Wednesday, October 24, 2007

In which 3 go on holiday - at last

Phew, what a month this has been! every day life here in kuwait is affected hugely by Ramadan, when Muslims fast during the hours of daylight. It is held in the 9th month of their calendar, which is lunar based and therefore the date changes every year, and lasts for the duration of a lunar cycle. The observation of the fasting is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, and taken very seriously. All restaurants and cafes are closed, and eating and drinking in public for non muslims is also strictly forbidden. The offices and shops also operate on different hours, and schools and offices start later. This means that le tout Kuwait is trying to get somewhere at the same time in the morning, rather than spread over 3 or so hours. It is a nightmare. a 15 minute journey took me 2 and 1/2 hours the other day.
However, there are a few good things. The aforementioned late start means getting up an hour later - bliss - I am NOT good at 6am! In the afternoon, every one goes home to pray, take a siesta, and to conserve energy and get ready for dusk when they can break their fast. The afternoons and until dusk is like driving in a ghost town, wonderfully empty roads, but definitely spooky. also dangerous, because the few drivers there are tend to ignore traffic lights....
The breaking of the fast at dusk traditionally involves eating 2 or 3 dates - for sugar presumably and drinking a yoghurt type drink called laban - it's a bit like activia. Then prayers and then they head out for Iftar - literally the breakfast meal, as in break fast. And it is a feast. And from then on the streets are gridlocked, as everyone, but everyone is going to visit family and friends to celebrate. All night. Some don't make it to bed before going to work the next morning.
The end of Ramadan is marked by an Eid (pronounced eed), a holiday lasting 3 days officially, and for some much longer.The first call to prayers on the morning of the start of Eid goes on for about 30 minutes - usually they last less than a minute. In kuwait most people go away for the Eid, and for several weeks before hand will have been discussing where they are planning to go. There are a limited number of flights out of the country on any one day, so they get booked up to popular destinations very quickly. In order to get to somewhere nice, you have to put up with the airport first. a tall order, but you just keep thinking of the destination.
We, dh, daughter and me, went to Damascus for the Eid. We had originally planned to go in March, but because my dh is in the military, our visas did not come through in time for us to go then. They are valid for 3 months, so when they came through in april, it took a quick visit in uniform to convince them to let them remain valid til Eid.
The airport was every bit as crowded and evil as predicted, but we got into a line and waited, and then when we got to the counter, they did not have our reservation. Dh had to go and buy 3 more tickets to get to Damascus - thank goodness they had some, and then try to get return ones, which they had no more of for the date we wanted, so we had to have an extra day. Shame I hear you cry! Whilst booking those, they found our return details on a totally spurious date two days before we were leaving kuwait - amazing!
We did get on the plane, but it got held up with a technical problem for half an hour. We were unofficially entertained by a poor stewardess having to maintain good manners and customer relations with a passenger who was being an absolute pain in the ****.
I don't know about Syria being one of the 'axis of evil' countries, and I'm not about to enter into political debate about it, but the Syrians are some of the friendliest people I have ever met. Damascus is the oldest city in constant inhabitation in the world. It has some of the most beautiful old buildings, a real mix of eras including Roman ruins incorporated into them. There is a tradition of painted wooden ceilings from late 17th century for a couple of hundred years, and of course some fabulous textiles.
We stayed at the Sheraton, which was...the Sheraton, but a good base. We spent the first day exploring, and went to the souk and the Grand Mosque. Originally Roman and a christian church, the Muslims simply annexed it, removed the altar, and it became a mosque. This is apparently a very commonplace occurrence throughout this region.
I am trying to post some photos but my computer is running on another agenda!