Expat Family: Reclaiming Ramadan

This is the second part of our expat family’s adjustment to losing the Ramadan we loved. So here are six ways I turned things around and made the best out of our lonely Ramadans, and are great ideas whether you observe or just want to experience it in spirit.

But remember, do what works for you and your family and makes you happy! Don’t feel overwhelmed and burdened and keep in mind that what you are really trying to experience is the “spirit” of Ramadan. Whether you are part of a larger rich community or a solo nuclear family (like us). Whether you are in a muslim or non-muslim country. Get up, shake off the dust, be proactive and find ways to make the most out of your situation. It is the most wonderful time of the year!

1. We always decorate our house.

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My girls don’t really care about these crafty perfections or the color-coordinated decorations I put up. What they care about is the holiday spirit, but what my husband and I are trying to achieve is an environment that nurtures a warm feeling towards Ramadan. So we put up Ramadan banners, frame Ramadan greetings, hang lanterns, and fill the house with twinkling lights (score from DAISO – 69 AED). Every night we also light one special candle and a special “white musk” bakhour. This year, Ramadan crept up on us and as I am pregnant and feeling less than fabulous, I just purchased an instant download set from Jannah Love on Etsy, which I then uploaded to Desco Printing and picked them up a day later. Voila!

2. We  pop up a Ramadan “Reflections” tent!

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A couple of years ago I looked at my husband and said, “Let’s do something drastic! Let’s get rid of our living room furniture and pop-up a camping tent!”. It was our way of participating in the late-night Suhoor Tent culture minus the stifling shisha smoke, amplified oud player, card games, and the (minimum!) 200 AED/person price tag. It is our “Reflection” tent where no technology (iPads, phones, TV, etc.) is allowed inside. The girls use it to nap, read books, think about Ramadan, pretend to read the Quran, or pray. It had originally been an idea for them, but even now, years later, I catch my husband in there having his afternoon siesta or zipping it up to read Quran in solitude. After iftar we pray together as a family then drink decaf tea in the tent.  It has also become our default spot when we wake up and take our time to pray, meditate, and eat Sahour. We barely talk. We enjoy the silence.

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We often pray Taraweeh together during weekdays, as we try to make it to congregation prayers on the weekends. In our tent, we can pray as long as we like, supplicate as much as we want, and prostrate as long as we desire. No one is around dictating the pace. The tent helped us communicate to the children that being alone is actually a beautiful thing and more akin to spiritual solitude and not loneliness. It is great to model that we are never alone, the Creator is always with us, even in solitude and silence. We have also realized that it is actually beautiful to experience the downtime and reflection of Ramadan without having to rush to make it out of the house to break fast. Just creating this space and making a small change in perspective has gone a long way.

3. We create an Eid countdown calendar.

My daughters love marking off the days of Ramadan so I created a simple calendar for them – craftpaper envelopes hung on a piece of twine, and suspended on a foam board – the whole project cost about 20 AED from Lulu. In the envelopes there’s either a sweet note, a voucher for an experience like “date with mommy at Corniche beach”, or a tiny gift. When they were younger, I budgeted for tiny gifts (between 5-10 AED each) for the whole month as the main purpose was to get them excited each night. As they have grown, I write deeper notes and replaced the gifts with experience vouchers as we didn’t want it to get too materialistic, and allow Eid gifts take the center stage. The girls were not allowed to open the envelopes until after Maghrib prayer, which helped create a sense of excitement for that time of day, even if they are too young to fast.

Quick tip: If you don’t have time to create a countdown calendar, just put 30 dates in a jar and have them eat one every evening to create anticipation for Eid.

4. We create a Prayer Jar to teach them to pray for loved ones.

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In a world full of jealousy, selfishness, and envy, it is better to start planting the seeds of wishing well for others at a very young age. Children can be a bit egocentric and usually do not notice those outside of their realities. Last year we created a jar full of our girls’ family, relatives, teachers, and friends’ names (jar from IKEA, and some colorful Post-It notes – less than AED 20 total) and chose one name a night. We aim to set a good example for the girls to help remind them that life does exist outside of their daily battles. It is very beautiful to teach your children to balance between acknowleding their needs and the needs of others. This breeds compassion, empathy, service and a connection to a larger source in the universe.

5. We fulfil local acts of kindness as a family.

It is not enough to talk about service and charity with children, we should model it physically and sincerely. Last year the girls were finally old enough to actually serve themselves (compared to years past when I attempted to serve while having Wafaa strapped to me in an Ergo!). We participated alongside 70 other volunteers to spread the “Ramadan Giving” spirit to 330 hard working MBZ labour camp women. Wafaa (3) gave out water bottles while Fatima (5), helped serve food and give out plates. My husband and I helped arrange tables and assembled 330 donated gift kits to the ladies.

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My daughters were the only young children in both events and it was a very powerful experience – I am sure they remember the excitement around the spirit of giving. This year we are going to try to participate in the #ShoeboxCampaign and the Labor of Love Appeal initiatives. If you are interested in serving with your young children make sure to join Mom Ambassadors.

6. We are proactive about cultivating a sense of community.

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In the past four years here (three Ramadans and six Eids) we have attended only four family/community gatherings. This made us reflect on the importance of cultivating a sense of community, which requires us to be proactive to ensure this experience for the girls. We host about 4-5 iftars per year to re-create a sense of local community, inviting all of our beloved friends and their families. Nothing fancy, just a simple humble dinner as I’m not a great cook at all!! It really does not matter how or where the iftar takes place – it could be in a restaurant, or the whole thing comes in take-away boxes, it is the sense of being with loved ones while breaking fast that matters. The mere acceptance of the invitation means so much to us. These are friends who are either eating alone (basically in our situation), expats who want to experience Ramadan, or people who have extensive family and friend networks, but have prioritized sharing a meal with us. It is just lovely! This year we are packing for both moving house and for traveling so we will miss hosting these iftars, but we might try to squeeze in two before we leave for the summer.

Do note! If you invite guests with children, make sure that there are enough gifts or sweets in the ramadan countdown envelopes for every child who visits!

«‹♦›»

P.S. If you are a solo expat family and are looking to break fast with another family, shoot me an email! We can make it happen! And I really mean it – Esraa@MomsGuideAD.com

Esraa Bani-Rothman

Esraa Bani-Rothman

Founder & CEO at Moms Guide Abu Dhabi
aka, Expat Mom
Sudanese-American working mom of three. Free Spirit. Idea Curator. Her brain moves faster than her body can go. A laid back chic who walks around with that stereotypical hippie vibe.She is never afraid to give you her unsolicited opinion about gentle parenting. Esraa has been actively over-sharing her motherhood and parenting stories on social media since 2008.
Esraa Bani-Rothman

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