My Ramadan Experience as an Expat

Have you ever experienced Ramadan ?

I am not living in the Middle East anymore but I wanted to share with you my wonderful experiences of Ramadan as a Non-Muslim especially in Kuwait.Now that Ramadan season has begun, I suddenly feel nostalgic of its memories in my Expat life.

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Observance of the Holy Month of Ramadan
I must say that I love the overall experience of it.  Before, Ramadan is only a word that I associated  with Muslims. I never have any real clue what is it really all about and what’s  happening during this important month in a Muslim country. I had my first taste of Ramadan when I came to Kuwait last 2008.

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Ramadan Kareem Lanterns -a beautiful sight during Ramadan month.

 

So anyway, from the time that our new work timings were announced , a day before Ramadan starts, I was really looking forward  to what will happen on the next days.As a Non-Muslim,our working days were  shortened and even lesser.We started at 9 o’clock in the morning and ended at 2PM. During this time, Muslims are fasting from sunrise to sundown, praying and do increased devotion of recitation of Q’uran. They are abstaining from smoking, drinking liquids and engaging in sexual acts during the time of fast which is strictly prohibited.

Seriously, If you are caught eating /drinking in public during Ramadan,there’s a legal penalty of 100KD /and jail for 1 month, (This is as per the time that this was imposed) also for anyone who forces or helps anyone to eat or drinks.But when I was pregnant,I was exempted to fast.My Boss told me it’s no problem.Normally  I just munch something inside my office and do it discreetly as possible.But the visits to the Doctor during Ramadan was hard for me.I needed to make an appointment usually at night since the shifts were difficult and more flexible at night.

During this time, Kuwait totally changed.A serene peaceful atmosphere during daytime but totally alive at night. Don’t plan to go to Gulf Road during sunsets since real maniacs out there and horrible accidents happens  because people are speeding in their cars trying to get home before sunset. There is some kind of Rush!Y ou can really feel that its Ramadan,even the weather changes.Sandstorms and high humidity becomes frequent.The date trees were budding with fruits.Even the decor were changed,you can see  traditional  colorful lanterns everywhere. All shops,Malls & restaurants are closed during the day so we need to wait until 8 PM to go out to buy something or do errands. Exceptions are some supermarkets who are open.Don’t ever expect that your paperwork in the Ministry will be done as soon as possible.Nope.It won’t be.I observed that Kuwaitis work less on these times.Everything was relaxed.Dressing appropriately is highly recommended.Ladies,be as modest as you can be.Playing loud music is not allowed.

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Muslims are praying relentlessly, anywhere.

Having an experience of Iftar or the breaking fast after sunset is really great.I love the bond between Muslims who shares meal together. Iftar can be so grand and festive in expensive hotels and restaurants but it can also be as simple as sharing their special meal laid on top of a newspaper after they said their prayers.When we go to Fish Markets,we saw the bunch of Muslim workers sitting in a circle and happily eating together.It is such a warm thing to see.There are so many mouth-watering goodies and sweets to indulge and try.I love how rich and diversified the Arabic selection of Ramadan treats.It is a must to try it when you are in a Muslim country.

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Delicious Ramadan sweets,best enjoyed with Tea & Arabic coffee.

It’s a time of reflection,meditation,to do charitable works and to learn something that is different from the usual norms.Everyone seems to be friendlier and kindness overflows.Exchanging Ramadan greetings is always encouraged such as “Ramadan Kareem ” and thinking less of ourselves and more of the less fortunate.Ramadan ends with a holiday celebration” Eid Ul Fitr “.It is a joyous time almost same as Christmas but with more religious significance.People dress up,visiting each other and sharing wonderful meals together and giving meals to the poor.One thing that is really authentic during this End of Ramadan is the mass Lamb murders.Sounds awful…right? but LOTS of lambs were cooked and portions were given to the poor.If you happen to pass by through backside of Friday market,you can see a herd of lambs in a truck,having a road trip for their journey to Butchery.This also marks the travel crazy frenzy season.Most Kuwaitis go out of the country It’s totally chaotic in airport.

 

Do you have your own story of Ramadan ? How was it?

Ramadan Kareem to all my Muslim friends!

 

Abaya : Fashion or Function

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Veiled Woman in Black Abaya
What’s your perception when you see women dressed in Black Abaya?

In Kuwait, traditionally & culturally, the clothing for women is the Black Abaya, while men wore the Dishdasha or Kandoura. For men, the color of Dishdasha ranges from beige, gray, off- white, white and during winter, they wear the Black ones. Now,there is a simple explanation while Black is the choice for color or this type of clothing for Muslim women here. It’s not because Black is a fashionable color,although I personally agree on this, but rather simply that it is most concealing. The sun is the most brightest here in middle east. It shines so bright and the heat is real and struggle.You cannot wear thick clothes in the summer and so many layers is also a no-no, rather you need something to cover your skin from burning at the same time for your skin to breathe.The Abaya or also known as cloak covers your whole body from your arms up to your legs and thus giving you ultimate protection from harmful rays of the sun.

