Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Ramadan 2017 - the Ramadan Cannon

Today I went to the Grand Mosque of Qatar, the Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque.

Beautiful place, I've never been inside as non-Muslims are not allowed inside unless part of an organized tour and I haven't gotten around to signing up for one yet. As an aside, the Mosque was recently in the news as some Saudis object to the name and want Qatar to rename it.

Anyway, in the parking lot of the Mosque, overlooking the city, is the Ramadan Cannon. The army puts one here every year and use it to mark when to end the fast for the day. Lots of people show up, especially families as the soldiers allow kids to climb on the cannon.

As the time approaches they clear everyone away.

They fired the cannon so suddenly I was startled so didn't get a picture! In the past they fired a flare first but this time it was a soldier shouting something then BOOM! I took a snap of the aftermath of smoke enveloping some of the crowd.

The cannon was loud and even though I was much farther back my ears were ringing a little bit for about a minute. Stay farther away or have your fingers in your ears if you plan on visiting.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Ramadan 2017 - Working While Fasting

So it's now been three days, and two of them workdays. I think the hardest part of fasting is over as I've settled into a routine. No issues with caffeine (I maybe have one decaf coffee in the evening) and work is a nice distraction to the day.

I have noticed that around 11am I start feeling tired and lethargic, slowly progressing until by 1:30 it gets more difficult to focus on complex tasks. A couple of times when talking with someone I found myself pausing a bit to remember a word. It also doesn't help that around 1:00 my stomach starts growling, expecting lunch. My stomach is still on "regular time" and so, like clockwork, it gets ready for lunch. This is probably the toughest time of the day for me as I feel hungry but can't eat anything. After an hour or so my stomach quiets down and I just become more tired. It's okay though because by that point I'm home from work and can have a nap.

I have started something new though before I nap. I head up to the roof of my apartment building (where the pool is) and sunbathe to get some vitamin D. I don't sunbathe for a long time, just around eight minutes on my front, then I flip over to get the same time on my back. Vitamin D deficiency is actually a real problem in the Gulf since people generally stay covered and don't go outside much in the heat of the day. I think getting a bit of sun will help me sleep. Haven't had any issues so far but I need to be careful as I can get a sunburn pretty quickly. 20 minutes and I'd probably get red.

Evenings have been uneventful, I try to do a lot of walking to pass the time after iftar and to stall off eating another meal. Usually have my "main" meal around 9:30 or 10. That'll be it until 3:15am when I have to eat sohour before the fast begins.

Now that I'm in a routine I'll try to head out to the Ramadan Cannon this week, and maybe also catch the Corniche Car Parade.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Ramadan 2017 - First Iftar

So here is what I hope will be my standard iftar for the month of Ramadan:

Vegetable soup, dates, handful of nuts and olives, a small bit of cheese, an apple, a banana, and lots and lots of water.

In truth this is a lot of food for a standard Qatari's iftar. They typically have a small amount of food (dates, water, maybe some yoghurt or laban) because they have to go pray. Once they are back from prayers the meal begins.

I actually struggled with it and started feeling full before I ate the apple or banana. So I saved the fruit for about an hour later after my stomach settled.

Tonight for my 3am meal I'm going to try oatmeal. I don't think cooking up oatmeal will be ideal, typically I keep some dried food and drinks on my nightstand and can thus quickly eat it before going back to bed. Will I enjoy getting up to cook oatmeal? We'll find out.

Ramadan Kareem everyone!

So Ramadan was announced last night, as expected.

I was at a friend's majlis at the time so with the announcement people were changing the evening routine:

-- staying later. The fajr prayer is at a little after 3am so many of the guys decided to stay up late rather than go to bed since they had to get up at 3am anyway. I left my friend's place at 1:30am and there were still people there.

-- hydrate. People were drinking a lot of water in preparation for the fast as it will be 15+ hours without drinking anything. My friend had lots of bottled water available in anticipation of Ramadan being called.

