Fasting

It has now been about two weeks of Ramadan.  What always strikes me during Islam’s holy month is the solidarity between people in Morocco and how much fasting brings people together.  More or less everyone is fasting in the day, so everybody shares the same feelings of thirst, hunger, or sleepiness, along with the same traditions of breaking the fast at night.  I usually choose to fast for several days each Ramadan so that I can feel that same sense of unity with those around me.  That way, when I walk to work, I know that it is not just me who skipped breakfast, but an entire community.

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Breakfast/dinner of dreams

Fasting is not specific to Islam.  During the past few days, quite a few of my students have asked me about whether Christians fast.  We do occasionally have days of fasting at my church, sometimes related to important dates, and sometimes just to reflect about a specific topic as a group, but it rarely lasts more than a week.  Another local church is currently having a “year of fasting,” where each month the members are encouraged to give up one thing that distracts them, such as television, facebook, or coffee.

I looked up fasting in some other religious groups, and found that Coptic Christians in Egypt fast for the forty days of Lent by giving up all animal products, or basically becoming vegan for that period.  Fasting is required at different periods in Judaism, Bahaism, and Catholicism.  The purpose of fasting during Ramadan for Muslims is to remove mundane desires to increase spiritual reflection, and for all Muslims to feel what it is like to be poor and to increase charity.

According to the bible, fasting is not necessarily about food. We can read in the book of Isaiah what a fast should be: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)  This sort of fast requires charity, generosity, and a fight against oppression, but mentions nothing about food other than that it should be shared.

The New York Times recently published this article on the health benefits of fasting, unrelated to religion.  Apparently, regular periods of fasting can promote weight loss and longevity.

As you can see, there are a lot of different methods of fasting and reasons to do so.  Have you ever fasted?  In what way?

 

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Things I Wish more Moroccans Knew about Morocco

A while ago, I wrote a list of things I wish more Americans knew about Morocco.  Here’s the complementary post; what I wish more Moroccans knew about their own country.

  1. There are a lot of foreigners.  There are not just French expats, but Americans, Africans, Asians, and other Europeans.  And not all of them are rich, contrary to popular opinion.
  2. It is incredibly difficult for those foreigners to get visas.  My explanations of what I have to go through to renew my residency are met by surprised looks from Moroccans, and knowing nods from other foreigners.  I heard that the majority of French expats in Morocco just don’t bother getting visas, and leave every few months in order to continue living on a tourist visa.
  3. There is a big Christian presence in Morocco.  There are churches in every major city, and there are several different denominations represented.

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    Seats for the wedding guests at our church

  4. It is much easier and much more useful to learn French than to learn Arabic.  I came to Morocco with the intention of learning more Arabic, but ended up learning French out of necessity.  Speaking French has allowed me to make friends, communicate with others, and be a better English teacher.
  5. It is not dangerous to walk by yourself in Casablanca.  I walk to work every day, and have never felt unsafe (although I do often get annoyed by the traffic and by men).  I am occasionally told that I should not walk, but I think it’s actually safer than putting my life in the hands of an impatient taxi driver.

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    This Meknes taximan was ready to pick us up, but we wanted to walk.

  6. There are a lot of wonderful things that Morocco has that the United States does NOT have.  For example, vacation homes for big companies, maternity leave and generous vacation day policies,  cheap organic produce, and cleaning ladies who will clean your apartment once a week for a small price.  Which explains my first point, that there are a lot of foreigners.

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    Also, beautiful weather

Things I Wish More Americans Knew about Morocco

When I was in the U.S. over the summer, I got a lot of questions about my life in Morocco.  Here are some things I wish more people knew about where I live.

1.  Morocco is not just desert; it also has ocean, forest, and mountains.

Beautiful snowy Ifrane

Beautiful snowy Ifrane

2.  Casablanca the city is nothing like Casablanca the movie.  Rick’s café was actually filmed in Hollywood.  I’ve showed the Casablanca trailer in several of my English classes, and every one of my students has been surprised that there is a movie about their city.

3.  Morocco is a developing country, but you can still find outrageous displays of wealth.

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Morocco Mall: one stop shopping for all the designer brands

4.  Morocco is very peaceful.  When there are protests, they mostly consist of men sitting on old cardboard boxes in front of parliament.

5.  Morocco has a more generous maternity leave than the U.S. (which isn’t hard, since the U.S. has no paid maternity leave).  Of course, jobs are harder to find in Morocco, and more women work at home.

6.  There is a Christian minority in Morocco, and a large network of churches.  Most of the churches were started by French people during colonization, but now most of the members are African.

