Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Umrah update: Day 3: Humans of Makkah - The biggest Iftar gathering in the world

It is likely that at least a quarter of the world's population will be breaking their fast after an approximate fasting day of 16 hours. (We've just broken ours).

In Makkah the weather is scorching at 42 degrees and with not even a slight threat of rain, breeze or shade on the horizon. Yet we have found it easier to observe the fasting in such intense heat and maybe part of it is because we're carefree and not bogged down by daily rituals and chores.

Today we completed our Umrah (non-mandatory lesser pilgrimage which unlike the Hajj can be completed at any time of the year). Despite the heat we neither felt overly thirsty, tired, and lethargy hasn't set in as after a shower I sat in the hotel lobby writing this blog. I did however have to outrun a bevvy of female beggars who started manhandling me before a tug of war and lots of screaming ensued amidst a mild cat fight. I did feel rather special but eventually had to be bailed out by my missus and a Good Samaritan decoy.

One of the main features of the day is observing the setting up of the Biggest Iftar food spread in the world food, which stretches to almost 15 kilometres, taking in the new Haram extension and spilling way into the neighbouring streets including Ibrahim Khalil Road. The daily table spread itself is close to 20,000 metres and is rolled out and rolled up with military like precision by an army of workers, volunteers and scouts.

The food pack to break fast is provided by wealthy dignitaries and no mention is made of their name, nor is any beneficiary required to provide their email in exchange of these delicious freebies. This daily cost of this gesture sets the kingdom back a cool 1 million Saudi Riyals a day. An official told me this is small change when compared to the benefits and rewards of providing food, drink and nourishment to a fasting or needy person.

A delicious Iftar food pack consists of dates, Zamzam water, cake, cheese puff pastry, a croissant and orange juice. There's so much to go round and absolutely no one goes hungry. I timed the whole process from setting up, serving, to cleaning at 30 minutes all in. Inside the Haram complex these packs are not allowed in order to maintain cleanliness due to the larger volumes of people inside. They can only partake of dates, water and coffee there.

The only downside for me is the waste at the end where good food is discarded. I spoke to an official and encouraged better practise in terms of collecting all the waste (unpacked good foods) and transport them to the deprived neighbourhoods and homeless citizens on the outskirts of the city. I'm sure I'm not the first to suggest this and would make the whole thing just perfect and totally sum up the spirit of Ramadan.

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