Ramadan begins. May 7-17, 2019
First of all, Ramadan is the name of a month on the Islamic calendar. The Islamic calendar is lunar based, so each month is slightly shorter than the calendar we use in America (the Gregorian calendar). Ramadan also refers to set of religious rituals to be observed throughout the month. People are instructed to go without many comforts and pleasures during the daylight hours; food, water, smoking, sex, wearing makeup or perfume. They can enjoy all these things after dusk (about 7:30 pm), until first light (about 3:30 am, changing daily). They add more prayer time, charity, reading the Qu’ran, practicing more kindness, no cursing, no gossiping, reflection of appreciation for all their blessings. Muslims are required to observe these rites, and it is even against the law to be seen eating during the daytime in Morocco. No one would arrest a foreigner, but non-practitioners are still encouraged to eat privately out of courtesy. People who are sick, traveling, young children, menstruating women and nursing women, are all exempt, but need to make up the lost days later when they are healthy. Even the taking of medicine invalidates the “fasting”. This is also the time that those Muslims who are able make a pilgrimage to Mecca. This trip is beyond the means of most Moroccans, though I know one person from our village making the trip this year. The real trip to Mecca, the one that counts toward the 5 “pillars”, is 2 months after Ramadan.
Of course, I am not Muslim and so no one here expects me to participate in the fasting. However, I am, and they are all just tickled and proud that I am. Why did I decide to participate? Several reasons…I am here to learn, and no one ever really learns by watching, we learn by doing. I want the feeling of solidarity with my host family and community. I want to show respect for them, their culture. As a Christian, I worship the same God, and it is good to gain a better understanding of how we all worship.
Ok, stage set, now it all begins. On Sunday night, May 5th, we learned that the moon stage criteria was not sighted, so Ramadan would not begin until Monday night. Also, on Sunday, the time changed. As I mentioned before, the time is one of the craziest things here. The government, schools, public offices, are all on one time “new” time (I call it “government” time). All the other people, even private schools, are on “old” time, an hour later. So, when I say it is 9 in the morning, my host sisters say it is 8, EXCEPT during Ramadan when the clocks all turn back to the “old” time and we are all the same.
Many business and government offices have shorter hours. This is because most Moroccans are up much of the night and so sleep more during the day. Some work in the morning, some in the afternoon. They have 5 prayer times, that shift with the sun. Today the first call was at 3:35 (Fajr), then 12:14 (Dhuhr), 15:58 (Asr), 19:11 (Maghrib) and 20:41 (Isha). So, they are always praying at those times, or they make it up later in the day. During Ramadan, the Isha is extended to an hour and many more people go to the Mosque than normal. My family prays at home.
So, in practice, many just stay up all night. They break the fast with a date and a glass of milk, then pray, then eat a big spread, heavily laden with sweets, often a traditional soup called Harira, and sometimes something more substantial, such as a tagine and there is usually fresh juice. After eating they go out, the men for coffee, the women visit each other at their homes, then they go to the Mosque for the long prayer, then home to eat “dinner” around 11:00. At midnight they may go to bed, or out again until the pre-dawn meal, around 3:00. Then sleep after the early prayer. Some people, yours truly included, do not do the all-night party. After the Iftur (first evening meal), yours truly checks emails, until my host sister drops in for a visit. I try to get into bed by 9:00-10:00. I read until I fall asleep (my goal is to finish the Qu’ran before the end of Ramadan, but it is a tough read), get up and eat at 3:15, go back to bed until 7:00. I think most of the construction workers and school children are on this timing.
The first night, before the fasting, two darling girls appeared at my door with two loaves of bread, a Ramadan gift, for Auntie Yamna, my landlady. I was given a half a loaf, which I enjoyed with my first Suhor (pre-dawn meal), to which I added peanut butter, olive oil, a banana and milk. I have been very methodical about my eating and activities, so as to not fall off the wagon. The first day passed with no real hunger or thirst, but I was conservative about my physical work and time in the sun. It is like a busy day at home, when you say, “oh, I think I forgot to eat today.” And then you need to stop yourself before getting something.
