Filling the Blues - the spirit of Ramadan in action - Dubai.

A few years ago, Tahir Shah's attention was caught by some workers. He was curious. When did they  break their fast? Where did they do this? Long before he had even created his empire of Moti Roti, described as healthy Pakistani home cooking, he started out with a couple of people to make the iftars of the workers around the area where he lived memorable and meaningful.

Three years on, this gesture has grown, with different sponsors every night contributing to his vision of making a difference. Through social media, leading Dubai bloggers (I will use their profile names on Twitter) CoffeeCakes&Running and Geordie Armani have joined him in fashioning a distraction and even momentary happiness for the most deserving of people, some of the blue collar workers in Dubai. Hence the Twitter # known as 'fillingtheblues'. Admirable as they are, and I believe we can learn from them, this piece is about someone else. Someone who represents the many faces we see passing us in the morning, sleepily and wearily looking out of buses on their way to another long day of work.

Qasim, a security worker at the site where the iftar packs were handed out. 
Qasim, a 24 year old Pakistani native from Lahore, invites me to escape the heat and humidity. He has an air conditioned 1.5m X1.5m security 'office'. He offers me a chair, using broken English and gestures, that I am able to understand though. There is a liveliness in his voice. It is 8pm and he has not had his iftar yet, having fasted the day. But when you interact him, you would not say that he has been fasting. He exudes energy, enthusiasm and happiness. I find out that he works 12 hours a day and does not have a day off. Amazingly, there is not a hint of resentment or bitterness. He talks about his home where he has 2 brothers and 4 sisters. He, like many other workers here, sends money home  every month. I continue to listen as I see the first group of workers arriving for their iftar bags.  I hope we have a chance to continue later.

The arrival of the burritos.
Outside, a line is forming while the volunteers for the night, including a very passionate group from The Ritz Carlton DIFC,  make sure they have everything ready. It is simple: water, juice, camel milk and burritos, apples, bananas, muffins and some sweets will make up their iftar packs tonight. There is something so dignified about the workers as they line up. I meet an elderly man, probably in his  50s, with grey hair, possibly prematurely so because of the life of sacrifice he has chosen so that his family back home can have a better life. I am reminded of my father. Poignant.

I wish had the language ability to engage the man in the centre.
A quiet dignity
Pretty soon the line starts moving and I see something else that stirs my emotions anti clockwise - smile after smile after another smile. Bags or makeshift boxes  handed out. 12-15 Dhs has just bought happiness; elation in a plastic bag, a box or a hard hat abound. These workers have been coming here from the start of Ramadan and have had this break in what is otherwise a routine life of work, work and work. I imagine that these evenings have been to their lives what rain suddenly falling from the skies in TS Eliot's Wasteland would have been - something that will last in memory.

Volunteers handing out iftar packs. 
Happiness in a hard hat.
Happiness in a box. 
It is all over very quickly, as the workers board the bus to go to their accommodation. However, I catch up with Qasim who is still hanging around. I learn that he likes Hindi music and on the rare occasion he can, he loves playing cricket. He then talks about his favourite food which is chicken biryani. As we start to connect, it is time to leave. We exchange goodbyes.
Do I really need a caption here?
Did I leave this incredible evening with resolutions like,  "Oh I am never going to take for granted what I have" and "Wow, this really taught me perspective"? No. Instead I left for Abu Dhabi reveling in the smiles and laughter I experienced that night. It was a celebration of the simple life elevated to atmospheric levels. The smiles and the laughter. I thought about a restaurant chain owner and two bloggers who, while the rest of us are out there trying iftar after ftar and writing about it, bring respite and real joy to workers every night.

Sadly for Qasim and the other workers, the end of Ramadan will signal  a return to routine. Would it be asking too much to continue this gesture at least once a month to keep the spirit of giving and sharing going?

I don't know if I will see Qasim again, but sometimes relationships are just moments and no more. It was a moment I am likely to be thinking of for a long time.

Pics with permission : CoffeeCakes&Running

Sponsors who made this night possible - 23 July 2014

Taqado Mexican Kitchen
Cameliscious dairy products

Tahir Shah owner LLC

Brandon Stoltenkamp