Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tips for expats during Ramadan

I would like to begin this post with my hearty Ramadan greetings to all fellow-expatriates. This post may be useful for newly-arrived expatriates working in Saudi Arabia and also for those who are planning to arrive soon.

Ramadan is a month in Islamic calendar in which Muslims all over the world fast from dawn to dusk. This is considered a holy month by Muslims in which they are required to refrain from eating, smoking or drinking from sunrise to sunset. The dates of Ramadan keep moving by about 10 days each year. The elderly, sick, children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and people who are travelling are exempt from fasting.

For first-timers and new comers, particularly non-Muslims, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Never ever eat or drink in public or in front of your Muslim colleagues / friends. Not only is it severely punishable by law, it also goes without saying that it is morally binding on you not to do so. Most work places have designated separate areas for non-Muslims where you can eat or drink within closed doors and your Muslim colleagues would avoid such places. Make sure you spray some air freshener in the area once you have finished your food, to curb any smell which may emanate. Respect the sentiments of your fasting colleagues and you would get back the same from them.

One of the most dangerous time to drive is about 30 minutes prior to dusk. This is the time when some people drive like crazy and it is quite common to see cars jumping the red light. They somehow want to reach home to be in time to break their fast. Whenever possible, please avoid driving during this time for your own safety.

Expatriates requiring liaisoning work with Government agencies must be prepared for delays. For example, if your iqama gets processed in 30 days during normal times, there would be more delay during Ramadan. So, you should be well-prepared for such delays. I would also advise expatriates to book your flights well in advance, if you are going to travel home, particularly during the last one week of Ramadan. All flights would go packed with travellers going home for Eid holidays. Advance booking would ensure that you get your seats on the flight and also not put a hole in your pocket.

The normal working hours for Muslims is 6 hours and for non-Muslims is 8 hours during Ramadan. You would find that the entire city would come to life at night. Most of the shops open around 8.30 pm and stay open until the wee hours of morning.

The last 10 days of Ramadan is really a sight to see. All supermarkets would be jam packed, people would be shopping excitedly, packing their trolleys with all kinds of stuff as though there would be no food available the next day! But this is again, part of the fun. Road-side eateries would spring up and you shouldn't be surprised to see people offering you fruit juice packets at gasoleine stations just before the sun sets. This is also a great time to get some really cheap stuff in the second hand markets. Most Saudis dispose off almost brand-new items during this time, and you could strike a good bargain. This is particularly applicable for those who are just setting up their families and want to buy some good furniture.

Have a nice time and may this festive season usher in good times for all fellow-expatriates!

Monday, August 17, 2009

A word about the Contact Form

After my decision to introduce paid consultancy services for those who require personalized consultancy, a lot of readers have been requesting information on this. So I decided to write a separate post about it. My friend and renowned software / VA expert, Mrs. Deepa Govind, had helped me set up the form (click here to view it) in this blog. For those who are yet to get familiar with it, here are the steps.

When you click on the link given here, you would get a form which is self-explantory. For basic queries, I charge a nominal amount of $5. This is to segregate spam from genuine requests and also to put a value for the time and effort I put in.

Once you have filled in the form, you would get an automated message saying that your request has been received. The next step for you is to actually do the payment. You need to have a Paypal account for paying me. If you do not have a Paypal account, please visit and click on 'Sign up' link. The instructions given there are clear. Paypal ( is a secure site and there is no need for you to reveal your card details to me - Paypal assures complete security and secrecy for both the parties - you and me. Registration with Paypal is easy and is free of cost. You just need a credit card or a debit card for payment.

You may also wish to pay in Paypal through your bank account by opting for an e-cheque facility, if you are uncomfortable using your credit card or debit card on the net, But the downside with an e-cheque is that it takes about 10 working days for the money to be realized by Paypal. Payment is instantaneous if it is made through a credit card or a debit card. Whatever be the mode of your payment, once Paypal realizes the amount, I would be informed immediately and within 1 working day, I would reply to your email.

There is also a provision to track your query. Once you have submitted your query, you can always track its status. Simply type your email id in the 'Track your Query' box given on the top right hand side of this blog and you would know the status of your query.

I wish to express my sincere thanks to all of those readers who have used this new service and have promptly paid me. However, some of the readers fill in the form and then forget about the payment! To overcome this problem, an automated reminder would now arrive in your Inbox if you fill in the form and then forget to make the payment. Of course, you have a choice not to be reminded and this option is given to you while filling in the form.

Finally, I continue to get requests from some readers asking for free consultancy. Regretfully, I cannot entertain such requests due to acute pressure of work and time. Once again, I would like to express my gratitude to all the readers for your support.

Until next time,

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Swine flu in Saudi Arabia

It's now official. Swine flu has arrived in the kingdom and the official count, sadly, is 6 deaths until now and 595 affected. What started off as a localized problem in Mexico has now spread all over the globe and Saudi Arabia is no exception. The situation has now become so critical that Iran has prohibited its citizens from performing Umrah during the month of Ramadan.

With the month of Ramadan just around the corner, Makkah and Madinah would be attracting pilgrims from all over the world wanting to perform Umrah. The Saudi Government's Ministry of Health is taking no chances. Private hospitals have been given the green light to supply anti-flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza to patients suspected with H1N1 virus. In an advisory to all private and Government hospitals, the Ministry has instructed that any patient with a temperature of above 38 degrees C must be compulsorily tested for swine flu. Another health authority, the National Scientific Committee on Epidemic Diseases (NSCED) has proposed using thermal cameras at all airports and seaports to scan people suspected of carrying the virus. So, if a person arrives in the kingdom with a fever, he is sure to be detained and tested for swine flu. The NSCED has even recommended treating all patients of bronchitis and pneumonia as potential carriers of the H1N1 virus. All medical staff who are in contact with such patients have also been instructed not to come in contact with patients undergoing treatment for cancer and HIV.

For those expatriates coming into the kingdom for the first time and those who are returning after a vacation, you shouldn't be surprised to see that you are being scrutinized upon arrival in the airport by a medical team. This is one of those things, like security checks, which might appear inconvenient but is absolutely necessary considering the times we are living in.