All year long I have been hearing about the feasts of the Iftur (also the word for breakfast, in this case, truly breaking the fast). I was invited to my host sister’s house. I was surprised that it was just the one household, not the twins sister’s family as well. Indeed, there was enough food for several families. There were 3 different savory pastries, misimmon and breads, at least 5 different honeyed pastries, including the requisite shebekia. There were dates, milk, coffee and tea. There was a tagine of tomato and eggs and harira, the thick soup made from meat, tomatoes and more. After the dishes were done, we enjoyed a homemade juice of orange and carrot. There is the ceremonial progression from the first date and milk to sweets and several bread/pastry options, to harira to tagine to juice.
The second night I joined the twins’ sister’s family, equally wonderful. I’ve been back to my first sister’s home, and two nights ago, joined the cutest couple. One of my postmen is a young man who speaks English and calls me when I get mail. He and his wife, a French Teacher in a nearby town, called to invite me. Their home was nice and their table also laden with so many wonderful foods. They tell me they get up at 2 to eat their suhor, and it is a big meal of chicken or similar. We watched the people in Mecca on the TV and talked about some of the customs. They share the “Moroccan dream”, same as many young people, to leave Morocco. Perhaps Canada, France or Germany (he speaks German). They have a 6-month-old daughter that lives with her mother in Fes, because they both work. They only see her on weekends and holidays. The rest of the evenings I have spent at home. One night, having the family for tacos again. Even though this was requested by my host sister, only 3 of them came. So, I am eating taco soup every night.
I continue to walk the family children to school and stop at the family hanoot after work every day, in addition to garden time and my sister’s nightly visit. I continue to teach the English class at the Nour Association every Wednesday and the Life Skills for Girls program every Saturday. Though attendance is down on these activities, due to Ramadan.
As with most businesses, my hours at the Dar Shbaab are modified. Since there is no lunch period needed, we are only open 1-6. Some businesses open at their normal time, the construction workers seem to all be starting at 7:00, the schools start an hour later. Those mostly close earlier than normal. Others start later, getting their sleep in the morning. The biggest difference is the coffee shops, where the men normally hang out at sidewalk tables all day. They are all closed during daylight hours. Some, like the marché (produce and meat) seem to be open normal hours. Bakeries are open, but my bread lady does not make my favorite during Ramadan. I am told the town is very active at night, but I have not ventured out yet.
The Dar Shbaab is dead. Even though there are lots of kids in the gardens outside, they are not coming in. Even the leaders of the various programs are not showing up, Music, Art, Theater. Still, I put together programs in case some come in. Today I will have a nice one for National Tolerance Day, partnering with my “camping” Khalid. During these slow times I use wordsearch puzzles as my primary English activity, it works whether I have 1 or 10. This slow time has given the Director and I time to work, with the help of the older English speakers, on a summer program and more.
I am also now working in the family garden every morning. I finally overcame the communication barrier well enough to understand why we were not watering, despite many requests. It turns out there is no spigot, nor hose, as I was told before. We need to carry water from the house in buckets. It is not a big deal and a few survivors of the lack of water are making a comeback. I replanted other areas.
My first Moroccan name is Miskina (poor thing) and my middle name is Shuma (shame!). Haha! Only half kidding. Well, I do make lots of mistakes, but none as big as this one. I am humiliated! I pruned the family grapevine, and I do not see one single cluster forming. Talk about wanting to crawl in a whole.
I experienced my first full day and night without using the heater. The last two nights I even slept with the window open. No coat needed. It is finally consistently comfortable, though I know hot weather is coming. It is already pretty hot in the south, so they say. I was thinking I might be losing weight, because my pants were loose, but then I realized this is because I am only wearing one layer of pants.