Over the past month, I’ve been surrounded by Muslims who are fasting for Ramadan. In the final days of Ramadan, I decided to join them for a day. Most students in my program tried fasting for a day or two, and I decided it was my turn.
So that morning, I woke up at the ripe hour of 2am to eat a huge breakfast with my host parents so that I would have energy throughout the day. I wasn’t really looking forward to this morning meal because I had two midterms the next morning and sleep was a precious priority. Despite this, I rolled out of bed and went downstairs to start the meal. I enjoyed this meal more thoroughly than I had anticipated – dinners at my host house are usually high energy as my host brother is bouncing off the walls and the babies are babbling from the room next door. But this meal was much more serene. I really enjoyed just sitting down with my host parents in the quiet of morning and sharing a meal together. I had some of my best Arabic conversation with them at this meal, which is shocking considering I had just woken up. I ate until I was stuffed, and then (at the prodding of my host mom) ate some more. Then I stumbled back upstairs to sneak in a couple more hours of sleep before starting my day.
Throughout the day, I certainly gained a greater understanding of how difficult it must be for Muslims to be around people who are not fasting. In the morning, I watched my classmates drink their water after my 35-minute walk to school in Moroccan heat. At lunch, I saw people digging into refrigerated fruits and thought I might lose it. Watching others eat may have well been one of the harder parts of fasting, but it gave me all the more respect for my Muslim professors, friends, and host family who fast during every day of Ramadan. I particularly gained respect for my host mom, who prepares meals for me and her three children every day while she’s fasting. I’ve always tried to be discreet while eating or drinking in front of people who are fasting, but now I think I’ll avoid it completely.
Going to school and seeing others eat wasn’t even the hardest part of my day. That came after classes. I fasted on a Thursday, and we had Friday off from school as a day for travel, so a few friends and I had planned to stay in Skhirat, a nearby beach town, for the weekend. We put off grocery shopping for the excursion until the last minute, and ended up deciding to go on the Thursday afternoon when I was fasting. So we bunched into a taxi and headed to Marjane, the local supermarket. Marjane was absolutely huge and stocked to the ceiling with any food or beverage you could think of – I hadn’t seen anything like it since leaving the United States. Normally, as a lover of food, this would be a very exciting trip for me, but as someone who was fasting, it was absolute torture.
I had never wanted to eat so badly as I did in Marjane. I was hungry. It was hot. I wanted a drink. Every single thing I looked at was tempting me like never before. I almost lost my mind when we passed the ice cream section. For the first half of our trip, I was able to keep all of these thoughts to myself, but about halfway through, I started feeling woozy. Once I noted that I was feeling faint, my friends and I hurried up our trip and got out of there right away. When I came home after grocery shopping, I recounted my experience to my host family, who had a good laugh about it because they were so familiar with the hunger associated with fasting!
After Marjane, my host mom suggested that I take a nap. I headed upstairs thinking that maybe I would, but I’d probably work on a blog post or catch up with some friends as usual, right? Nope. I hit my bed and was out like a light. Fasting really does take the energy out of you.
I woke up not long before the call to prayer, which is the signal to break fast (iftar). I helped my host mom set the table for iftar and immediately began eating as much as I could! Normally, I don’t eat a lot at iftar because of lunch, but that night, I absolutely devoured everything my host mom had made, from dates to milowi to fish. Nothing had ever tasted so good.
Now that I’ve had time to reflect on this experience, I realize that I learned a lot from it. First of all, I got the chance to participate in a religious practice that I otherwise never would have had the purpose to. Now when I return to the U.S., I’ll have such a greater appreciation of what Muslims go through every Ramadan. I almost passed out and I was only doing it for a day – they do it for a whole month!
I also think that the experience brought me closer with my host family. I now harbor a greater understanding of the patience they must have every day, and likewise, I understand how hard the struggles of fasting really are. Almost every iftar, my host dad turns to me and says, “It’s been a long day.” Now, I truly understand what kind of day he has had and how long it feels. I wanted to show solidarity with my host family and demonstrate that I’m committed to embracing their culture while I’m here, and I think that came across. They seemed to appreciate my interest in fasting for the day. I’m so glad that I decided to fast for a day – I learned a lot about patience and it ultimately brought my understanding of my host family closer to reality.
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<p>Alex Ennes is a sophomore majoring in English (Creative Writing concentration) with minors in Arabic and Criminal Justice. She comes from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where she enjoys spending her time reading and writing on the beach or taking her dogs for walks down to the dock! Alex currently lives in Philadelphia exploring her passions for reading, writing, learning languages, and playing music at Temple University, where she is also a Resident Assistant and Owl Ambassador (tour guide). Alex will be spending Summer 2017 in Morocco through IES Abroad's Rabat Summer: Francophone Studies and Arabic Language Program.</p>