Wednesday, 08 December 2021 12:05 GMT

UAE Offroaders' Ramadan adventures in the desert


(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Khaled Hussein is alone this Ramadan. Like many other Muslim expat families in Abu Dhabi, his wife and children have gone back to their native home to spend the holy month.

Khaled, who left Jordan some six years ago to settle in Abu Dhabi, is ending most of his Ramadan fasts at home mostly with take-away food, until few nights ago, when he went to a special iftar with his "adopted" family.

"I belong to an offroading club, the UAE Offroaders and every Ramadan we gather in the desert to have an iftar together. We come from different parts of the world and we each bring a dish traditional to our home country to share," said Khaled.

He joined the club nearly three years ago and right from the beginning he felt like being among family.

"We spend every weekend together, driving deep into the deserts of Abu Dhabi or Dubai until sunset, then we sit for hours, well into the night, talking, cooking, making tea or coffee, just as you would with your family back home," said Khaled.

Every Ramadan the UAE Offroaders runs an iftar trip somewhere in the Abu Dhabi desert. As in the previous years, this holy month too Muslim and non-Muslim club members were welcomed, many coming along with their own families.

"Our desert iftar is a great opportunity for people to share the true meaning of Ramadan. Muslims and non-Muslims get together and share a meal. The non-Muslims have the best opportunity to ask questions about Islam and Ramadan and the Muslims, who are not just Emiratis, but from many different nationalities, learn about each other''s cultures and traditions during Ramadan," said Lee Al Romaithi, one of the UAE Offroaders'' founders and chairman.

UAE, Jordan, New Zealand, Pakistan, USA, India, Egypt, Romania are all represented in the desert gathering. As the sun rushes behind the dunes, a large camping mat is spread on the sand and filled with insulated food containers brought by everyone.

There are several rice dishes, but there is also a Shepherd''s Pie (layers of baked minced meat and mash potatoes) there is Romanian sarmale (pickled cabbage leaves filled with minced meat, rice and spices) there is an American potato salad and someone even brought a bottle of Vimto.

"Vimto syrup has become a traditional Ramadan beverage, the reason being that it was one of the first syrup drinks to be imported in the Gulf around the 1920s or 1930s," explained Lee.

"It is very sugary, so it gives you a quick boost of sugar, which is also why people prefer it in Ramadan," he added.

Before preparing for iftar, though, the group goes for a gentle offroading drive across the dunes around al Khatem, some 50km outside Abu Dhabi, towards Al Ain.

That is why they met earlier, just before 5pm, on the edge of the desert. Despite the long hours of fasting, they couldn''t resist the thrill of riding on dune crests.

The convoy of about 15 cars gathered on the edge of the desert, deflated their tyres, switched their gears into four wheel drive and entered the desert for nearly a couple of hours'' drive.

"We ended the drive at the Icecream Spot and began to lay out the food ready for iftar," said Jenny Drayton, a marshal in UAE Offroaders from New Zealand.

A high dune in Al Khatem desert, having a building structure on top to host a water storage tank for the irrigation of nearby farms, the ice cream Spot got its name from the UAE Offroaders, who, a few summers ago, drove an ice cream van up there to refresh themselves and their families with some ice cream on a hot, 45 degrees celsius afternoon.

"Once the food was laid out, we all sat around in a circle waiting for the proper iftar time," went on Jenny.

"When the call to prayer was heard, the feast began."

Dates,waterand cigarettes were first consumed. After breaking the fast, all Muslim group members went aside, for prayers. Everyone else waited patiently for their return before enjoying the food.

"International dishes were passed around, but I was mostly interested in the local ones -machboos, mandi,harees,biryianiwith lamb or chicken were irresistible. We also had some delicious Um Ali, brought by Hamed AlKharoosi. I don''t know who in his family made it, but it was a really good one," added Jenny.

The feasting, laughter and chatter kept on going for hours. At some point, after the thermoses ofkarakandghahwawere all emptied, someone decided to bring out the camping tea kit and prepare some fresh "chai".

"It is not just the iftar we share during Ramadan. Every Thursday we also runsuhournight drives, which are offroading trips in the night that end up with sharingsuhourmeal around 2am, before heading home," concluded Lee.

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