Monthly Archives: July 2013

July 20, 2013

I’s been about 10 days of Ramadan so far and my fasting experiment only lasted five. My original plan had been to eat breakfast as normal and then not eat again until the evening call to prayer. While I have no doubt at all when approached from a spiritual aspect fasting is an important experience shared by millions of Muslims all around the world.

When you’re Johanna trying it for the first time with little spiritual or religious impetus, however, it becomes an exercise in making yourself as miserable, lethargic, and non-productive as possible. So after five days of near-constant food rage, I called it quits. I think it’s healthy to try new things, to view them from your host country’s perspective. I also think it’s healthy to realize when something isn’t working for you and to go ahead and give it up, even if the goal you set for yourself hasn’t been met.

That’s not to say that Ramadan hasn’t been a good experience so far. Liz and I have been over to our host family’s house several times to break fast with them, eating haraira (a kind of tomato-based soup with chickpeas), dates, shebackiya (cookies dripping with honey), and a whole range of deliciousness. Yesterday we also stayed for dinner, which came at about 11 p.m., and was the traditional Friday couscous, but eaten at night instead of for lunch.

Liz and I also had our own breaking fast with a bunch of the other volunteers from our region. Somehow we packed seven other people into our apartment for the weekend and enjoyed each others company and some pretty tasty food, if I do say so myself.

Our first night, we made tomato soup from scratch and grilled cheese, because oddly enough, processed cheese singles are one of the three types of cheese we can get in town. It was delicious and tasted like America.

Tomato soup and grilled cheese.

Tomato soup and grilled cheese.

The second night, when the majority of people were there, we spent the entire day cooking and ended up with an Indian-Tex-mex fusion feast. I made a turkey tiki masala and stovetop naan. Liz made the spice mix for the turkey and a delicious apple crisp. One of the other volunteers made a ridiculously good tamale pie. Other volunteers brought a watermelon and cookies.

Naan! It even looks real!

Naan! It even looks real!

Turkey Tiki Masala! With a measuring cup as a ladle.

Turkey Tiki Masala! With a measuring cup as a ladle.

Mostly it was a chance for all of us to get together and enjoy being together.

I think one of my favorite Ramadan experiences so far happened last night, during our midnight couscous party with the host family. After dinner, the conversation turned to religion, as religion is such an important part of life here in Morocco. We were talking about some Christian traditions with our oldest host sister, when she goes into the other room and brings us a beautiful copy of the Koran, which is the Muslim holy book, written in Arabic script, Arabic transcription (Arabic in English letters), and English. She said, “My father bought this for you a long time ago, but he was afraid to give it to you.”

That moment, for me, is exactly how sharing of faith should be done. The book wasn’t forced on us when we first arrived. We didn’t feel obligated to take it. They waited until we were part of their family and then presented it not as “If you don’t accept this book and its teachings you’re going to Hell,” as I have previously experienced, but more “This is important to us and we want to share it with you because we think you are important.” That is what it is to feel loved.

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July 10, 2013

Ramadan started last night at sunset. One of the major holidays in the Muslim calendar, Ramadan is marked by its obligation for Muslims to fast – no food or water between sunrise and sunset, which during the summer here means about 16 hours of not putting anything in your mouth.

And as if on cue, the weather here in T– has finally decided to act like summer and go up into the 100s. More about that in a minute.

Not that I can in any way pretend to know a lot about this month-long holiday, being a foreigner here both in terms of nationality and religion, but for those of you who only have seen the word “Ramadan” printed on your wall calendars without being really sure what it is, here’s my rough description of the month:

Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, so its start date is moved up every year by a certain number of days. Ramadan doesn’t start until the moon is spotted in its correct shape by the proper religious authorities. Here we thought the first full day of fasting would be Tuesday, but the moon said Wednesday was the day.

Unlike Christmas or Easter, which in the United States have kind of been co-opted as gift-giving parties, the main point of Ramadan for pretty much everyone in Morocco remains spiritual. It’s a chance to clean out your body and your mind for the year ahead, as one of my English students described to me last night. Everyone is required to fast during daylight hours (no food, no water, some people even say don’t brush your teeth), unless if they are pregnant, menstruating, a child below the age of puberty, or ill.

Although Morocco made the time change in the spring, on Sunday we all set our clocks back to “old” time, and will switch back again at the end of Ramadan. Break fast comes at night, around 8 p.m. followed by dinner and then an early morning meal (around 4 a.m. or earlier).

Most Muslims I’ve talked to so far have told me that whatever good acts you do during Ramadan are multiplied, but also are the bad things you do, so people try to be extra good and many people make it a point to read the entire Koran during the month.

There are some specific dates and special events during Ramadan, I think, but I’ll write about those as I come across them.

Now to my dilemma. I’m well aware this holiday is a very big deal for people here. It’s something they take very seriously. And knowing that, I have been struggling with whether to try to fast alongside them, as I know that for myself it would be more of an experiment and not a spiritual thing. Although most people are happy and excited when you tell them you are going to fast, I’m a bit uncomfortable with the knowledge that this is not a light undertaking that I would be taking on with a much less serious and soulful attitude.

