JEDDAH: From colorful decorations to iftar gatherings and reduced work hours, Ramadan comes with a different vibe that expatriates observe as an interesting time of the year.
“The atmosphere is lovely,” said Rita Walsh, an Irish university lecturer based in Jeddah.
Work days are shorter and nights are longer and more vibrant than usual. Markets are open until early morning hours, selling traditional street food and sweets.
“Everybody is happy after they had had iftar. Everyone is doing the shopping for the upcoming festivities… And I’ve been to Muslim friends’ for iftar. It’s a very nice time of the year actually,” Walsh told Arab News.
It is Walsh’s second Ramadan in Jeddah. “It’s not hardship. It’s really adjusting,” said Walsh, referring to the change in working hours. “I’m a morning person… I do like to go early so when I’m there it’s quiet and I can get some work done.”
Giving out food to people in the streets around iftar time is a common scene across the Kingdom. The spirit of giving is among the things that stood out to Sebastian Farmborough, a British photographer living in Riyadh.
“You see the best in people during Ramadan. Everyone says hello to you in the street. People make more of an effort,” he said.
Farmborough likes how people would stop their cars to give meals to road sweepers and those in need around iftar time. “People drive around with food looking for a deserving person,” he told Arab News.
“I even had a road sweeper offer me one of the iftar meals he has been given… That was really touching, because he obviously had nothing,” Farmborough added.
He had previously lived in the Eastern Province where he said people invited him into their homes or the local mosque to have iftar. “I told one guy that grabbed me to take me to the mosque that I’m not a Muslim, but he said no it doesn’t matter… come on… join us (for iftar).”
It amazes Farmborough how the city turns very quiet during iftar time. “There’s no one around. It’s completely empty,” he said, adding that reduced hours allow people to spend more time with family and friends.
Early morning traffic is quiet during Ramadan days due to the adjusted work hours. Employees start working later than usual. Bernat Fabra Arbona, a Spanish engineer based in Jeddah, said traffic when going to work during Ramadan is “amazing” as his working hours remain the same.
“It’s a custom that we respect and we try not to drink or eat in front of Muslims,” he told Arab News. “We work together and they have different (reduced) working hours.”
For non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia during a Ramadan, grabbing a daytime can be a challenge as restaurants are closed and only grocery shops are open. Fabra Arbona and his family join their Muslim friends for iftar to live the experience first-hand. He said the food served in Ramadan is usually better than in other months.
“We visit Al-Balad where people are around the street. It’s very vibrant. They’ve increased touristic activities in Al-Balad trying to show you old Jeddah, how it used to be in the old days, making street performances,” he said, adding that the vibe had changed a alot in the four years he had been in Jeddah.
People including non-Muslim expatriates are not allowed to eat in public during the month of Ramadan. A statement by the Interior Ministry, reported by Arab News, said that non-Muslim expatriates “should respect the feelings of Muslims by not eating, drinking or smoking in public places such as streets and workplaces.”