Gulf nationals get in shape as travel season starts and non-traditional clothes are needed

June 30, 2012

The travel season is here!

For Abdullah Ahmad, the sight of dozens of men and women in Bahrain jogging by the palace in Manama or on health walks Isa Town and A’ali, 15 kilometres to the south, is an outstanding indication that people who plan to travel to Europe or North America or even the Far East this summer want to make sure that they can fit in their non-traditional clothes.

“Most of the men who wear the traditional thobe here and opt for practical reasons to put trousers and shirts when they go to Europe or the Americas are not particularly keen on making new clothes every summer,” he said as he walked next to the palace in Gudhaibiya, the heart of Manama. He was running out of breath, having obviously forgotten about exercises for a long time. “So, whenever the travel season approaches, they work on losing the extra inches they gained over nine or ten months and make sure that their trousers and even jeans fit them well.”

Abdullah, a civil service employee, said that not making new clothes did not mean stinginess.

“It is mainly a self-esteem issue. Most men today do not want to admit that they are miserably failing to honour the pledges they had made to lose weight and to be more health conscious. Fitting back in the same clothes of last year is a challenge that they take seriously,” he said, trying not to lose his breath as he uttered the words. Several men and women, wearing tracksuits or simple shirts and shorts, are walking past him, extending their paces to beat invisible competitors.

Tariq Hassan said that he needed to be fit for Ramadan, the Muslims’ holy month, expected to start on July 21.

“I am planning to take my family to Istanbul and I really want to enjoy the special Ramadan atmosphere,” he said.

Last year, Ramadan caught up with him and his wife in the last three days of their holidays in the Turkish cosmopolitan city.

“Nobody has ever told us about the atmosphere there, and we were pleasantly surprised when we lived it,” he said. “It is a great combination of normal day activities, including tourism and shopping, and of spiritual delight. We loved the sight of hundreds of people waiting for the Maghreb [sunset] prayers and ending of the fast. We are used to ending the fast at our home, not in public, open air places,” Tariq said.

In the evening, people celebrate Ramadan as a month of faith and cultural effervescence, he said.

“We were aware that many people did not fast, but we could also see a large number of men and women, young and old, at the mosques for the Taraweeh prayers [post evening prayers]. They were short, but performed according to high standards of spiritualism. I truly loved the religious contemplation and the worshippers’ focus on prayers. Following the prayers, it is a celebration of culture through traditional concerts and special family atmosphere,” he said.

Istanbul has gained in popularity among Arabs after Turkish soap operas have swept audiences in the last four years in a wildly popular cultural phenomenon across the Middle East.

The fascination was started by the pan-Arab cable network MBC after it bought the Turkish dramas and, instead of dubbing them in classical Arabic, as had been the case for years, rendered them into Syrian Arabic, a dialect easily understood by ordinary Arabs from Morocco to Oman.

Producers attributed the Arab fascination, particularly, among women to the way the operas showed how Turkish women handled modernity and modern lifestyles.

Narmeen Abdul Aziz, another jogger under the shadow of the imposing palace in Gudhaibiya, the summer trip will be in Malaysia.

“My family would like to spend the Eid in Kuala Lumpur,” she said. “We have heard so much about how Ramadan and Eid Al Fitr are celebrated in Malaysia and we want to live this enriching experience,” said the young teacher.

For many Gulf nationals, Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country, was the perfect Far East country to spend Ramadan and the ensuing feast celebrations.

“We heard that Arabs and Muslims in general feel at ease in Malaysia where halal food is available,” Narmeen said. “It is relatively safe and the weather is considerably less hot than the scorching summers we have in the Gulf. The mobility ease and the high level of development in the capital are also positive factors,” she said, anticipating to be physically fit for a memorable trip.



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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