ramadan

Ejo #79 – Perspective: A Dubai Ramadan Story

Earlier this month my Spotify music account was hacked.  The offending asshole* changed the primary email and password of my account, locking me out of it (how rude!).  The team at Spotify were awesome and managed to give me back control of my music but the bastard had deleted all my playlists.  Now, it’s one thing to steal someone’s music.  But to delete my playlists was just a dirty thing to do and I was furious.  Especially because one of those playlists included more than seven hours of music for a very special party we’re having in Melbourne when we visit in September.  Shit just got personal.  And I was all set to write an entire ejo devoted to cussing this guy out, and giving him what for.

So, what happened?  Well, perspective, I guess.  As you know, it’s that Ramadan time of year. A time when Muslims around the world show their devotion to god by fasting – refraining from eating food and drinking water during daylight hours.  Doing this must be difficult at the best of times – but when you add abject poverty, housing that is unfit to live in, zero social standing and a lack of even the most basic of human rights to the mix, it becomes downright intolerable.

So, I had the choice of fretting over some random dick depriving me of my music for 24 hours, or I could get off my ass and organise an Iftar handout for a few men.  I chose the latter.  For the uninitiated, Iftar is the meal that breaks the daily Ramadan fast when the sun goes down.  It’s a big deal in Dubai, with every restaurant in the city offering huge buffet feasts for the privileged amongst us.  A recent article in a local newspaper highlighted the incalculable waste produced by these buffets.  The amount of food that gets thrown away is simply mindboggling.  Especially when you think about the masses of less fortunate, unseen people, hidden away in the industrial desert areas of the city.  The men who work exhausting hours, struggling to scrape together the equivalent of AUD290 a month (working six days a week, fourteen hours a day), most of which they send back home to their families.

I posted my intentions on Facebook and within a couple of days we had raised enough money to feed 470 men.  Four hundred and seventy men!!!!!!  I want to thank each and every person who donated money for this worthy cause.  Unfortunately, none of you could join us for the fun part of actually giving out the meals, so I thought that on this occasion I would put a face to your donations in the hope that it personalises your contribution.  Check out the photos below to find out who you bought a meal for.

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The guys at Two Seasons Restaurant who prepared the 470 meals with love and care – and even helped us load the boxes into the cars.

 

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Michelle H., your empathy directly impacted on this guy.

 

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Nicole C., thanks to your generosity, this guy had a nice Iftar meal to break his fast.  He was just one of many that you helped. 

 

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Mari S., this guy ate a delicious dinner because of your thoughtful donation.

 

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Simon K., this man was so grateful for the meal he received from you.

 

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Beth, Tim, Charley and Xavier – this is one of the guys you made very happy on Tuesday.

 

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Craig A., this dude said a heartfelt thank you to David – but it was meant for you. 

 

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Pieta S., this man’s smile and gratitude are thanks to you.

 

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Adrian R., this man got to eat well on Tuesday because of your contribution.

 

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Sam A., your compassion meant that this man had a tasty hot meal for Iftar.

 

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Melinda N., this guy was very shy when taking his meal, but also so very grateful – to you.

 

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Zimmy K., this man’s smile is one of so many – thanks to your incredibly generous donation.

 

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Guy S., you totally made this guy’s day!

 

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Matthew T., this man doesn’t know you but he directly experienced your kindness.

 

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Nancy L., this young man was surprised at the offer of free food, and so thankful for the meal you bought for him.

 

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Cindy C., your substantial donation made this man (and many others) very happy.

 

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Nic M., your deep generosity meant that this man didn’t have to worry about where his dinner was coming from on Tuesday.

 

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Svet M., we moved some money around and made sure that your donation was given to this man – and several others during the handout.

 

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Vicki D., the look on this man’s face is so heartwarming.  He is smiling because of you.

 

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Sam H., your substantial contribution gave joy to many men. This is one of them.

 

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Karien M., you are the reason this man is smiling.