-- share tips on how to deal with caffeine withdrawal. Again because 15+ hours of no food and liquids, including coffee. Some of them prepared ahead of time by shifting their coffee drinking to the evenings. Others recommended taking two Panadol with the Sohour meal to prevent headaches during the day. I had prepared by slowly weaning myself off caffeine over the last two weeks so by yesterday I was only drinking decaf coffee, I found it odd most people don't do something like that. Caffeine headaches are horrible! I hope I'll be fine today.

With today being the weekend it's actually a bigger challenge for me. On a weekday you have work to distract you but on a weekend it's more difficult to distract yourself. It's hot out (40+ degrees and you can't drink water), stores are closed, and you can't go exercise/play sports/go to a gym because you can't drink anything. So I'm sitting at home, doing some chores and using the computer, trying not to think about food.

My sleep schedule now needs to adjust as well. During Ramadan I stay up later, sleep less in the evening, then have a long nap in the afternoon. Last night I slept all the way through so now I don't want to nap. I'll need to stay up late tonight to get on track.

3 hours to go. I'm already thirsty and hungry. That's okay, the first couple of days were always the hardest.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ramadan 2017 -- time to prepare

So Ramadan is just around the corner. Man, time flies. It will likely be called on Friday night so fasting begins Saturday, with a smaller chance of it being called Saturday night so fasting begins Sunday.

As usual I'm going to fast as well. Yes, it's unusual for a non-Muslim to fast but I do it anyway. Yes, people ask me all the time why I do it. It keeps me more in sync with the country (long nap in the afternoon, out late at night, eating the same time as everyone else etc) and it's a great cultural experience if you're living in an Islamic country. I also found that while challenging it was not as hard as I originally thought it would be and it's also a good way to shake up your routine. Maybe I'll even lose some weight.

During Ramadan things get stricter. Restaurants are not open during the day, all bars will be closed, and the liquor store will be closed as well. People will be expected to dress a little more conservatively. T-shirts are fine but I'm always mindful of wearing shorts as shorts that go above the knee might be crossing the line for some conservative people. I went shopping for some new 3/4 length cargo shorts to wear, I typically wear stuff like that every Ramadan.

All that's left is to go food shopping for my iftars and sohours: dates, laban, nuts, whole grain breads, a bit of cheese, oatmeal, soup, an assortment of fruit and vegetables, these are my go-to foods for Ramadan. I need to try to avoid the buffets and hotel specials that will be everywhere, going to lavish meals are a popular pastime during Ramadan but they really hit the waistline, going from fasting for 15-hours to a buffet is an easy way to overeat. Every Ramadan there's news reports of hundreds going to hospital for gastric issues because of overeating. I find having a small iftar meal at home is best, but then I need to get out of my apartment or else I'll start snacking on nuts and stuff. It's hard (for me anyway) to stop eating once you start so it's better to have a small meal then get away from the food.

This year for my Ramadan reading I will revisit the book on Islamic Jurisprudence that I have. I first read it a few years ago but I have since forgotten a lot of the principles. In my job I sometimes deal with Islamic Finance companies so it's always a good idea to understand the basics.

Two days to go.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Canada gear

I was out shopping at a department store today and just happened to see a display of caps (I like caps). I found this:

A Canada cap at a Qatar department store? That in itself was odd but what made it memorable was the year they mentioned on it. 1967.

I'm guessing that the cap was a reject that someone at the textile factory decided to sell at a discount to this department store instead. Canada was established in 1867, not 1967.

Which segues into the fact that Canada is 150 years old this year! If you're thinking of a vacation consider visiting Canada during July 1st (Canada Day). Preparations are underway for all sorts of events to celebrate the country's 150th birthday.

No, I didn't buy the cap.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Al Hazm

For those of you who don't live in Qatar, take a look at these pictures and guess what this is:

A museum? Katara expansion? New neighbourhood at the Pearl?

Nope. This is Qatar's newest mall, the Al Hazm.

This place is opulent, even for the Middle East. Everything is imported marble, there are mature olive trees planted around, views of the skyscrapers of West Bay. It's a bit unreal to be honest.

