Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Let me trouble you once more with yet another failed attempt to give you the slightest glimpse into my world here…

Ramadan has begun and I, along with several of my friends, have chosen to join our communities in fasting throughout the month. For those of you who don’t know how this works, nothing is allowed to pass your lips from sunrise to sunset (which translates to about 4 in the morning to 645 in the evening). It’s a tad more involved than that, but that’s the basic gist of it.

My schedule now looks something like this… I’ll start at the end of the day. Right around 5 my stomach starts to revolt and my lips are parched from a lack of liquids in the heat of Morocco. I’m dehydrated and a little weak. It’s not as bad as all that, but I’m definitely ready for nourishment. I’ve had invitations to break fast at others’ houses every night so far so I have not yet cooked the traditional meal yet. We gather in the salon awaiting that haunting call of “allahu akbar” signaling that we can finally nourish our deprived bodies. We then gorge ourselves on Harira (a Moroccan soup), Shebekia (a Moroccan pastry), dates, hard-boiled eggs, milk and Bousheyergh (I’m not sure of the transliteration on that one, but this is a sweet bread). Oh, and did I mention water? LOTS of water… or as we say here, BZZEF! The food is absolutely amazing, and although one might be tempted to draw the conclusion that it might have something to do with the fact that I’ve spent the entire day dreaming about food… mostly enchiladas and maybe a steak… the Moroccan/Berber cuisine is rather delicious. Remember this happens around 645.

Now we sit around watching religious programming, the Moroccan TBN (or whichever one has the evangelists in the extremely gaudy, golden chairs). Muslim religious programming, however, is far classier than our Evangelical counterpart. I usually go out for a work, sit down with a book, chat with people who are now roaming the streets; basically we just pass the time before we eat again.

Around 1230 or 1 we have another meal... That’s 1230 at night just in case you forgot. This isn’t the race to see just how quickly you can fill your stomach that the breaking of the fast was, but enough to call it a meal. Then we sleep only to wake up around 330 for the sole purpose of getting dinner in before the sun begins to rise. After we’re done we go back to sleep and stay that way just a little bit longer than I normally would. Then I wake up.

The days are a bit lazier as no one wants to exert himself or herself as much as they normally would, although in my region mate Mara’s site it is the apple harvesting season and the workers have to work through the day in the fields without water or food. My day, fortunately does not necessarily involve extended periods of physical exertion otherwise I just might get as crazy as the taxi drivers…

… I guess I need to explain that a running joke here in Morocco is the taxi drivers during Ramadan. They have to drive all day long under the same conditions as the rest of us, and by the end of the day they’re going a little crazy and are a bit on edge. Fights break out occasionally over really little things. It’s actually quite funny to watch two men go to blows and have to be separated by a crowd because one of them leaned on the other’s car. Although I must say that I’ve never actually seen anyone land a good punch. It’s normally been this close-fisted slap that doesn’t actually reach its target. For those of you who know me, you know I am no fighter so I’m not exactly an expert observer, but I’m pretty sure that punch isn’t going to win any fight. I think I’ve reached the conclusion that the two combatants are counting on the crowd to separate them before it gets anywhere near serious…

… anyway, back to my life. I’ll do some work at the little health center in town, maybe hang out on the road with the guys there sitting in the shade…

… another quick diversion. I can tell what time it is simply by seeing where the group of men is loitering. They follow both the shade and whichever hanut/butcher/cigarette seller is open. So if I look out my roof to the road and although the shade is on the east side of the road meaning it’s morning, but people aren’t there, I know that the main hanut owner is about to make his run into town to get everyone’s vegetables, bread or whatever else people need. It’s somewhere between 9 and 930. If I wake up from a nap, walk out my front door and see that the shade is in the west and yet there are people on the east side, I know that it’s around 330 or 4 because people are about to head back to their houses to drink tea, eat a small snack and they want one last cigarette from the seller across the street. You get the idea…

… and then I’ll probably sit on my roof or in my living room and read trying desperately to stay out of the kitchen and away from the sight of food or water. Then around 530 I’ll head off to a friend’s house to prepare to break fast.

