First Days

8 Jul

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Summer in Abu Dhabi is not the time for sightseeing. Just as well, then, that we’re not here on holiday. Neil had an extra day off for the weekend of my arrival so it was time to get down to the serious business of shopping.

As usual on these rare occasions with Neil, the whole thing has to be done with a military precision. He doesn’t do browsing. To be fair, we had a lot to get through. Left to my own devices we would never have made the ever-growing list of things we need to buy for when we eventually have our own apartment. Ah, now there’s the rub.

You see, the owner of the apartment we want to rent, are committed to rent, has gone on holiday. For a month. To Canada. Without signing the contract. To cut a long story short, this means we now have to move out of the hotel where Neil has been staying for the last month and into a temporary holiday let. More expense. So our “shopping” trips were all about choosing the exact furniture and white goods we need to buy rather than actually buying them. The frustration continues.

In the meantime, then, we’ve been making the most of hotel living. Swimming is the only form of exercise that it is possible to do outside at the moment, so the rooftop pool, with its stunning views over this amazing city, is a regular part of our day. The mall, a couple of hundred metres away via the fan oven, is also another daily haunt. It seems a lot of the social life of the city takes place in the hotels and malls. This is curbed at the moment because I have arrived during Ramadan.

The Muslim holy month comes with severe restrictions. The observant are not allowed to eat, drink or smoke during daylight hours along with other, more private, abstinence. The mind should be focused on prayer and charity. With this in mind, the working day is reduced, offices and shops open for shorter hours and cafés, bars and restaurants remain closed during the day. Out of respect, those not observing the restrictions are also required not to eat or drink in public places. In fact it is against the law.

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It’s a different story come nightfall, though. The breaking of the fast is a social and communal activity. Come 7:15, as the call to prayer echoes around the city, there’s not a seat to be had in the mall’s food court and everywhere seems to come alive. Hotels and restaurants specialise in Iftars, a sort of all-you-can-eat buffet that traditionally breaks the fast, with the most amazing food, all beautifully presented. As those who have not been fasting are also welcome, we have been indulging. My expanding waistline can vouch for that.

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