It is now the final day of Eid al-Fitr, the three-day celebration commemorating the end of thirty days of f(e)asting and its resulting indigestion. The conclusion of the month of Ramadan is a time for family gatherings, hardcore chilling (not a litteral Qur’anic translation), and reflection.
To recap these wet hot Arabian nights, I will say that the choices of things to do are somewhat limited, but always deeply connected to the spirit of the city. A few days ago, the Kuwaiti national soccer team challenged the UAE home team in Al Nahyan Stadium, a 12,000 seat park practically connected to Al-Wahda Mall (malls are a really big deal).
Even for the national team and free tickets, and perhaps because of the I’ll-just-sit ethic of the month, not many more than a thousand spectators turned out. Here, the club teams are still the bigger attraction, a not so subtle reminder that only four decades ago the arab emirates were not united and that local rivalries between neighboring towns or tribes or cities still remain a fundamental part of the culture.
This is not to say these rivalries extend beyond the football pitch — there I have no idea. The fact that Bears fans (allegedly) throw cheese at Packers fans doesn’t (necessarily) have any bearing (pun intended) on the relation between Illinoisans and Minnesotans. But it might.
We told security we were fans of the Emirates and were directed to the UAE side of the stadium, where supporters of the national team bore the heat and followed in cheers always led by one particularly enthusiastic Emirati and his drum line (doumbeks not snares). Across the field, we could just make out the Kuwaiti bagpipe band.
During the daytime, heed the call to the enormous and new Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The mosque boasts the largest carpet in the world (60,000 ft2) and accommodation for 40,000 worshippers, including 9,000 in the central hall and up to 20,000 in the marble courtyard. Tours are given for everyone, with women given abayat (full-length, often black robes) and asked to keep their hair covered.
Our friendly tour guide asked me what kinds of lotion I used on my skin, as she had been trying unsuccessfully to tan for quite a while now. “Uhh, nothing…?” I told her, I’d just been outside a lot.
There may not be as many boundaries as assumed in daily conversation, and I can begin to see a kind of understanding in the philosophy of a friend here: the abaya is not a barrier, it’s a challenge. A challenge to confront your own stereotypes, to be your own person, and, should you choose to, to spit mad game even when the world says dude, chill.