Months before even coming to Morocco, I got excited when I found out that Ramadan was supposed to start a few days before the end of my program. I knew that getting to see how this holy month is observed and celebrated in Morocco would be a special experience. Ramadan officially started in Morocco this past Thursday. A couple weeks ago, my host mom and host sister started preparing large batches of cookies and food to prepare for the days of fasting and evenings of breaking the fast that were to come. We also found out the week before that the time was changing again – Morocco went back off of daylight savings time just for the month of Ramadan, so that sunset and thus the time to break the fast would be earlier. For a long time though we didn’t know when Ramadan would actually start – my host mom gave me a tentative date about a week before hand but because the start of the month all depends on the observation of the moon it wasn’t certain until the night before. I learned from my Arabic teacher that in Morocco, Ramadan isn’t declared until the new crescent of the moon can be viewed by the human eye. Because in some other countries instruments are used to observe the moon, Morocco tends to start a day or two behind other places. For me, the not knowing until the last minute added anticipation and excitement to the start of the month.
Because of Ramadan, my last three days in Rabat had a completely different atmosphere to them than the rest of the semester. During the day, all the restaurants and cafés were closed, and most of the shops didn’t open until the afternoon. The streets of the old medina were very quiet in the morning but got as busy as ever at the bakeries and produce vendors in the afternoon and evening as people prepared to break the fast. I found out that the mornings are quiet because everyone needs to sleep after staying up late every night. In the evenings I had a lot of opportunity to hang out with my host family because everyone was home, helping prepare food or watching the shows on TV made just for Ramadan. For a lot of my classmates, breaking the fast at the 7:30 sunset was the earliest they had eaten dinner all semester. For my family this was near normal dinner time but then I was not prepared for the second dinner that we ate between 11 and midnight. Between those meals, my host family would hang out in the living room watching the Ramadan specials. After second dinner we went to bed for a few hours and got up again at 3am for the suhoor meal before sunrise, and the start of the next day of fasting. It was a new and strange experience for me to get up in the middle of the night to eat a meal and it was even more special to me because it was something so normal and expected for my host family.
Like many of my classmates, I decided to fast during the couple days of Ramadan that I was there. At first my host mom didn’t want me to, arguing that I’m not used to it and it would be too hard, but she relented after I insisted that it was something I wanted to do. I didn’t want my family to have to feed me while they weren’t eating and I felt that it was an important part of fully participating in the culture and the life of my host family. It was also effective at making me think about what it must be like to be hungry on a daily basis. As I realized how distracting and tiring the need to eat is it prompted me to think about how this is a daily reality in some people’s lives.
It will be strange returning to the US where public life has not changed for Ramadan, and where the majority of the population isn’t waiting for sunset prayer to break their fast with dates and sweets called shebakkia (a honey soaked cookie), with harira (a soup) and hardboiled eggs. While I am disappointed that I didn’t get to stay for the whole month through to Eid al-Fitr at the end, I am very glad I got to spend my last few days in Rabat during Ramadan.
Ramadan Mubarak to everyone celebrating this month, wherever you are!
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<p>I am a long-time bibliophile, choir nerd, and language lover who isn't really "from" anywhere. The closest thing I have to a hometown is Ambler, Pennsylvania, where I lived throughout middle and high school, but I also lived in England and Egypt as a child, and my parents now live in Connecticut I now go to college in Washington DC!</p>