 

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Rabat’s Catholic Church

7.  Moroccans are extremely welcoming and hospitable – but that doesn’t mean that racism doesn’t exist here.  Finding work and getting documentation can be close to impossible for a lot of African migrants, despite recent government reforms.  I myself am having trouble getting the basic documents from my employer to apply for my residency card, so imagine how difficult it can be for someone who doesn’t hold an American passport or have the special status of being a native English speaker.

8.  The fruits and vegetables (and eggs and olive oil) taste quite a bit better here.  Everything is organic, and food comes more directly from the farm.  I swear, even the carrots are slightly sweeter in Morocco.

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Fruits and vegetables will always be my favorite thing about Morocco.
I hope my readers will something new from this post.  Anyway, I’m going to go eat a fresh pomegranate.

Empty or Full

The other day, I was reading a travel blog written by one of my coworkers.  She had visited both Sacre Coeur and the Hassan II Mosque in one day, and was commenting on how grand they both are.

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The blog entry detailed how beautiful the two structures are, although the cathedral is no longer used and is falling apart.  It ended by saying that it is a shame that the mosque is more elaborate and impressive despite being for an “empty religion.”  After many Islamic studies courses in college, I find this statement surprising and ignorant, especially coming from someone who chose to work and live in a Muslim country with students and coworkers of different faiths. Although I doubt she reads my blog, I am going to tell you, my dear readers, some fascinating things about the Islamic tradition.

Poetry and music – You’ve probably heard of Rumi, the Persian poet.  If you haven’t, look him up!  His poems remind me of the book of psalms; a lot of them sound like love songs, but are about God instead of a man or woman.

Language – The Quran is written in classical Arabic, which is a beautiful and complex language. Even native Arabic speakers have to study it for many years to grasp its many rules and structures, but those who can truly speak or write it can produce wonderful songs, stories, and poetry.

Islamic law – Many scholars have worked together to produce Islamic law and the correct sayings of the prophet.  I think it is amazing that one can read exactly what the prophet said, along with who reported what he said, when it happened, and where, and that we can trust that this information was researched for years.

Science and math – The schedule of daily prayers is very complex.  It involves finding the exact times the sun rises, sets, and is at it’s highest every day.  I also find it interesting that there are set periods of time in which to pray. Many Christians set aside a certain time of the day for prayer and reflection so as to make sure to stay on track, which is much the same idea, though less rigid.

Some Islamic art on display in Londo

Some Islamic art on display in London

I firmly believe that one can appreciate the gifts given to us by other religions while still being steadfast in our own beliefs.  And you never know; you might just learn something new about your own traditions and values by learning about those of others!

Everything is Amazing but Nobody is Impressed

How is it that we can connect with people all over the world using internet and phones, something that was unheard of not long ago, and not be fascinated by the technology every time we use it?  Why do those miraculous things wear off and become a normal part of life; and even annoy us if the connection is slightly slower than usual?

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This impressive photo was taken in Dharamsala, India.

I often feel guilty that I am not more excited by my own life, which one of my mom’s friends in the U.S. deemed to be just like a movie (I think that movie would be called Casablanca….)  I am no longer impressed by the fact that both my boyfriend and I have jobs in the same city, exactly where we both wanted to be.  Instead, I am frustrated by my commute to work, how far his apartment is from mine, and that I don’t really like his kitchen.  I spent months longing to be more involved in my church, and what’s more, to improve my level of French to the point where I would be able to understand sermons and bible study.  Yesterday I was at an event at church and understood all of it, but was bored with the topic and wanted to leave.  So what’s wrong?  Am I taking God’s gifts for granted?  Have I forgotten about what is important?

This impressive photo was taken in Vienna.

This impressive photo was taken in Vienna.

This weekend, in need of spiritual guidance, I discovered the text of a sermon by the pastor at the Rabat International Church about this very topic (http://rabatchurch.org/sermons/everything’s-amazing-and-nobody’s-impressed/).  He wrote that we can’t always be impressed by everything or expect everything to always go right; that would be exhausting.  But if we are making an effort to learn and grow, we’ll have those moments where we realize how wonderful things can be and are truly thankful for what we have.

This impressive photo was taken on the way to Zanzibar.

This impressive photo was taken on the way to Zanzibar.

I certainly don’t feel thankful when I wake up at 5:30am, when a child coughs in my face and I know I’m going to get another cold, or when the tram lines are down and I’m already late for something.  But there are also the moments when I go for runs in perfect whether, when I can’t help but laugh with my students, or when I drink avocado juice outside on a Saturday afternoon.  I guess I can’t always be impressed or even totally thankful, but I do need to remember that I still have plenty of those good moments.