In addition, it’s hot here. And not drinking water is something I’m not even marginally ready to take on.

So, as many people have suggested only doing a partial day fast to see how I manage it, I’ve decided on a compromise. My site mate Liz, wants to attempt the full fasting, and I don’t want to make things harder on her either.

What I have decided is to eat my normal breakfast in the morning, as I usually accomplish that before she wakes up anyway. I will then fast through lunch and eat dinner once the sun goes down. I will continue to drink water throughout the day. I feel like this will allow me to still be moderately functional during the day, supportive of Liz, and respectful of others who are fasting around me.

With the fasting, daily activity during Ramadan gets cut way back, with most people staying up later at night and then sleeping longer during the day. My English classes at the Dar Chabab have told me they want to continue having class during Ramadan, but I’m not sure if that will happen or not. I’ll just show up for a few days and see if anyone else does.

Anticipating quite a bit of free time ahead of me, I have set forward a few goals to last me until I go to summer camp at the end of July and life will once again become busy.

During Ramadan, I will:

  • exercise daily
  • write for an hour a day
  • read through as much of the Wheel of Time series as possible (14 books, all 700 pages)
  • study Darija every day

I’m also trying to readjust my sleep schedule to be better prepared for summer camp, where they follow a more Ramadan-friendly schedule of eating dinner at midnight. My bedtime is currently 10 p.m. I’ve got to train myself up.

And as a last note, it’s my mom’s birthday today! Happy Birthday hugs across the ocean to you!!!


Categories: In site, Morocco | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July, all you Americans out there! And a very happy birthday to my Dad! Always gets a parade and fireworks for his birthday…

Statue of Liberty?

Statue of Liberty?

Anyway, this was my first Independence Day outside of the country, which made it seem very much like a normal Thursday. Except that I spent most of the day listening to patriotic tunes and putting together a lesson about the day for my advanced English class at the Dar Chabab. There’s only one day a year where I find myself with enough tolerance for John Phillip Sousa to actually enjoy listening to it. Or maybe it’s because I wasn’t marching a two-mile parade route in full wool uniform. My fellow marching band enthusiasts, I salute you.

The big highlight of my day today was my Dar Chabab lesson. I made up a few slides on my computer to help illustrate the history of American independence (in 5 minutes) and the various celebrations that go on throughout the day back home. Like eating cake decorated to look like your country’s flag. Also, did you know that red, white, and blue stand for hardiness, purity, and perseverance/justice? Just one of the many tidbits I found out in my research today.

Everyone loves sparklers!

Everyone loves sparklers!

One of the facts I found out about our history of independence back in January, but feel is most applicable today, is that Morocco was the first country to recognize the U.S. as a sovereign nation! Back in 1777, a little more than a year after the Declaration of Independence was signed. And Morocco continues to be one of the longest-standing relationships my home country has had, which makes me extra proud to be a Peace Corps Volunteer serving here.

Sharing the American culture...

Sharing the American culture…

So after taking my class through the pictures I had prepared, we listened to The Star Spangled Banner as a fill-in-the-blank exercise. I gave them a sheet with the lyrics to the national anthem with some of the words blanked out. Their job was to fill in the missing words.

And finally, we broke out the sparklers! I was probably way more excited for this part of the evening than they were, but we had our own sparkler party while I imagined being at the Lower Harbor in Marquette watching the fireworks go off. I contented myself with a turkey and tomato sandwich for dinner. And lemonade.

Wishing it was a hamburger.

Wishing it was a hamburger.

While you’re out watching the fireworks tonight, please think of everyone who isn’t in their home country for whatever reason. We miss it!

Categories: In site, Morocco | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

July 3, 2013

Things are supposed to slow down a lot here in the summer, but since I’m more than slightly crazy and wanting to meet my chabab (youth), I’m trying to think of fun summer activities to do at our youth center. And since I’m a major nerd, fun = board games. Which we don’t have. Yet.

My new goal for the week is to come up with a set of homemade board games so that I can start having game/activity nights. Right now we have chairs, tables and two chalk boards. Our ping-pong table is broken, so there’s not much reason to come hang out at the dar chabab like you’re supposed to.

My solution? Make the games and they will come.



Homemade checkers, brought to you in part thanks to my vast experience with salt dough projects as a child.

Homemade checkers, brought to you in part thanks to my vast experience with salt dough projects as a child.

So I’m making checker boards and pieces. Memory. We have a deck of Uno cards. I’m hoping to make chess pieces out of some salt dough I made up last week for the checker pieces. I also want to make some sort of Candyland or other type of board game, so if you have any ideas/tips/suggestions for easy-to-make and fun games, please let me know!

Throughout this process, simple art supplies have become my new best friends. There’s a lot you can do with paper and colored pencils, and thanks to a roll of clear packing tape, I can make things (almost) indestructible. I’ve spent a couple hours now just coloring and taping things, in the hope that my attempts at fun activity creation don’t fall flat. Ramadan is coming – anything could happen, right?

Categories: In site, Morocco | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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