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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Iftar in Naif

A while ago I went on a food tour in Dubai with Frying Pan Adventures.  The owner, Arva, took us around some of the original areas (aka less Western areas) of Dubai, to introduce and expand our knowledge of Middle Eastern cuisine.  We ate food from all over; Palestine, Syria, Iran, Egypt and the UAE.  It was a great and educational experience and I would recommend any of her food tours to everyone!  Arva is a tiny, little, loud, and outgoing thing and she was just recently on "Bizarre Foods" with Andrew Zimmerman.  Anyways, I follow frying pan adventures on Instagram to see what is going on with the successes of the company and to see interesting food found from around this region.  Recently, I saw a post about an upcoming food/photography tour in conjunction with Gulf Photo Plus, exploring Ramadan Iftars in an area of town that few Westerners venture to called, Naif...  as part of their #unseenDXB series.

A little refresher course.... Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar and during this month Muslim men and women fast from sunrise to sunset.  Dubai changes during this month.....things get much quieter during the days, but after sunset, well that's a different story.  Fasting during Ramadan means different things to different people.  Some believe that through this sacrifice they become closer to God, others think that fasting makes them better understand the plight of those less fortunate than themselves, while others believe that it teaches you patience above all else.  Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars in the Islamic faith and I think people's dedication to their beliefs during this month is fascinating and remarkable.  The other four are pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj), giving a portion of your yearly savings to the poor, five daily prayers and believing that there is one true God and that Mohammad is his messenger.  Islam also teaches about Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jesus and so on, but that Mohammad is the true messenger of God.  Now I don't claim to be an expert and I am not nearly as knowledgeable about any religion as I should be, but similarities and parallels between the major world religions are crazy to me...... It's all becomes messed up when oppressive cultures and governments get involved.... But I digress....

Back to the point of this blog.  I signed up to go on a Photo Walk where we would explore Naïf, an area of town close to the Gold and Spice souks.  We visited different mosques and food stands in anticipation of Iftar.  First, we visited the oldest known mosque in Dubai which was over 100 year old.  We spoke about lighting and camera settings (which mostly went over my head) while getting used to our surroundings and anticipating what was to come.



Iftar is the breaking of your fast after sunset during Ramadan.  Once the call to prayer is over, your fast can be broken and then you can proceed to mosque to do your evening prayers.  Every culture has an item that they break their fast with, but most traditionally it is done with a date.  Men start heading to mosques well before the call to prayer and some even hours before actual Iftar. The community at these mosques was fantastic. Friendships were evident, respect was apparent and the anticipation was palpable.
This was our first stop:

And our Second stop:



We then ended up making our way through the streets of Naif to a mosque that supplied meals to hundreds and hundreds of people.  Iftars at these mosques are supplied by the family that sponsors that mosque or other individuals.  We arrived right before the call to prayer and the stillness was off-putting.  These streets are usually busy....they have a heart beat that makes Dubai what it is to me.  Now it was calm and quiet like a deep, slow exhale.  Some men sat with their hands upward facing in prayers, others unpeeled their oranges in anticipation of the first bite, while still others spoke quietly to those sitting around them.

 Then the call to prayer rang out...... There were two things that surprised me about this Iftar, the "real man's Iftar"..... First, it was quick!  As a non Muslim, an Iftar to me consists of a typical Dubai all you can eat buffet at a five star hotel.  To these men it was substance, fuel, and life after a long day's work.  The second thing that got me was their thirst!  I have thought about the act of fasting but I had never contemplated what it would look like to drink something after working in 100+ temps without food or water for over 14 hours...... I wish I had taken more pictures of this moment but literally lids were tossed off and liquid was poured down throats.... Chugged and guzzled was more like it.  I got lost in the moment for a few minutes just looking around and taking it all in with my own eyes versus with the lens of my camera and before you knew it, the Iftar was over.  Men were dispersing and all signs of this event were vanishing from the sidewalks of Naif.


We finished our photo tour with a walk through the streets of Naif and had dinner at an Afghani restaurant were we enjoyed lamb, chicken, rice, Dahl, "trotter" soup, one of my favorite breads and the most amazing mantu dumplings.



After seeing the pictures of the other people on this photo tour I feel extremely amateur... I can humbly say my pictures pale in comparison to theirs... but this was my first ever real experience with photography, so kudos to me ;0) .  I mean, I have had an SLR camera for a while, but I haven't used it like I should and usually only ever use the auto setting.  Also, I have never asked a stranger if I can take their picture for my own use.  Y'all know me and know I am not in any way afraid to talk to a stranger, but I felt like this was a very personal moment for some of these men and I did not want to interrupt.  I spoke with many of them and shared countless smiles when language barriers would get in our way.  However, looking back at these pictures I wish I would have pushed in more and taken more chances.  The opportunities were there, but I didn't want to overstep, which I realize now would have been very very hard to do.  Almost all of these men were willing and wanting to share their stories with us and some even seeking out our camera lenses!  Guess I'll just have to grab my camera and go out exploring with the rest of the time I have in Dubai!

This was an amazing experience that I feel very fortunate to have had.  Like I told our photographer guide, Alex, I feel as if this opened a door to a moment I would not feel comfortable entering on my own for the first time.  Now that this door has been opened, I am excited to explore and see what it will bring!

To wrap up this serious post, here is a joke.....
Thinking of going on a diet? Well I hear there is a new one out there.... Try one month of Mu-Slim Fast.

Booooo, I know, it was awful....

Until later...