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There are 4,000 workers at the Saadiyat Accommodation Village; housing them, providing food, drink and a place to pray is a sizeable job.
There are 4,000 workers at the Saadiyat Accommodation Village; housing them, providing food, drink and a place to pray is a sizeable job.

Feeding the 4,000 on Saadiyat

In part of an ongoing look at the building of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, James Langton finds out how both employer and employee adapt to a summer Ramadan on the job.

There are 4,000 workers at the Saadiyat Accommodation Village; housing them, providing food, drink and a place to pray is a sizeable job. In part of an ongoing look at the building of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, James Langton finds out how both employer and employee adapt to a summer Ramadan on the job.

Through the open door of the cavernous dining hall in Saadiyat Accommodation Village, the ferocious August heat is falling very slightly as the light begins to fade with the setting sun.

It is still well over half an hour before sunset and the breaking of the fast, but the first workers are already filing in for the only food and drink they will have had for nearly 15 hours.

Collecting a steel tray in exchange for a green meal ticket, they walk the length of the 60-metre hall to collect their food: some dates and fresh fruit, a serving of aromatic chana dal and water or a carton of laban. To one side, there are five huge tea urns, all but one with sugar.

Then the men find a spot at one of the hundreds of empty tables, place the food in front of them, tantalising, and wait patiently for the first sound of the maghrib prayer.

Soon the reason for the early arrivals becomes clear. The groups of one or two become a steady flow and then a flood. By the time iftar is less than 10 minutes away, there are lengthy queues for both trays and the food.

Small wonder. The Accommodation Village is home to more than 2,500 workers on the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum project, of which around 72 per cent are Muslim. Tonight, as on every night during Ramadan, they are hungry and thirsty. And all at the same time.

Serving the evening meal for about 4,000 workers - the village also houses workers for other projects - is the great challenge for Brookfield Multiplex, the Dubai-based company that runs the housing complex.

Amazingly, by the time that the call to prayer rises above the murmur of hundreds of voices, all but a handful are seated and ready to eat.

Most of those workers have risen early, first for suhoor, then to head out to the site before the heat of the sun hammers home. The combination of the summer midday break and the shorter Ramadan working hours means that they are back in the village by early afternoon, although a very small number remain on site for essential duties.

By sunset, they have changed from their blue boiler suits into neatly pressed jeans and shirts or more traditional shalwar kameez. The meal to break the fast doesn't look like much, but it is a healthy mix of energy-giving fruits and carbohydrates. The main meal is served later, after prayers.

Rashid Khamir, a security supervisor from Mombasa in Kenya, admits that enduring the heat on site while fasting is a challenge. "It is a big test," he says. "In my country it is not so hot."

But he manages to resist the temptation of a cooling sip of water. "It is my faith. Ramadan is a holy month and different from others."

Even with safety precautions, Khamir, 34, says he sees several workers seeking treatment for heat stress every day. It's hard to balance being a Muslim in such an environment, but being among so many fellow Muslims is a help, he says.

"We support each other. If someone feels like eating, we give him moral support."

Less than 10 minutes after breaking the fast, the first workers are leaving the dining area, heading outside to begin their ablutions.

The village is a series of accommodation blocks, each with its own communal hall that includes everything from a library and computer room to a games area, laundry, several widescreen TVs and a barbershop, where a haircut costs just Dh5.

Outside, a pleasant green area surrounded by mature trees overlooks a beach on the western edge of Saadiyat, with views over the channel to Abu Dhabi, towards Reem Island and the distant towers of the new business district.

Now, though, it's fully dark, and the press of men heads towards the mosque, a low, white, domed building decorated with coloured lights for the Holy Month. So many have come for prayers that the congregation overflows to the surrounding paved area.

Some worshippers bring carpets large enough for a group, others lay out individual prayer mats, squeezing to the edge if a friend needs to share. The atmosphere feels relaxed and communal.

By 8pm, the focus is back in the dining hall, where the main meal of the evening is being served. The hard-pressed staff have cleared away the debris from the iftar and replaced the fruit and beans with more substantial vegetarian and meat curries, along with mountains of boiled rice and vast piles of chapattis. No one leaves hungry.

Meal over, the workers line up to clear away their trays, emptying leftover food into large, black bin liners. Some settle down to watch Sri Lanka fail to beat South Africa at one-day cricket. Others find a quiet spot or a book or watch satellite television from their own country.

In a few hours, the dark will begin to dilute with the rising sun, and the meal hall will fill again for suhoor. Then the buses will arrive for the 6am shift. Like Ramadan, the building of the Louvre Abu Dhabi must follow strict timetables; one for God, the other for man.

jlangton@thenational.ae

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