Calling it a mall is a bit of a misnomer, most of the space is given to restaurants and cafes, so it's more of a dining/café area than a shopping mall. I guess it's meant to be a place where you and your friends can go and hang out in luxurious surroundings. Sort of like a souq only with an extra $100 million of renovations.

Just to let you know, there's some rules:

I'm willing to bet that they mean it too.

At the moment it is a very soft opening, only 3 cafes are open and the mall is not open until 5pm (too hot during the day now so they open at sunset). In time there'll be dozens of restaurants and cafes there. As far as I know, and from what I could see from the signs on storefronts, all of the restaurants will be new to Qatar. No chains, no places that have other Qatar locations.

Now for the rumour-busting. Over the years I had heard a number of rumours about this place:

1) there'll be an entrance fee: False. I've been twice and was not charged a fee. They don't even charge for parking.

2) there'll be a special VVIP entrance/tunnel so they can visit shops without anyone seeing them. Highly unlikely. The place is 5 separate buildings with parking under them so I'm not sure where this tunnel would be. That said the largest building, called the Galleria, will have super-luxury shops in it so maybe they'll have some sort of VVIP arrangement.

3) Everything is marble imported from places like Tuscany. As far as I know this is true.

4) Famous Turkish restaurant Nusr-Et will open there. Nope, it's scheduled to open in the Sheraton.

5) There'll be a huge library in one of the buildings. It's not open yet but there are signs that state one of the buildings will have a library.

When the weather cools down it'll be a nice place to chill out. Don't kid yourself that the restaurants will be cheap though. You're not going here for McDonalds or Subway.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Wedding Season

With Ramadan approaching, as well as the heat of the summer, everyone is busy getting their weddings out of the way. Someone can correct me but I think no one has a wedding during the Holy Month, at least I've never gone to one then, so people planning on getting married are trying to get it done before the wedding season comes to an end. Last week I went to two weddings and there might be another one next week that I'll go to.

Thankfully for us foreigners the Qataris keep men's weddings surprisingly consistent. You'll go to a tent/hall, you'll go give your congrats to the groom and the groom's father, hang out for a while, maybe watch the singers and sword dancing, then have dinner if you stick around for it (lamb or goat on rice). Every wedding has been like this -- Qataris don't do theme weddings or exotic weddings. Tradition governs everything for the occasion. The only real differences I've seen are whether there are singers (some weddings don't have them) and whether for dinner you'll be seated at tables or sitting on the floor (50/50 chance of one or the other). You don't bring any gifts, and there'll be plenty of waiters walking around with juice, tea, coffee, appetizers, sweets and halwa for guests to snack on before dinner.

My favourite is when they have sword dancing, which is a lovely tradition. The moves aren't difficult, primarily holding a sword up while walking forward in time to the music. I've done it a couple of times myself but only if friends pull me in to do it with them, I'd feel weird just grabbing a sword and joining on my own. It's nice when children run up to do it, they look so cute in their thobes walking around with swords.

Monday, May 01, 2017


One of the nice things about living in the Middle East is that it is close to so many other places. India, Europe, Africa are all "relatively" close by and so you have an opportunity to try all sorts of exotic foods and cuisines.

Last night a friend invited a bunch of us to his majlis for dinner. When we arrived we sat around chatting while our host went to his kitchen to get the food: lamb kebabs, some steak and, most importantly, some fresh impala meat!

Where the heck did that come from? A friend of his was in South Africa on a hunting vacation and brought back some impala. Easy enough to do I suppose when Qatar Airways has direct flights to South Africa (heck, they have direct flights to almost everywhere) but I'm still surprised he brought it to Qatar. I am now so used to flight and customs restrictions that it would have never dawned on me to even attempt to bring meat with me on a flight. I guess Qatar Customs has no issue with fresh impala.

Needless to say I had never tasted any type of antelope before. It did taste somewhat like venison though the taste was not as strong (gamy?) as deer. Some of the guys found the meat tough to chew due to sinew but I guess the pieces I had were free of sinew as I didn't find it hard to chew at all.

Nice meal, glad to have had an opportunity to try it.