Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramiḍa, which means scorching heat or dryness. True to form, the temperature reached 47 degrees centigrade in Riyadh today, and it’s bone dry. The only other place I know of that’s comparable is Longreach in Queensland, unless you’re prepared to stick your head in an oven.
Ramadan requires that no food or drink is consumed from dawn to dusk. That is a long time between drinks in this heat. I don’t know if I could bear it, but the locals seem to get by with their chewing sticks called Miswak. Apparently it helps to curb thirst as well as being a natural, antibacterial toothbrush.
Given the heat and the fasting period, people tend to work late at night and sleep in until late in the day. It took me a while to get used to this and not assume that the wheels of industry have simply ground to a halt.
This is my sixth trip to Saudi Arabia. I don’t speak Arabic, so there is still so much I don’t understand. Nevertheless, much of the strangeness I thought I saw on my earlier trips has worn away. In fact, I find that I’m challenged on my return to Australia by the comments of my friends. It seems that it’s too easy to form a view on something from far away, where the complex realities of a society don’t get in the way of simplistic categories.
Fasting for Muslims during Ramadan typically includes more prayer, good deeds and charity. Surely this can’t be a bad way to spend one month a year.