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The Ramadan Business Traveler

Paramaribo Mosque I haven’t posted for Ramadan yet, but Lilandra has been more than making up for this – she’s been assiduously recording the Suhrs and Iftars and the general progression of the month in the family home in Trinidad and Tobago, with some forays to our village mosque. Pictures and everything.

The course of my Ramadan has been somewhat different. This is the 4th Ramadan in this job, and the 4th Ramadan where I have spent significant time in airports and hotels. Yes, if anyone is wondering, it is rare that any month passes without my having to get on a plane and go somewhere. In fact the very first meeting out of Guyana I had to attend, coincided with the beginning of Ramadan…It’s not usually very far somewhere, or for too long, but I do wish, that it wasn’t in Ramadan. Especially a Ramadan where I wanted to focus on preparations for the Hajj. But it has given me the idea for this post! How to fast in hotels in the Caribbean :-) For anyone who might be wondering.

I come from Trinidad and Tobago, and currently live in Guyana. In both these countries there is a significant Muslim population (6% and 10% respectively) – significant as compared to the rest of the region. So you can expect that people would be a little more aware of the existence of Ramadan, and the requirement of fasting. In the tourist industry, however, where this part of the world may not often see practising Muslims as a significant portion of their clientele (rum and bikinis, you know 😉 ) Actually, in many hotels in the Caribbean, even though they may have business clients, the vacationers and sunseekers are the majority. So sometimes finding wifi or a printer is as hard as finding someone who understands why you need to have food at 4 am.

Travelers are exempted from the fast, although they will have to make it up after Ramadan (or pay the fidiya). Given my work demands, however, I could end up only fasting a few days out of the month, and I’d prefer not to do that. Especially where I had to travel only to St Vincent or Grenada, passing through overnight in Trinidad first. These are flights of less than an hour and no time zones involved. Plus it’s on the little planes, so there’s no real hardship. It’s a personal choice. Believe me, I tried fasting on the way to Jamaica once, and the BWee planes fly higher and I got so dehydrated (especially since you start out by leaving home at 3 am to catch the flights from GEO to POS, then POS to BGI to ANU then finally Kingston). Somewhere after Barbados, my throat felt so dry and hard it hurt and I could not even begin to imagine what the rest of the day would be like. So I utilised my exemption gratfeully. Of course, that was the trip where I began my typhoid symptoms, so maybe it wasn’t just the fasting!

A Muslim’s fast is the same whether in Ramadan or out – between Dawn and Sunset, we do not eat or drink (anything, not even water), refrain from telling lies, sexual relations and generally try to live a day following all the requirements of prayer and a Muslim life.

This means that we eat before Dawn (which is some time before Sunrise) and then eat something to break the fast at Sunset. When you’re at home, or in a Muslim household, meal preparations are organised according to this schedule, so there’s no worry. When you’re in a hotel that’s not in a Muslim country, it’s often a bit more complicated to ensure you have food at the right times.

Getting food at 4 am or whatever time Dawn is in that country (another thing you need to do, get a hard copy of the prayer times BEFORE you arrive in a hotel where you don’t have internet access to get on to islamicity.com or islamicfinder.org) is not always easy. If you’re in a super posh hotel with 24 hour room service, matter fix – either pre-order your food to be delivered at an appropriate time (with an accompanying wake up call) or wake up early enough to order, and your Suhr will arrive at your door. This is also easy if you’re in an all-inclusive with 24 hour food. It may only be light snacks or breads etc that they keep out somewhere, but I’m not a huge eater for Suhr, so this is fine.

The more usual scenario, even if you’re in those luxury places, is trying to get some food in your room before you go to sleep, so that it’s there when you wake up, even if you wake up a little later than desired. This is also not a problem if the hotel is in a location with supermarkets or such stores – get some bread, pastries, even some sandwiches that can keep for a few hours (don’t forget the drinks). If not, you have to get it out of the hotel – unfortunately, the restaurant menu doesn’t always cater for such food, especially in small places, but if you explain it you can get nice folks to make up some sandwiches, or provide some extra bread at dinner and bottled water or juices.

