Reflections on Ramadan

As I wrote before, this is my second Ramadan living in a Muslim country.  Last year I was so excited about it, but this year I have mostly just been feeling cranky.  Instead of writing about Tunisia, I am posting what I wrote after Ramadan ended last year in Morocco.

Ramadan in Morocco

September 4th, 2012

About two weeks ago, Morocco, along with the rest of the Muslim world, celebrated a very important holiday.  Eid al-Fitr is a celebration that the month of Ramadan has just ended.  Ramadan lasted 30 days and was a month of fasting, when food and drink are not allowed during daylight hours, and people are encouraged to think of the poor and increase kind acts.  I fasted for only 18 days of the month, but I got quite a bit of insight into Moroccan culture and religion and learned about the meaning of the month.

The first days I fasted seemed to last a lifetime.  At school on Monday of the third day of Ramadan, I took a nap in the garden during our lunch break.  I had been joking with a friend who was also fasting that we should take a nap, but once we lay down on the grass in a nice patch of shade, it was no longer a joke.  But no need to be embarrassed, because we were definitely not the only ones.  And by the end of that week, my body had become so used to abstaining from food that I looked forward to the lunch break as a time to enjoy spending time with friends without the inconvenience of waiting in the lunch line.

Although I struggled at first, I had the feeling that fasting was worth the sacrifice of food and water during the day.  It was comforting to know that when I was tired and thirsty, so was nearly everyone else around me, along with the majority of people in the country, and millions of people across the world.  When I broke the fast at restaurants or with my host family, others would tell me that it is good to fast and several people explained to me that my stomach will be healthier in the future.  In the freedom of the evening, there were concerts and a carnival in Rabat and families walking around the city, enjoying the night.  I spent more time with my host family and got a better idea of their lifestyles; waking up at three in the morning to eat a meal was quite a bonding experience.  I was particularly thankful to be in Morocco for the whole month, because the entire country had a time change just for Ramadan so that sunset would come an hour earlier.

I realize that while I celebrated Ramadan on the surface, I missed out on a lot of the activities during the month.  Prayer is an important component, and more time is spent in the mosque since an extra prayer is added in the evenings.  I was not able to fully appreciate the spiritual element, and broke my fast for about a week when my mom came to visit; I thought it would be unkind of me to tell her that we could not eat breakfast during her vacation.  I celebrated Ramadan as an outsider, but have at least increased my understanding of the month.

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After Ramadan ended, I was happy to eat lunch and drink water while walking around in the hot sun, but occasionally I miss the routine of the month.  I always knew at exactly what time I would be eating, and at least for the meal at sunset, I knew exactly which foods my host family, or any restaurant, would serve.  I got to look forward to having dates, orange juice, sugary chebakkia cookies, and hearty Moroccan soup along with a tall glass of water every evening.  Right after Ramadan ended, eating and drinking during the day seemed like a chore; once I knew it was possible to be free of material needs for so many hours it was hard to get back on a regular schedule.  Now that it has been a little longer, everything has gone back to normal (although hopefully my stomach is actually somehow healthier, as I was told it would be).  However, I will not forget the feeling of sitting down with friendly and open people who are willing to share everything they have with me and quenching our thirst by sharing our first long and satisfying sips of a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.

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