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.
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.
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.