It would make sense that Iftar is the easier meal to organise and it can be, most times. However, in the Caribbean, Sunset is usually between 5.50 and 6.30 p.m. (approximately). Most hotels/restaurants don’t start serving dinner until after 7 p.m. Not too much of a problem if you’re breaking fast at 6.30, but last year for example, I was in an all-inclusive in Jamaica in October where the buffet didn’t start until 7.30 and I was breaking fast around 6. And there was not a lot of food to be had nearby until then. Sigh. Anyway, you can sometimes recognise a fasting person during this month at meetings – they’ll be the ones not eating (yeah, surprise) scouting the break table and wrapping up pastries and goodies in a napkin so they’ll have something quickly at hand when it’s time for Iftar. Or, if it’s one of those meetings where there’s always food, the fasting person will be scrutinising her watch or the horizon for several minutes and moving to the table at the right time. Thereafter ducking out for Maghrib prayer (unless joining with Isha).

At that same all-inclusive, I’d break fast and then wait patiently for dinner to start. I’d be practically the first one at the buffet! Not just because of hunger, but because I needed to scout out the manager before they got too busy, so they’d give me a take away plate or box for Suhr. Remember I spoke about posh all-inclusives? Well, not-so-posh all inclusives have serious restrictions about when food is served, and taking food up to your rooms etc (can’t have people hiding up there eating free). Every night I had to explain my case to clueless servers, who, to give them their due, found senior persons who would easily authorise my request. Then, I’d scout the buffet sections to grab up cool breads and fruit and things I thought would keep well overnight. Since I was eating that early, I was also grabbing later-in-the-night snacks, especially if I was up working.

All of this is much better when you have a mini-fridge in the room. Even better if it’s a kitchenette! Two weeks ago I spent a week in Grenada, and since I passed through Trinidad a few days before, I went in with food – dhalpuri, curry saim, pizza, real food! and SNACKS! I figured as I would end up buying the same Trini snacks in Grenada, may as well buy them at the cheaper home rate 😀 The supermarket option for a fasting person is always cheaper though – room service can rack up those bills. But when you’re passing through relatively quickly, and don’t have a whole lot of time between meetings to go out into the street and shop, you have to get the hotel to work with you. If they understand the nature of service, it shouldn’t matter if they don’t entirely understand the reasons you need food at odd hours. It’s almost like being on Travel Spies, and judging the merits of a hotel on how well they can cater to the needs of the fasting 😀

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6 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. When I went to Guyana that Ramadan you got typhoid…when sister’s SIL died…
    We arrived in Georgetown around 9/10am and I was oh so parched…and tired…and couldn’t fast any more. I just sat down and ate that chicken sandwich.
    I was miserable.

    But then, I’m not the greatest traveller. Or I need lots of food when I travel. It’s not just height of the plane.

    1. Lilandra on September 28th, 2008 at 1:49 am
  2. well, the height of the plane does increase the dryness – on those trans-Atlantic ones, it’s even worse

    2. Chennette on September 28th, 2008 at 1:52 am
  3. Guyana! Cool…
    Your blog is awesome. I’m subscribing :)

    3. Riana on September 29th, 2008 at 3:25 am
  4. assalamu ‘alaikum Riana – I have loved your blog and photos for quite a while, so pleased to see you here 😀

    4. Chennette on September 29th, 2008 at 10:49 am
  5. Love your post. This is my first Ramadan in the last 3 where I have not been sent somewhere on work.
    Hope somehow the rest of your Ramadan is a bit quieter so you can stay at home and prepare for the Hajj.

    5. zk on August 18th, 2010 at 3:17 pm
  6. assalamu ‘alaikum! this was a couple years ago, so alhamdulillah I did get to prepare for Hajj – the family utilised various technological means to prepare :-) This year it seems I am mostly on the ground so that’s great!

    6. Chennette on August 18th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

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  1. […] Travel during Ramadan is so frequently the case, that I had a post on fasting in hotels – The Ramadan Business Traveler. But for Eid, I generally try to be home* with the family, or in Guyana with my sister and her […]

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