The color black relates to the hidden, the secretive and the unknown, and as a result it creates an air of mystery. It keeps things bottled up inside, hidden from the world.In color psychology this color gives protection from external emotional stress.Wearing this black cloak relieves you from unwanted attention from lustful eyes and gives you a sense of protection.This is the whole concept of Muslim modesty. Women wear the black Abaya that totally disclose everything underneath.

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Abaya : Fashion or Function
If you knew the controversial photo of the late Princess Diana before about the see-through skirt that evokes too much attention then this is the absolute reason why white is not appropriate color chosen for Abayas here in the Middle East.

Now on the daily life of Muslim women here in Kuwait, wearing Black Abaya is more of a functional way, It is more than a culture behind the cloth. It is easy to put on, you don’t even know what they wear underneath. Some even wear their pyjamas or casual clothes. If you are a busy mom, then Abaya comes handy like rushing to get the kids to school, going into the grocery shop or even just a quick run down to the Bakala across the street. This saves so much time in putting on decent clothes. I have tried wearing the Abaya on certain occasion  when we entered the Mosque and it was a great privilege at the same time experience. I have great respect for this culture.

The origin of Abaya can be traced immemorial. Since the ancient times, people who are nomads in the Desert are wearing cloak type garments that protects them from the arid climate, strong winds & freezing cold desert winter.Through times, the style & evolution of Abaya in Fashion becomes a worldwide statement for the Arabic nation. Nowadays, Abayas are available with stylish embroidery, some even with Swarovski crystals, and tailor-made for the owner. In Kuwait alone, there are hundreds of shops particularly only for fashionable Abayas and its accessories. With this country’s ever – changing lifestyle, wearing the Abaya has become a Fashion statement for women together with their Arabic Oud perfumes, stilletos and luxury handbags.

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Cultureshock : For the love of Covering-Up.
How about you? What particular cultural aspects in Islam do you appreciate?  Or have you ever tried trying out foreign and local customs from your country?

How was your experience?

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Kuwait :From an expat point of view

I came to Kuwait in May 2008 totally ignorant about this country. Yes,i know about Saddam’s invasion but i haven’t got any clue what to expect from this country. You see, sometimes, when you make big changes in your life, it’s so spontaneous that you embrace it enough to get it through your skin overnight. Now, for almost 8 years of living and working in this small, yet oil-rich country, Kuwait has been close to my heart. My second home. I have embraced the Kuwaiti way of life, Muslim culture, the real heat during Summers , the fierce Sandstorms, the Authentic brightness of the sun, and the parenthood in this culture.

I’m telling you, Kuwait is not your typical tourist destination .If i were a tourist, i would never put Kuwait in my Bucket List. Why?  No nightlife, No public partying, no alcohol, not much “Green Nature “ to see here, (yeah there is Desert), No Pork! Public Transportation is bad, besides,who would want to go out in the scorching  heat? Kuwait is totally dormant especially during Ramadan. It doesn’t have an appealing profile in Wikipedia, or  in Tripadvisor. But still, there are approximately 2.4 Million expats living here.People are attracted to go to Kuwait  mainly to earn money. People go here to work, and this is  from my own perspective.

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Kuwait Towers.The Symbolic Architectural Heritage of Kuwait.

Now from the moment you step out of the plane and out from the Airport, you inhaled Kuwait. The air you breathe in  is different. The heat & humidity is quite a shock to most foreigners .The heat is real. It could stung your skin. If you come here during the months of May to August,then you might really praise the invention of Airconditioning.You cannot survive here without an AC. When people complained to me that they have hot temperatures, i shrug & always said,“Do you know how it feels to have 50 deg temps?“Getting used to the heat is one of the hurdles you need to overcome. A good pair of Sunglasses is also a  must-have. Never ever come here during Summer!!

As we all know, Kuwait is an Islamic country. Arabic is the main language spoken although English is widely understood by  Kuwaitis .Paperworks in Ministries are all in Arabic so it’s a nerve-wrenching experience to deal with them if you don’t understand it.Prayertimes are widely observed.Every place has it’s own Mosque (Masjid).I have seen cars parked in the middle of the highway, just because the driver needs to pray.I have seen my colleagues pray together, inside the mall,in the park, even in the island of a Roundabout.

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Kuwait Skyline showing modern Skycrapers like Al Hamra Tower.

