Farewell Ramadan; Welcome Back Taco Bell

(Written August 2012) We’ve just finished our first Ramadan in Kuwait. Having gone through three Ramadans in Cairo, I had thought it would be similar. We’d spend a month sneaking sips of water in bathrooms, we’d avoid being on the road in the hour before iftar each night, and we’d reduce any hopes or expectations that anything would get accomplished for a month.

However, Kuwait is far more strict than Egypt. There are actual Kuwaiti laws on the books, apparently, making it illegal to eat, drink, smoke or chew gum during the day during Ramadan; so it’s not just a matter of being polite, it’s a matter of legality. And it’s even more imperative to avoid being on the road as the sun is setting here when you factor in the inability of Kuwaitis to drive safely under non-Ramadan conditions. So throw in twelve hours of no food, no water, and 130 degree temps, and you have the Kuwaiti 500 every night; we adjusted our driving times accordingly.

During my morning mall-walks, I noticed that as most of the stores were opening, the restaurants and coffee shops were remaining dark and silent. I hadn’t realized that all the restaurants throughout the city would be closed during the day, but they were, without fail. Even the food court in the mall was desolate. Grocery stores remained open during normal business hours, however I once made the mistake of wandering in around four in the afternoon and it was a madhouse. There wasn’t a mushroom or banana to be seen, and this was one of our large stores. I resumed my shopping in the morning after that.

We did everything we could to initiate our move to the apartment before Ramadan, however logistics were just too tangled. So our move took place the first full day of fasting, which meant our poor movers were heaving and lugging all our stuff for eight hours in the high summer temps with not a drop of water passing their lips. I wasn’t sure the protocol on this; are you exempted from the water deprivation if you’re performing manual labor? Typically we’ve offered endless water and tea and even lunch to our other movers, but in this case I just made sure to leave water bottles out where they could be seen and taken, if desired. As they were loading stuff into our apartment, one of them came to me and asked for water and I quickly obliged. I asked him if the others would like some and he told me that two of them were fasting, but he and another were not. I kept those two hydrated, and kept my eye on the other two for fear of collapse. They all managed to get through the day, but I felt horrible about it.

In addition to fatigued movers, we of course had other move-in issues. Our landline phone didn’t work and we had trouble accessing the free Internet. Reaching Rami, the apartment manager, to inquire about these proved to be a lesson in patience and perseverance. After more than a week of never reaching him on the office phone, regardless of what time of day I called, I finally found his cell number and texted him. This proved to be effective, as we got a new Internet router within a day. Fixing the phone proved to be slightly more complicated. Initially he told me he’d send someone up; he never did. Then he told me that someone else dealt with it; that wasn’t true, and it was punted back to him. Finally, he agreed to call in a technician. Two days later, at midnight, our internal phone rang and rang and rang. My husband stumbled to answer it and I heard him say, “Right now? It’s midnight. (pause) No, we’re asleep.” As he fell back into bed he said, “The phone tech is here and wants to check the line. I told him no.”

If that wasn’t fun enough, two nights later the internal phone rang again, this time at ten o’clock. Husband again, “No, now is too late also. The baby’s asleep. You need to call and arrange this ahead of time.”

Third time they actually called ahead and arranged it for the weekend at two in the afternoon. So we waited. And waited. By three I texted dear Rami to find out where the tech was. He said he’d send a fax and find out. I didn’t even bother questioning that. Bottom line, two techs came later that day, my husband walked them around and got our phone up and working. We now have a home landline on which we can receive wrong number calls and on which I have yet been unable to figure out how to dial out on. Perfect.

So now with Ramadan over, the traffic has resumed its normal, constant, insanity (it’s like iftar all day long again), businesses have returned to their regular working hours (no more dentist appointments at 10pm, as a friend experienced), and I can wander over to our neighborhood Taco Bell and get a bean burrito for lunch, if I so choose. Ramadan kareem, indeed!