 

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Yani, for me this guy says it all. He just couldn’t stop smiling while waiting in line for his meal – and then his smile got even bigger when David handed it to him. Your helping hand is the reason for his happiness.

For those of you who would like to contribute to our next handout, I’ve got a rippa idea!  I’m super keen to organise an ice-cream truck handout. Yes, of course it’s wonderful (truly wonderful) to do a food handout but how amazing would it be to gift ice-creams!!!  Think back to when you were a kid and you heard the ice-cream truck melody floating down the street on a hot summer evening, announcing the imminent arrival of  THE ICE-CREAM MAN!!!!  Don’t we all share the unadulterated joy associated with that?  Wouldn’t that be an incredible thing to give these men, whose lives are so bereft of the simple pleasures we take for granted.  So, I’m planning on doing this in a couple of months – around October.  I won’t announce it anywhere else except Facebook so if you are interested and aren’t my Facebook friend (boohoo for you) shoot me an email/message through the comments section of this post.

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Seriously, I love this guy!!!!

 

* OK, I can’t help myself.  The email address of the pond-scum who hacked my Spotify account is joesalisbury_13@outlook.com.  Feel free to bombard this mofo with spam, random subscriptions and stern emails about respecting other people’s privacy.

 

Ejo #67 – And Together We Keep On Giving

It’s Ramadan.  The days are long, and they are hot (often over 40C/140F).  A lot of impoverished blue-collar workers are toiling in these inhospitable conditions, and a lot of those men are fasting for the holy month of Ramadan.  Fasting during this period doesn’t just mean going without food during daylight hours.  It also means going without water.

If you’re in the mood for a fun experiment, try not drinking any water for the next 16-17 hours.  For real.  Give it a red-hot go and see how you manage.  I’m not ashamed to say I can’t do it.  I get seriously irritable, light-headed and I can’t concentrate on the simplest of tasks. But let’s say you did OK.  Let’s up the ante.  Next, try it whilst sitting outside in the searing sun with no shade for relief.  Still no problem?  OK, let’s throw some manual labour into the equation.  It starts getting a bit tricky here.  Now do it for a whole month.

One of the wonderful aspects of the Ramadan fasting tradition is Iftar – the breaking of the fast.  Every night, throughout the city, restaurants put on lavish buffet Iftars to reward the fasters for their discipline during the day.  Table upon mountainously laden table, literally groans under the weight of all the food on offer (what they do with the copious amounts of left-overs is the topic of another rant).  It’s a pity that the labourers and street workers of Dubai (and neighbouring emirates) could never even dream of participating in such feasts. Usually the best they can hope for to break their fast is some plain rice and maybe some lentils.  Their usual fare.

So, when we raised a pretty large sum of money in April we decided to keep a fair amount of it so that we could arrange some pretty yummy meals for 450 of these hardworking, unfortunate men to help break their difficult Ramadan fast.  With Roshni’s help and with the help of the amazing Green Palace Restaurant in Karama we put together 450 meals comprising delicious chicken biryani, some dates, a samosa, water, a tub of yoghurt and a nice dessert.  Truly a feast.

The wonderful Green Palace Restaurant.  It is here that they make the large numbers of food packages that we order for the handouts.  Fabulous service, fabulous food, fabulous guys.

The wonderful Green Palace Restaurant. It is here that they make the large numbers of food packages that we order for the handouts. Fabulous service, fabulous food, fabulous guys.

One of the two large vehicles that were packed full of the 450 food packages.  Thanks again to Roshni's regular volunteers for helping make this handout happen.

One of the two large vehicles that were packed full of the 450 food packages. Thanks again to Roshni’s regular volunteers for helping make this handout happen.

One of the enormous pans of chicken biryani.  Looks so good, and smelled SO delicious on the drive.

One of the enormous pans of chicken biryani. Looks so good, and smelled SO delicious on the drive.

