Pakistani expatriates in Dubai recall the family atmosphere, food, treats and prayers in a very special time of reflection.
Shaista Ali, Entrepreneur
Ramadan has always been a time to share and reunite. Relatives, friends and family members used to get together to pray and eat and share all their joys and sorrows. As children we loved the deep-fried food that our mothers made for us. Now when I am preparing snacks for my family during iftar I consciously avoid the fried samosas and go for the grilled ones, yet in those days it was the fried stuff that was the main attraction.
I feel living away from home has made us more distant and now even when we go back during Ramadan and Eid it's not the same. I remember the food street in Karachi all lit up during the Ramadan evenings. Children would enjoy the barbecues and the faluda (an ice cream beverage), play games on the streets and no one felt insecure or terrified of anything.
Just before Eid the sirens would blare again and my mother would get a pot of milk ready. She would stir the milk overnight to make the sheer khurma (milk vermicelli drink) with loads of saffron and nuts in it.
And on Eid Day when my father and family members returned from the mosque the first thing they had was a glass of this hot milk.
I try to teach my children the same things I learnt as a child, especially acts of charity and kindness. Last year I took them to an orphanage and a special needs school in Pakistan and my children put together all their Eid money and bought gifts for the underprivileged kids.
Things may not be the same any more in Pakistan, but as expatriates we do want to make a difference.
Zahid Mahmood, Laboratory Manager
I come from the Jhelum district of Pakistan and during the month of Ramadan the whole place has a buzz in the air. There are countless iftar parties and meetings and you have something new to look forward to every day.
Iftar meals are very special to me and I consider them a time for bonding. Back home I remember breaking our day-long fast with dates and then enjoyed the traditional fruit juices, fruit chaats and the fried snacks (pakoras) made especially for this occasion. Food was simple and light because we had to hydrate ourselves with as much water as possible. So it was flatbreads with a chicken or vegetable curry. We went to bed after the isha prayers and then woke up just before sunrise. That was a very special feeling because the whole family got up very early. I remember my mother serving us bread cooked with clarified butter (ghee) to keep us energized the whole day.
We also had a lot of yogurt-based drinks to keep the body cool.
I believe that the philosophy behind Ramadan is that when you remain hungry for certain hours of the day, you realise what it means to survive on one meal a day or even to go without food for days altogether. Ramadan teaches us to empathise with those who are less fortunate and develops in us a sense of charity.
In Dubai you don't get that same feeling during Ramadan and Eid. We expatriates celebrate it in our homes or by taking our children to the parks, but it's nothing compared to the distinct sights, sounds and smells we enjoyed back home.
Shoukat Ali Sandila, Businessman
I come from landed gentry in the Faisalabad district of Pakistan and we celebrate Ramadan and Eid in great style. Even though I have been living in Dubai for the past 28 years, I make it
a point to visit my hometown every year during Ramadan. In Dubai Ramadan is symbolic with iftar tents and parties in the plush hotels or iftar buffets in restaurants. You have to take special care to dress up and look good. But back home it's more relaxed and Ramadan
is all about having your loved ones around you. Being landlords we have our own cattle farms and all the sweet dishes are prepared from the milk of our cows. I also look forward to the spicy pakoras and the fruit chaats.
Everyone in my hometown looks forward to my homecoming and gives me a royal reception. The peasants working in our farms, the poor people of the village eagerly wait for my arrival and expect a generous zakht (a mandatory fund for the poor given in the days leading to Eid) from me. I usually arrive on the 27th day of Ramadan and all of them come to see me. Some need to get their children educated, others want their daughters to get married or even build their broken home. By the grace of God I have enough to make them all happy.
On Eid day the sweet smell of sewaiyan fills the house. In the morning, around 9am, all the men of the family go to the mosque dressed in white with a white turban and the whole procession looks quite regal. In the afternoon we sit down for a grand feast of biriyani and mutton dishes prepared from the meat of the goat from our own farm.
Dr. Adnan Ahmad, Dentist
It's been quite some time now that I have been out of Pakistan, I fondly remember the days of Ramadan and Eid spent in Karachi and Rawalpindi.
During Ramadan we used to wake up early and go to the mosque for our prayers. After that I met up with friends in the huge playground near my house for all kinds of traditional games. Evenings were meant for iftar, when friends and family would get together to break the fast.
I really miss iftar evenings in Dubai, more so because my wife is European and it's often difficult for her to connect to my culture in the same way. Back home during Ramadan my mother made it a point to distribute home-made food and sweets in the mosque. We also invited our neighbours home. Ramadan was a time to look forward to the new clothes we wore every Friday. We even planned what we would wear over Eid.
On the first day of Eid, after the morning prayers, it would be a time to visit the homes of family members and friends. My mother used to be busy preparing the sewaiyan or the sweet vermicelli noodles and the house would be filled with a sweet fragrance. I also remember looking forward to the eidi (money given to children during Eid) that the elders in the family would slip in our pockets. In the evening cousins compared booties and when we were reasonably satisfied, we would go to a fast-food restaurant and have our fill of the kata kat (bread stuffed with lamb kidney and heart). I also remember my father taking us to the graveyard where we paid our respects to our forefathers.
Now I celebrate Eid in Dubai with my wife and my eight-month son, Bilal, and close friends. I miss those days, but my wife prepares a delicious biriyani that would put any Pakistani cook to shame.