in their eyes and be able to elicit a smile from them is a mountain of a reward. It’s the pinnacle. It’s Everest! I wish that all of you who gave money for this handout could experience the same amazing feeling. I hope that by writing about it, it puts you there in my shoes for just a moment so that you can feel it for yourselves. Because you deserve to feel this good. You haven’t just handed over money, you’ve dipped into your humanity. You’ve reached out and changed someone’s life, even if just a tiny little bit.

 

So thank you. From me, from Roshni, Mrinal and Mridul, and from the 416 people that we helped to feed on the last day of Ramadan 2013.