One of the best things about this particular handout, and what makes it different to all the others we’ve done before, is that when we arrived at the restaurant the food packages weren’t ready (there had been a misunderstanding about the time we needed them).  We usually just turn up, load the cars and take off to where we distribute the meals.  This time we got stuck in, we got involved in the process.  For about half an hour we crammed into the pretty small restaurant and we rolled up our sleeves and we helped the restaurant staff put the packages together. And, boy oh boy, was it HOT!  At one point I was sweating so much, one of the men silently handed me a box of tissues (which I took with much gratitude).  We shared a moment and it was one of mutual respect.  I’m pretty sure they’ve never had a western chick in there packing biryanis into plastic bags before.  And whilst I’ve always respected this restaurant for helping us with our vision of feeding men who need it, I gained an even higher, newfound, respect for the staff for all the hard work that goes into the packaging.  It was eye-opening, adrenalising and exciting to actually not just GIVE, but to DO.

Another difference was that we went to a labour camp area about half an hour drive from Dubai.  A lot of people like to contribute to the same camps in Dubai, because it’s convenient. So the ones that are further afield tend to miss out.  We weren’t afraid to make the trek, to ensure that some neglected folks got to share some of the spoils of people’s generosity.

I hope you all enjoy checking out the photos below.  For those of you who didn’t contribute, perhaps you’ll be inspired to throw a few bucks in this direction next time we do a large collection.  And for those of you who did give money, once more, thank you.

Leaving behind the bright lights and big city of Dubai.

Leaving behind the bright lights and big city of Dubai.

Arriving at Sajaa, an industrial area of Sharjah where many labourers and workers are stationed.  It's a dusty, desolate place with no streetlights and unpaved roads.  A glaring contrast to the city.

Arriving at Sajaa, an industrial area of Sharjah where many labourers and workers are stationed. It’s a dusty, desolate place with no streetlights and unpaved roads. People live here – a glaring contrast to the city.

Here we go!

And so it begins!

Each of these faces tells a story that we'll never know.  It's one of the things that drives me to keep doing these handouts.

Each of these faces tells a story that we’ll never know. It’s one of the things that drives me to keep doing these handouts. Each person we hand a meal to is a whole person, with a textured, detailed history.  Each of them is important.  

I love this photo - taken by the very talented Roshni.

I love this photo – taken by the very talented Roshni.

Smiles.

Smiles.

David and I took it in turns handing the food to the guys.

David and I took it in turns handing the food to the guys.

More smiles.

More smiles.

Another great portrait from Roshni.

Another great portrait from Roshni.

This guy will take the cardboard boxes that were used to transport some of the meals and recycle it, for pittance.  For some of the men, this is the only form of income they have here.

This guy will take the cardboard boxes that were used to transport some of the meals and recycle it, for pittance. For some of the men, this is the only form of income they have here.

Happy customer.

Happy customer.  We all helped make this one day of Ramadan just a little bit better for him.  He thanked David and me, but he was thanking you too.

And just like that, it's over.  We got to leave, but for some people this is their life.  I'll never get used to the injustice of it.

And just like that, it’s over. We got to leave, but for some people this is their life and their home. I’ll never get used to the injustice of it.

Note: 450 is about the maximum number of meals that can be made at once so we actually still have 194 meals left over from the collection that Roshni will distribute over the course of Ramadan, as she’s doing handouts every single day.  She’s truly an amazing woman.  

Ejo #44 – Ramadan: It’s A Time For Giving

And so this is Ramadan. The time of year that our Muslim friends abstain from eating, drinking, chewing gum, smoking, having sex, dancing, singing and having bad thoughts during daylight hours. Wow man, it all sounds rather difficult. If you don’t think so, perhaps give it a go. Say, starting tomorrow. For a month!!!! Yeah, I thought so.