This impressive photo was taken in Utah.

This impressive photo was taken in Utah.

Share, Please!

Last weekend, one of the pastors of the church I go to was telling me about a book he is reading on Christian theology.  The book explained how religious practices often come before beliefs in peoples’ lives, meaning that they go through the actions of religious practices and then connect them to beliefs instead of practicing according to belief.  This means that we preach what we practice, instead of the other way around.

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The Catholic church in Rabat

This certainly holds true in my own personal path to faith.  I started by going through the motions of being Christian, such as attending church and getting involved in church activities, before actually becoming Christian.  After a while of acting like a believer, I began to realize that I did actually believe.  Some of what led me to that point was that I enjoyed the practice of the religion even without the belief, but then realized that believing was an extension of those practices, and in return made them much more meaningful.

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The Orthodox church in Rabat

This is also interesting from the point of view of a teacher.  Children may not support their actions with belief until later ages, but they can get to that point by practicing a certain action.  For example, maybe it takes many years of being told to share before a child comes to believe that sharing truly is the right thing to do.  But hopefully after a year of “share, please!” multiple times every single day, my students will start to think that it’s a good idea.

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Sacre Coeur, the Catholic church in Casablanca

To give another personal example, I was brought up vegetarian, although it was my sister who had qualms with eating meat.  Once I reached high school, I started to think about why I didn’t eat meat, and realized that I believed that it is healthier, more economical, and kinder to animals not to eat meat.  It’s true that I am now an omnivore, but I still believe that it is better not to eat too much meat, and much prefer to cook vegetarian meals for myself.

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We shared some bites.

The idea that practices come before beliefs shows us that a lot of what we believe now is not based on what we decided to believe, but on what we were taught to do by our parents, teachers, and mentors.  I find this encouraging as a teacher, as I hope that after telling my kids every single day to throw out their own trash and eat their vegetables, they will grow up to believe that they should be independent, tidy, and health-conscious.  It could also be seen from the opposite perspective; many conflicts begin because people have clashing fundamental beliefs.  I guess my objective as a teacher is to figure out which practices lead to which beliefs and make a point of instituting those in my class.  Because everything really is much better when shared!

My Own Report Card

I just gave out report cards to my students to track their progress in their first semester of school.  I don’t think anyone is going to give me a grade on what I’ve learned this fall and on my adjustment to post-college life, but I wrote notes for a final essay anyway.  Here is what I have learned in the first semester of my freshman year of life.

  • Everything costs money (except walking).  This is a lot less of a problem if you are getting a regular paycheck.
  • Working 40+ hours a week is really tiring – but it makes you truly appreciate the weekends.
  • Staying healthy takes time (time to exercise, rest, form positive social groups, and buy, chop, wash, and cook vegetables)
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    These flowers are healthy.

  • I looooove to cook.  I like using seasonal vegetables, I like making up recipes, and I like baking bread.  I don’t, however, like following recipes or instructions.
  • I am Christian.  I was a bit confused about what I believed throughout college, so it’s nice to have figured this out.
  • It is really nice to have Christian coworkers because you never have to defend your beliefs.  However, I think it is also nice to have friends of other religions.
  • I love learning languages.  I think Standard Arabic is one of the most beautiful languages, and I also really like speaking French.
  • My sister is really cool.  I also knew that already, but in this past year we’ve had really good trips to visit each other abroad.
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We also take super cool pictures of ourselves.

    • I’m really thankful to have a roommate.  I like being alone sometimes, but I much prefer to be alone together.
    • I really like to run, and feel a lot better about everything after running.  I already knew this, but the fact that I’ve been able to continue to run regularly has been wonderful.
    • I need to complain more.  My roommate complained to anyone who would listen about how cold our apartment is, and someone anonymously gave her a huge comforter.  I, however, continued to suffer silently.
    • I’m never going to be an amazing singer, even though I do enjoy singing.  That’s okay, I guess.
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    Who wouldn’t want to be able to sing like these guys? They’re certainly enjoying it.

  • I like listening to stories from my students, whether they are adults or kindergarteners.  I don’t really like disciplining them though, so I think I am best suited to working with small groups.
  • I really like Morocco.  I like my friends here, I like the tram, I like my church, I like the ocean, I like the stores on my street, I like the architecture, and I like avocado juice.  I am very happy living here and do not want to leave, at least for a while.
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    Waiting for the tram isn’t so bad when it’s this sunny.

In three more days I’ll be on winter break, and in only one my mom will arrive!  I’ve got to rest up so that I’m ready for the second semester of my freshman year of life.