Last year, we spent Ramadan in Oman for the first time in a decade. I’ll be honest enough to admit that initially, I was less than enthusiastic at the prospect. Combining end of year farewells, busy preparations for summer leave and a hectic schedule with 40 degrees, altered opening hours and no food or drink in public seemed exhausting.
I was well aware that this wasn’t the best of attitudes, never mind role model, for my three global nomads. I decided to embrace spending Ramadan in Oman as an opportunity to learn from local life. Here are my favorite family experiences and learning points from last year – may the family learning curve continue this year.
Embrace the mood
I think it can be easy to think of fasting as ‘something they have to do’ – something you don’t understand, a burden that can’t possibly be positive.
In the weeks leading up to Ramadan, people around us get increasingly excited. The holy month is anticipated with joy; posters go up and shops stock special foods. Dates, nuts, dried apricots, special cakes and, curiously, the British cordial Vimto are piled high in my local Carrefour.
Embrace the mood as Ramadan draws closer! Last year we were all outside, excitedly enjoying date cookies and Vimto slushies, trying to see the new moon from our back yard while waiting for the official moon sighting committee to declare the start of Ramadan.
Slow down, contemplate, give
During Ramadan, those who are fasting has the opportunity to work shorter hours. Some shops and most restaurants remain closed during the day. Ramadan is a month of fasting and abstaining; but it is also a month of contemplation, reflection and personal growth; a month of connecting with others and sharing.
Take the opportunity to slow down. I put a lid on the family frenzy and take the children out of most after school activities. We stay at home together, and we connect with family and friends in a way our busy everyday lives don’t always allow for.
We try and reflect on how fortunate we are, and think about what we as a family can do to help others.
Stretching towards personal goals
While fasting is mandatory for most adult Muslims during the month of Ramadan, young children are not expected to fast. However, many young children would like to fast, and older kids are encouraged or expected to participate.
I am incredibly thankful that my children have the opportunity to watch and support their friends as they learn to fast. Some kids make it to sunset, while others make it to lunch. Some fast every day, some not. My kids see that there is not necessarily only one way, and they also see their friends try their best at something that is important to them.
Hotels in town always host fantastic Iftar buffets and I am not one to shy away from the dessert table!
However, last year I had the pleasure of attending an altogether different Iftar meal. ABA, my children’s school, hosted a wonderful Iftar event, living up to their IB mission of intercultural understanding and respect. A multipurpose hall full of people seated on the floor listened to the Imam’s explanation of Ramadan, heard the call to prayer and shared a meal together; Muslim and non-Muslim friends, side by side.
Diversity is normal
At the end of the day, it is exactly this, intercultural understanding and respect, that drives my family’s journey. Experiencing different ways of life expands our perception and our understanding of ‘normal’. This is my strongest argument for dragging my kids around the world. They experience diversity. They accept it, because it’s all they know – and it will shape the lives they live, the choices they make and the bridges they are able to build.