25 July, 2012
Just in time for Ramadan, the annual Muslim fast, the weather in Morocco got incredibly hot and dry. With winds blowing off the sahara and bringing dust and sand storms and the sun beating down on the believers as they go about their daily lives – albeit with a couple of major adjustments – no food or drink shall be consumed from dusk til dawn.
This is the hottest Ramadan in nearly 4o years and already you can see it having an effect on people even though it just began a few days ago. One might say, so it’s Ramadan, take the days off – but that’s not an option for most people. My friend owns a guest house in Fez and he was griping a bit about his staff during Ramadan. They insist on working, but of course, because it’s hot and they are fasting – they are unpleasant to be around – grumpy. To hear him tell it was rather funny as he’s very English and not a Muslim in any way, shape, or form.
Of course, he and most of the other expats in Fez have all flown the coop. The truth is, for expats, it’s the most unpleasant time to be in Morocco because everything is closed during the day, you can’t eat in public without making yourself a pariah, and people are generally slow at their jobs and more unpleasant than usual during the daylight hours. So, most of the expats leave. I don’t blame them.
For me, it’s a little different. I have a Moroccan wife and so I have a huge Moroccan extended family and I get to see the beauty and joy of Ramadan. Non-Muslims see what I describe above and think of Ramadan as an awful time, but for Muslims, it’s a time of shared sacrifice, affirming identity, and, like Christmas for those in the West, a time for family to come together, share meals, laugh, and love one another.
I fast while I’m in Morocco and the truth is, there is a satisfaction to it that is hard to describe unless you’ve fasted before – and even if you have, unless you’ve fasted with 1/5th of the human population of planet earth at the same time – it’s a little hard to comprehend. Admittedly, I’m not saying prayers five times a day and my spirituality and beliefs are very different than those of the people who are fasting all around me – but as we fast together, we are family. All of us – all 1.5 billion of us who are fasting these days of Ramadan.
I go running with some friends and because you are supposed to continue your life as it is during the rest of the year, we run during Ramadan too. We meet at 6 pm and excercise together for an hour. It’s still hot then and we’ve gone through the day with no food or drink, but as we run, there is a shared bond that goes beyond even just fasting. As one friend put it – we are exercising with God’s extra approval. I hope so, because the hour following the run while I waited for the dusk is little short of excruciating.
The best part of Ramadan, though is the Iftar, breaking the fast at the end of the day with family and friends. Juice, dates, plenty of water, coffee and tea (coffee is perhaps the hardest for me to give up as it is an integral part of starting my day) – sweets that are special to this time of the year, cakes, tajines, Berber pizzas, and more. The night is a glorious time of celebration as everyone stays awake longer and enjoys the freedom to eat, drink, and be merry.
The worst part of Ramadan is if you have to get anything done during the day. Lucky for me, I don’t. Right now, I don’t have to go anywhere, do anything, get anything printed, certified, or stamped. Thank God for that.
And, thank God that this year, I’m leaving a bit early so that I can go sailing again in Greece. Ramadan is great and I’m happy to participate while I’m here – but, you know, like Vegas – what happens in Morocco, stays in Morocco and that’s the way I feel about Ramadan this year.
The best part is – there’s a pass for those who are traveling – so I don’t even have to feel guilty about it. Not that I would…but this way my wife won’t be mad at me.