Observing Life: It may be chaotic, but my street is a colourful place

Ramadan and Eid have a transformative effect on my busy Abu Dhabi neighbourhood.

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A lot of visiting friends and relatives can’t understand how I can live like this.

My apartment is in one of the older neighbourhoods of Abu Dhabi, an area technically in Khalidiya, but locals prefer to use its old name of Darat Al Miyah (translated to the Water Authority).

I can see their point: my neighbourhood is chaotic at best. It is densely packed with ageing buildings and a plethora of small businesses, mostly grocery stores, laundries, coffee shops and restaurants – it is basically a bachelor’s dream.

On any given day, I can do my shopping, laundry, order tea, coffee and all three meals from my mobile phone and from the comfort of my recliner. I realised too late that many others shared the same vision.

The result is a near-endless cacophony of the voices of delivery men as they tear down the main street in their vans or on motorbikes, not to mention the car horns of many patrons who can’t seem to understand that four roast chickens may perhaps take more than 30 seconds to deliver. Coupled with the horrible neon signs that flash all night and the endless hammering of construction, it was enough to make a few friends opt for a pricey hotel (with the excuse of “it was a cheap online bargain”) rather than lose their marbles staying with me during their Abu Dhabi visits.

I would have lost it, too, if it wasn’t for Ramadan. Perhaps it is because of the empathy that the Holy Month encourages in worshippers that I am able to see a method to the madness. Even the random encounters I witnessed began to take on a deeper meaning.

With nearly everyone fasting together, an unwritten etiquette was followed on the main street. The days were almost totally devoid of unnecessary noise. Cab drivers kept their cool when faced by unforgivable intransigences on the road, the normally tardy grocery stores were transformed into slick operations as they delivered ingredients for iftar meals on time; even the normally scowling Mawaqif officers waved off motorists who had failed to park their cars properly.

The local mosques, swollen every night with people attending the nightly taraweeh prayers, were where the local merchants rubbed shoulders with customers, their normally boisterous and sometimes heated haggling turns into friendly greetings and enquiries about the health of family members.

During the last 10 days of Ramadan and Eid, that growing empathy transformed into silent acts of generosity. The local restaurants did a roaring trade at night as they delivered hundreds of free dinners to construction workers in the neighbourhood, courtesy of a few benefactors, while bakeries gave away sweets and buns.

With the Eid holidays finally over, my street has once again returned to its cut-and-thrust routine. Only this time, it is imbued with a spirit of renewal. The intensity of Ramadan and the daily interaction in the mosques have strengthened the bond between neighbours, business owners and customers – or, at the very least, diluted any hostilities.

Where others see chaos, I see a colourful community at play. Speaking of colours, those neon signs have really got to go. They test even the most patient of hearts.