 

In Europe, where in it is  pedestrian-friendly, the car stops to give way to the pedestrians .In Kuwait, the cars and its drivers rules !Maniac drivers are the King of the Road most especially in the major highways. I saw men driving with  kids in the driver’s seat,no seatbelts,annoyingly feet up on the dashboard,mobile phones are stucked on their cheeks!People are even driving on New Year’s Eve. I often wonder what in the world they are doing spending all their time driving around. Social status is also depends on the car that you drive. Swerving and cutting lanes is common and mostly causes accidents. Driving in Kuwait is not for the faint-hearted. Autobahn in Germany has no speed limit, yet the percentage of road accidents is lower compared to Kuwait who has speed limits set,  yet has a high road-accident rate .Kuwait has broken the world record of number of  traffic deaths.Not really the kind of record to be proud of.

I don’t know why but only in Kuwait that Men stared a LOT.I mean, its really crazy and uncomfortable the way people stares. I would believed that you could get so much attention if you are a Celebrity or a supermodel walking along the street and wearing flashy outfit! Don’t forget that Kuwait is a Muslim country and although Non-Muslim women here are not required to wear the Abaya, they are expected to dressed conservatively. I noticed that Kuwaiti women are fashion & beauty-conscious. They love the glamour & glittery lifestyle. Their wardrobe are always trendy and up to date with fashion . Of course, they have money to splurge on make up , clothes & everything. There’s never too expensive for them. You can always see fashionable women totally made-up even on a very laid back environment just like grocery shopping. International brands flocked in Kuwait’s top malls like The Avenues. From designer shoes to bags, they wear it even going to supermarkets. It’s no wonder also that Kuwaiti women are one of the top users of make up.I mean,they really wear it.Loads of it.Everyday.The number of salons both for men & women are more than the number of gasoline stations.

For most expats working here, An attractive salary offer without any taxes is the top reason to stay. Utilities are minimal. But the high cost of housing is getting higher due to rise in Expat population.If you are working from a private sector then you have benefits like Free Healthcare, Accommodation ,Transportation and Annual vacation leaves with Airfare .But sad to say that most disturbing inhuman acts of molestation and abuse for domestic workers are also coming from here.It breaks my heart to hear many stories of ‘Kabayans’ who are victims of injustice .I have high respect for these women who really work hard  just to provide for their families. In Kuwait , modern slavery is prevalent.

When i was new here, “Diwaniya”caught my attention. It’s totally Kuwaiti.  Every Kuwaiti household  have a  Diwaniya area,mainly a hall or Annex from their reception area for the purpose of meeting & gathering with male friends,colleagues and guests. This tradition is traced back since immemorial. The men usually dressed in their Dishdashas discussing various topics while relaxing,casual smoking,drinking tea,Arabic coffee & Sheesha, nibbling sweets or dates .I find it cozy with their beautiful soft cushions.

As an Expat , I could RANT a lot more about bad things about Kuwait, But then I would be a hypocrite to say that these things are absent in Philippines, in The Netherlands or even in the US.Every country has its own issues.  Maybe the extremities are different but injustice & social problems are prevalent anywhere.There is no such thing as perfect place. As an expat, I have learned to accept this country, with its flaws and everything, After all,it is my own freewill to be here. It doesn’t mean that I approve of the rudeness, Hypocrisy, Wasta System, Modern Slavery and Racism but Generalization is complete ignorance.

I have read lots of hate blogs about Kuwait. It’s like spitting it out as a vomit. So many hate and disgust in their words. Kuwait have wounded their hearts. People have the right to voice out their own opinions and some have low tolerance of anything that pisses them off. It may not work for you, but it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t work for others. I have known kind and decent Kuwaitis so in the end, I tried to keep an open mind and looked on the positive side ;

KUWAIT –A country with distinct heritage.Has a stable currency and one of the richest country as per Capita terms. Kuwaitis are more liberal and westernized compared to other Arab countries.Their government is progressive.Yes,their lifestyle is grand,and spend like crazy ,living in big villas & mansions, but they have the money to spend. They can afford the luxurious life.They have Oil and the State owns it.They are endowed.When a Kuwaiti marries,the government gave money .Education is free.NO TAXES!Gas prices as 70 fils (around 0.25 USD) per liter.Expats bring their families here and settled.One way or another,they know that life is better here compared to their home country.Or else they would have left already.

For those expats  in Kuwait, they have a reason to still stay here. For those who have left already, they’ve had also a reason to go away.

I hope i have given you an idea what to expect as an expat in Kuwait. But how about you, How is your experience as an Expat ? If you like this post, please feel free to hit the like button below & share it. I would also love to hear  your comments below.

 

Again, Thank you for stopping by !