I've made casual references to Ramadan, the Muslim holy month without actually is or what it means to me. A very basic explanation that is probably completely inaccurate is that it is a month without and earthly pleasures from sunrise to sunset. Earthly pleasures include such things as food, coffee, tea, water, caffeine, cigarettes, "affection from women," aspirin and gum. This self deprivation allows a person to reflect on their lives and be grateful for all they have in non-Ramadan months. From sunset, Muslims are allowed these pleasures.
What Ramadan means to me is something different. Right before sunset, you don't want to be on the roads because you have a lot of people driving who are hungry, thirsty, sleepy from caffeine deprivation, dying for a cigarette and don't have the fresh minty breath that gum provides, rushing home to be with their families for the post-sunset meal called "iftar."
While non-Muslims can eat in private, no one is allowed to eat or drink in public. No restaurants are open so if I forget my lunch like today, the cafeteria is closed and there's nowhere near school that I can buy lunch. The staff room is OK for lunch and everyone is packed in there recently because there's nowhere else to eat. We're no longer allowed tea, coffee, or water at our desks and smokers have to go on the roof to smoke. We've even been warned not to chew gum while driving because we may get stopped by police and fined.
This presents unique challenges in cycling long distances on the weekends. We start at 5:30 so for the first hour or so, we can drink water at will. For after sunrise I've been told to either bring a camelback or just to drink in remote places when there are no cars around. At the place where we stop for a break, I've heard that they cover the windows with black plastic bags so no one can see in the window and we can refresh ourselves.
In addition, businesses are open different hours, generally later in the morning until early afternoon. In the evening around 8:00, after people have gotten their blood sugar up, businesses open up until midnight or 1:00 a.m. A good example of this was last night being picked up to get my U.A.E. driver's license at about 9:30 at night. (You can't see from the picture but they spelled my name wrong on the license, the same as my visa: "SORNSEN") After that I had the driver from the college drop me off so I could go shopping for work clothes until about 11:30. There were plenty of people in the shopping mall including small children. Even at my school, we have shortened classes and everyone finishes by 2:00 p.m.
The people I work with seem to like Ramadan for this reason, but as someone who is trying to get things like my apartment, internet connection, banking accounts, my kids' school set up, this is a major hassle. Ramadan is on a lunar schedule which means that it starts about ten days earlier each year. This is the first time that it has been at the start of the school year. In a few years, it will be during summer holiday which will mean that we miss Ramadan entirely. While I by that time I will miss the reduced schedule, I wouldn't have minded a few extra weeks of non-Ramadan schedule to get set up.