The Ramadan Plan
Trip Start Sep 22, 2006
14Trip End Jan 2007
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And so I couldn't have timed my arrival in Qatar any better as I became an unwitting member of an eating regimen, which could hardly be called a 'fad', as it traced its roots back thousands of years to the days of the Prophet Mohammad, and is quite popular with about 1 billion people participating in this plan for a month. Yes I had unwittingly enrolled myself in "The 30 Day Ramadan Plan"
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic Calender and the holiest month as this was the month during which the revelation of the Koran began and the conquest of Mecca occurred. I wasn't exactly sure when The Ramadan Plan would start - the month officially begins with the sighting of the new moon, so if it is a particularly cloudy night and the powers that be cannot sight the moon then it is possible the month will start the next day. In much the same way it's difficult to predict exactly when the month will end as the moon must be sighted at this time as well. As it was, Ramadan was expected to start September 24th (the day after my arrival) but in fact occurred on September 23rd - I had no idea that the moon that I saw from the plane window was so significant. The sight of that moon meant that muslims all over the world would begin their 30 day fast. Pretty powerful stuff when you think about it.
The general plan involves eating or drinking nothing between sunrise and sunset, followed by a fast-breaking meal called Iftar at the end of the day. And when I say no drinking I mean nothing - no water, no juice, no coffee. And no chewing gum. For strict muslims it also often means no brushing of teeth and definitely no sex. In fact, no thinking about sex
So what is a day in the life look life during Ramadan? For muslims, the day starts around 3:30AM before the morning call to prayer which is around 4AM. They must have eaten breakfast prior to the sunrise and before the first prayer, so it makes for a pretty early start to the day. My Egyptian workmate Amir was telling me that he and his family all get up and eat together at 3:30AM then head back to bed before getting up for work.
Our work hours during Ramadan are reduced to 6 hours a day, from 8AM to 2PM. I've been waking up around 6AM daily and trying to do a bit of yoga in my room before I head to work. I grab some breakfast and have a coffee at home before getting a shuttle bus which takes me to my office.
It is illegal in the Gulf Countries to eat, drink, or chew gum in public during Ramadan and you are subject to arrest or a fine if you are found doing any of these activities. And that includes if you are a passenger in a car and driving down the street.
The last week I've been coming home after work and having a light lunch and then a big dinner in the evening. Food has become the focus of many people's thoughts all day at work, however we're not even really allowed to talk about eating in front of Muslims. It's all a bit of an adjustment, like so many other things here!
Otherwise business hours can be a bit frustrating - we finish work at 2PM but no businesses are open until at least 8PM to give people time to pray, break the fast at sunset and then start work. This means that bank, clothing shop, mobile phone office, all pretty much all other business hours are from about 8PM to 1AM
It's a pretty rigorous regimen for people observing the fast as keeping in mind they have to be up at 3:30AM for their first meal!
So 1 week into this plan I've decided that the starvation/bingeing technique probably won't result in any weight loss either! Eating nothing but a granola bar and apple all day and following it up with a massive Shawarma at 8PM...now somehow I don't even think Dr. Phil would recommend that one.