 

The reasons for fasting are numerous. It’s supposed to give you a greater understanding and appreciation of what less fortunate people experience every day of their lives. People for whom hunger and thirst are a constant struggle. So it fosters compassion. It is also a time for gratitude, for the blessings that have been bestowed upon you. Ramadan is all about showing restraint and self-control. Not just in fasting, but also in the way that you think about, and treat, other people. It’s a time to show good manners, compassion, patience and engage in a feeling of community. Ultimately though, Ramadan is meant to remove the distraction of the trappings of everyday life (sustenance, food, entertainment) in order to allow the faster to focus on communing with God. Ramadan is when a Muslim’s devotion to their faith is at its most concentrated and pure.

 

It is a really special time in a Muslim’s year, and even though it is something that must be very difficult to do, I have never heard a Muslim complain about having to fast. Everybody seems to do it with great grace.

 

An aspect of Ramadan that I’d like to talk about a little more is goodwill and charity. The prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) once said, “A man’s wealth is never diminished by charity.” One of the five pillars of Islam is Zakat, the requirement to donate 2.5% of whatever you have earned that year to aid those in need. Zakat can be done at any time of the year, however it seems that most people tend to give during Ramadan. And I’d like to join in.

 

Let me tell you something. Living here is hard for me, for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is the major disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. The divide is enormous. I think because we’ve lived in a veritable construction site for the last four and a half years, constantly exposed to the daily grind of labourers, it’s something that we can’t simply ignore. A lot of other people can. It’s not in their face, so they don’t worry about it. I do worry about it. I’ve written often in the past about how the plight of these guys cuts me to the bone. I’ve written about how I’ve tried, in my own very tiny way, to humanise them. To hand them a bottle of juice or some fruit once in a while. To wave hello and goodbye. To smile. It hasn’t been enough, but it’s something. Unfortunately, with the way the construction is constantly changing the landscape around our apartment building, we are no longer in constant contact with any particular labourers, so we are no longer able to develop any kind of bond or friendship or acquaintance. It’s more difficult to make a connection when you don’t see someone every day. Which is why it’s all the more important for me to try to do something special to help ease their lives, even briefly. Even if it’s just for one meal.

 

My friend Roshni, who used to work with Karama Kanteen is my biggest inspiration. She has devoted her life in Dubai to helping those that need it the most. The men that even the government has shamefully turned their backs on. Whenever I have some spare money, I call Roshni and we organise a hand out. She tells me what food and drinks to buy, and she uses her contacts at the labour camps to rally the men together.

 

Some of you might remember my Christmas Ejo of 2011, where I organised a collection from friends all around the world. Well, I think that Ramadan 2013 is a fantastic time to do it all over again. A lot of these unfortunate men are Muslim, and they must fast during the hottest time of year. And let me tell you, it has been HOT!

 

This is the hottest I've ever seen my car register.  Let's just say it was a VERY uncomfortable day - and I was outside for a total of about ten minutes.

This is the hottest I’ve ever seen my car register. Let’s just say it was a VERY uncomfortable day – and I was outside for a total of about ten minutes.

 

Try to imagine not eating or (even worse) not drinking water for 15 hours a day. Now imagine doing that while you have to work outside in these temperatures. And then, when the time came to break your fast with the Iftar meal (the all-important reward for sacrifices made during the day), all you could afford was a cup of rice and some water. It’s this that I want you to imagine, when I ask you to dig deep and find your compassion, empathy and generosity. My friend Roshni and I will organise a handout to give these guys something to look forward to for one Iftar. A nice cooked meal, some nutritious fruit, laban (yoghurt drink) or juice to wash it down with and maybe even a tasty sweet for dessert.

 

Last time 14 of us got together and raised 4500dhs and fed close to 450 men. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing it is to be a part of something like this, and I’m sure those of you who donated last time can attest to that. Let’s see if we can get even more people to donate this time. I am not asking for huge donations. If you can spare five bucks, that’s enough to feed someone. If you can spare more, fantastic! As before, every single cent goes towards the men – there are no “hidden costs” to this campaign, everything is done by volunteers. If you are interested, then please email me and we can organise a way for you to transfer the money. I know I have left it late, but please let me know in the next week or so if you would like to donate. And we can collectively bring a little bit of Iftar joy to a group of deserving men.