x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 November 2017

It's time every one of us became a fridge-filling elf

The Ramadan Sharing Fridge programme has been a triumph of human generosity, writes Deborah Williams.

Summayya Sayed is the woman behind "The sharing fridge"- a concept that will allowe anyone access to an outdoor fridge during ramadan. Anna Nielsen / The National.
Summayya Sayed is the woman behind "The sharing fridge"- a concept that will allowe anyone access to an outdoor fridge during ramadan. Anna Nielsen / The National.

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself staring into the open fridge in hopes of finding something tasty.

It’s a strange thing for me to do, because I am usually the person who does the grocery shopping, so I know exactly what’s in there. It’s as if I think that maybe elves have come in the night and hidden sweet treats somewhere in the veggie crisper.

I don’t have any fridge-stocking elves myself, but this Ramadan, there are, in fact, fridge-stocking elves at work in Dubai and Abu Dhabi: the Ramadan Sharing Fridge programme, started by a few women in Dubai as a way of helping labourers stay healthy and hydrated through the long hot days of summer. The programme has spread like wildfire. At last glance, the Facebook page for the UAE Sharing Fridge group had more than 22,000 members. Everyone, it seems, wants to be a fridge-filling elf.

One of the reasons for the programme's popularity has to be its simplicity: find a fridge and someone who is willing to “donate” the electricity to keep the fridge plugged in. Then tell people the location of the fridge and voila, the fridge will be filled – with fruit, dates, laban, water, juice, takeaway meals. The only rule is that you not use the fridge as a dumping ground for your leftovers: you should put into the fridge only what you yourself would eat or drink.

It’s such a simple plan that the cynic in me can’t quite believe that it works, or that it hasn’t been taken over by some bureaucrat who will insist that a zillion forms need to be filled out, in quintuplicate.

If that were to happen, I predict the programme will wither away. The desire to do community service wanes in direct proportion to demands of paperwork: people would rather fill up fridges than fill out forms.

So far the form-bearers have left the fridges alone, but unfortunately, that does not mean that this programme has been problem-free. I went to a fridge near my doctor’s office in Al Bateen last week and filled it with juice and dates, only to discover later that this fridge was going to be decommissioned.

It turned out that some men who live in one of the big houses nearby were seen coming out of their house, helping themselves to what was in the fridge, and then going back inside to eat and drink in comfort. These men weren’t labourers and weren’t working outside in the hot sun. They looked to be guys having a lark, gaming the system because hey, who doesn’t like a little fresh fruit now and then?

On the one hand, I’m not at all surprised that these guys chose to disregard the mission of the Sharing Fridge project. Self-interest all too frequently trumps the needs of the community (as the aptly named presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, demonstrates again and again).

On the other hand, the do-gooder in me is surprised that during this month, of all months, people in Abu Dhabi would choose self-interest over the community good.

Isn’t Ramadan supposed to be the time of year when we concentrate on sharing what we can with others who don’t have as much, in hopes that this month’s efforts will become year-round habit?

Judging from the comments on the Facebook page, however, it looks like the positive side of human nature is in the ascendant. Very few problems are being reported, which means – I hope – that people are respecting the philanthropic goals that underpin the Sharing Fridge project.

As community service goes, filling a fridge isn’t glamorous or exotic. I’ll extend the benefit of the doubt to those well-off guys who are suspected of pilfering from the Sharing Fridge: maybe this mode of community service is in fact so humble, they didn’t recognise it as such. I’m sceptical, but I suppose it’s possible.

The programme might be humble, but isn’t feeding the hungry the very least that we can do for one another: the very fundament of caretaking? So take these last days of Ramadan and be a fridge-filling elf. And while you’re at it, fill another. And another.

Deborah Lindsay Williams (mannahattamamma.com) is a professor of literature at NYU Abu Dhabi