I've been in Bahrain since June 2008 - and for the moment am (trying) to call it home. In the year that I've been here, I've come across so many stories, done so many things that I don't know where to begin...feel like I'm starting mid-way through a story:)
OK so let's start with this month, August 2009. What's so special about this month is that Ramadan starts towards the end of it. Ramadan is the name of the ninth lunar month of the Islamic calendar. It's the month that the Qur'an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad and for Muslims it's a month of ritual, devotion and fast. This year Ramadan starts on 22 August, but we don't know for sure until that date, as there's a margin of error and no confirmation until the sighting of the moon.
Bahrain, like it's neighbours in the region is a Muslim country but unlike a lot of its gulf neighbours is progressive in its outlook - ie, women can drive, women are relatively free to dress as they please, there are cinemas where foreign movies are shown (although all the rudey nudey bits might be edited out) and alcohol is available at hotels and restaurants (despite alcohol being forbidden in Islam). Having been here last Ramadan it was interesting to see the mood of the country change slightly - during Ramadan, the standards of decency and modesty shift a little to the right and alcohol (which ordinarily has a visible presence at the number of eateries and entertainment venues) disappears temporarily from public sight.
I don't drink, so for me, not an issue. I have a number of expat friends who have told me that they usually stock up on alcohol at home before the start of Ramadan because for them, a dry month is no fun. They say it's a case of "when you can't have something, you want it even more." The night before the last Ramadan began in 2008, my husband and I went out for dinner to a posh-ish restaurant. On the table beside us there was a group of Saudi men smoking and drinking away...indulging before the start of the Holy Month. Apparently, it's fairly common for the friendly neighbours to drive over the causeway that links Saudi Arabia to Bahrain to indulge in the sinful pleasures that Bahrain has on offer - especially immediately before and immediately after the Holy Month.
Anyway, getting back to what I was saying about the change of mood in Bahrain during Ramadan - during the day time all restaurants and eateries are closed and only open after the sunset prayer (called Magreb). Eating and drinking on the streets is not legally permitted and a lots of workplaces close shop at around 3pm - so a lot of people go home for a siesta before the feasting begins at sunset. The variety of food that's on offer for the "Iftar" (breaking fast) is amazing...more on that when Ramadan actually begins!