It’s interesting. I thought Ramadan would make life difficult, and granted I’m only 3 or so days in so this opinion could very well change over the course of the month,. What I am finding though, is that a life here that up to this point was very erratic now has some kind of strange and new rhythm to which I am learning rather quickly to dance. I work to keep my mind off of the hunger, and yet there is something every day to look forward to, to work towards. Reaching that final call to prayer always brings a sense of accomplishment.

Now some of you may be asking yourselves why I am choosing to fast. It’s an excellent question that has many answers. I had been going back and forth for literally months on this decision. Should I be intentionally different in order to force two different cultures to interact on their own terms or do what I am normally inclined to do and adapt as much as possible? I’m not Muslim so fasting for Ramadan isn’t a revealed and thereby required part of my religious life,, however adopting others’ traditions to one’s own has been a time honored tradition of the Church (that’s big C not little c) I’ve grown up in… December 25 for Christmas being a case in point, but I digress. There is of course the possibility of a cynical, work related answer that it makes integration easier,; a depressing, loner answer that it gives me an opportunity to eat at other peoples’ houses and not be alone in mine,; a career-oriented answer that says that it imposes a routine and enables more efficient work,; a religious answer that it allows me to focus my thoughts on higher things employing the time-honored tradition of fasting,; or a “twentysomething” answer that I’m doing it just for the sheer sake of doing it. All of them have a little bit of weight and are some part of the thought process. It most definitely does not simplify the religious question that is asked every day of me… “is tzallat?”… “do you pray?”. Once people find out I’m fasting, it just leads them back to the same question. So we return to the original question of why… and excellent question. I don’t have an answer for you; suffice it to say that I made the choice to fast. Independence forces one to make decisions even when you aren’t ready to make one or fully decided on a course of action. This was the choice in the “Create Your Own Story” that I picked and now I’m flipping through the book to some new, designated page to discover what’s going to happen to the protagonist next in this particular novel.

For those of you who are interested in what I’ve been reading lately, over the past week I’ve read “Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azer Nafisi which was yet another soul-affirming recommendation from one of my friends who seems to be able to always bring me back from the edge of cynicism and remind me, as she so eloquently put it, that although this world groans, it also hopes. I’m almost done re-reading “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, which always re-kindles the sometimes-dying flames of my spiritual journey. I’m also reading “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov which is not exactly the most uplifting book I’ve ever read… more along the lines of the most disturbing. It is beautifully written though. I’m also reading an economics textbook, but that’s because I’m a bit of a dork. I’ve just borrowed “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran and “Into The Wild” by Jon Krakauer and am excited about diving into their pages. Oh, and occasionally I pick up “Arabian Nights” and read a story or two. I’ve been reading politics and history incessantly for a couple of months now so I’m on a little bit of a fiction kick right now.


Yborchild said...

First of all I want you to know I only registered so that I could comment on your posts. And secondly I want you to know that I thoroughly enjoy them. Their mild gentle, thougthful tone engages the reader and allows us to appreciate your new experiences in an intimate way.Maybe because I also did PC Morocco I feel a special affinity to your observations.
I recall in my first year I also chose to fast during Ramadan. I had no questions or reservations about why I was fasting. For me it was not religious. I needed to feel as best I could first hand what this was like. How do they feel during the day? What is ftor all about?...the latenight meal(forgot name)...and what is it like to get up before dark to have another meal. How could you relate unless you've been through it?
Anyway the questions of why am I doing Ramadan didn't come from within. People around me including some other PCVs and expats,found it bizarre. Because I lived in Rabat I had many friends from eastern European countries. They were totally baffled as to why I would ever even entertain the thought of participating in this ritual let alone actually do it.
So to you I say Bravo. I look forward to more of your musings. And your those pics!

Scriptrix said...

One of my students is writing a paper on how her community celebrates Ramadan - actually, she turned the paper in yesterday, and after your post I'm looking forward to reading hers even more.