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?

 

The Wedding Post

After all those posts about my fiancé and about wedding preparations, it looks like I completely abandoned my blog during the actual wedding.  Better late than never!

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“Kiss me on the cheek so you don’t mess up my lipstick!”

We got legally married first, at the Central African Embassy.  This step was very informative because Chancellor read all of the laws concerning marriage in the Central African Republic at the beginning of the ceremony.  We learned that if my husband and I want to move, he must choose the house.  If he is unable choose the house, I may do so.  If neither of us can, our children may choose.  And if even the children are unable to choose a house, the dog may be permitted to do so.  Luckily, the “livret de famille” includes space for the names of ten children, so probably at least one of our ten future kids will be decisive enough to choose where we should live.

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This is a like game of tug-of-war, men vs. women.

The next day, we got married in our church.

Prayer

For this part, we wore traditional wedding clothes.  The pastor who had first introduced us was the one who married us, and she gave a wonderful sermon about how our relationship had grown.  Afterward, we went home to change into our party outfits for the soirée.

We vowed to always match our outfits, among other things.

We then rode our motorcycle off into the night, finding ourselves in sunny Oualidia the next day (just kidding, we took the bus).

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“This photo was supposed to be of me!”

The benefit of writing this post almost a year late is that I can confirm that we still love each other!  And if you could see what I was wearing in the above photo, it did in fact match what my husband was wearing.  We were serious about those vows.

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!

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!

Alhamdulillah: The Story of my Baptism

For my readers that know me, you may or may not yet be aware that I was baptized in the Atlantic Ocean last Saturday at sunset.  Maybe you also know that I’ve been very interested in religion for quite a while.  I started going to church on and off in college, and chose religious studies as my specialization even though it was a bit of a stretch for my major.  I also went to several mosques and Muslim gatherings with a friend to get some idea of Islam, which led me to study in Morocco for six months last year.  While I was in the town of Ifrane in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, I became very involved in the Christian community located there; I went to every service and bible study, I joined the choir, and I was the communications manager of the Interfaith Alliance.  Before joining that community, I had always been an outsider in any religious community, but in Ifrane I benefited from the fact that no one knew me when I arrived – or knew that I wasn’t really Christian!

ImageIfrane: cold but inspiring

The pastor in Ifrane ended up having a huge influence on my life.  The way she approaches Christianity and bible study in the context of a Muslim country is fascinating and extremely diplomatic, and particularly meaningful to me since I had a very close Muslim friend in college.  She also does amazing work with refugees and with women’s weaving communities here.  She was the one who first got me interested in working with refugees and migrants, which is now my career aspiration.  So after leaving Morocco and the Christian community in Ifrane last December, I felt like I was leaving behind something very important to me.

ImageThis was at the last meeting of the church before winter break.  I’ll let you try and figure out what was going on yourself.

And then I got a job last June that allowed me to come back to Morocco again, and to a Christian workplace at that.  However, I felt that I wasn’t completely “walking in the light” (see 1 John!) because I knew that I still wasn’t actually Christian.  Thankfully, several factors aligned themselves perfectly into one wonderful weekend, when I was baptized by the pastor of Ifrane in the ocean just south of Rabat, sponsored in my baptism by my wonderful boyfriend, and supported by a community of believers that has taught me so much about Christianity and about life in Morocco, and just life in general, in this past year.  So anyway, here is what it means to me to follow Christ!

ImageA pretty nice spot for a baptism, don’t you think?

Community – Being Christian requires being part of a community, which means that there are always people who are there for you.  Going to meet with familiar people on a regular basis to sing, talk, and listen to advice is a good reminder of what is really important.  Communities can be formed around a lot of different shared experiences, but church communities are something that can be found nearly everywhere in the world.

ImageThis baptism happened exactly one year ago.  Who will it be next year, I wonder?!

Guidance – I started taking notes on sermons so that I could better follow French sermons, but I kept doing it for English sermons too because I found that the advice given is often relevant to something in my own life.  Each Sunday I feel like I have a new bit of information about life that helps guide me through the challenges of the coming week.  You can probably see that from my last few blog entries!

ImageI bet I got some good guidance from this talk – that man in the back surely did.

Encouragement – I very easily feel down if I get discouraged about something.  Church, the bible, and religious communities are all ways to find encouragement and to find a way to believe in yourself.  It’s great to be able to think of life’s challenges as part of God’s plan for you to grow as a person.

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Don’t worry, just dance to a contemporary version of the Messiah!

Spirit of Learning – Just as sermons provide guidance, they also provide food for thought about ourselves, our fellow Christians, and about those who are totally different from us.  For example, this Sunday’s sermon centered on the story of Ruth, who was given assistance in supporting herself and her mother-in-law despite being a foreigner.  This is a reminder to think of those who we might otherwise look down upon or think of as too different from ourselves to understand.

IMG_1948I bet my mom would want to learn more about this women’s weaving cooperative in Midelt, Morocco

Salvation through Belief, not Ritual – As I was reading this over, I realized that most of these arguments could be make for other religions.  But Christianity in particular tells us that we must focus on our belief in Christ as our saviour, as opposed to following rituals or rules.  It doesn’t matter if you eat the wrong thing or forget to go to church; the point is that we should try to be the best people we can be, and that Jesus’s life is a guide for how to do so.

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MKs and Committed Knitters

The term “MK” sounds a whole lot like some sort of weapon, but in this context it actually means Missionary Kids.  Before coming to my current job, I had never met a missionary or the child of one.  I always thought of missionaries as ignorant people, kind of in the category as colonizers; people who come to an “uncivilized” population and try to convince people to be more like white men.  Missionary work also conjured images of religious fanatics knocking on doors and telling people they have to convert if they want to be saved.  However, I gained a new perspective on this profession from my roommate here, who grew up in Congo and Cameroon while her parents set up churches there.  The way she explained their work to me, it actually sounded a whole lot like what my mom does, but with knitting and crocheting instead of with Christianity.

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I bet this makes you want to wear hand-knit sweaters, too.

My mom goes to a women’s prison once a week to introduce the inmates to the world of knitting.  Whoever wants to participate can, so no one is ever forced to take part, but the group grows as the women tell their friends about it.  These women would otherwise have no exposure to the wide world of fiber arts, and it helps give them something wholesome to do and a project to accomplish.  If they are successful, they have a finished product to wear or give as a gift, and they continue to spread the word of crocheting by wearing what they made.

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I made this scarf as my first project as crocheter.

My roommate described her father’s work in a similar way.  He goes to an area where there is no organized or monotheistic religion, and starts by making contacts in the local population and telling them about Christianity without forcing them to do anything.  Hopefully, someone chooses to convert, and then becomes a sort of spokesperson, telling his friends about his experience.  Once the group grows, they create a church and bible school, which gives people a place to come and participate or even lead classes and services, a community to support them, and a connection to a global community.  If they leave their home country, they can connect with Christians elsewhere in the world.

I still wasn’t convinced that missionary work makes any sense after my roommate described it to me, so I asked someone from sub-Saharan Africa what he thinks of it.  I wondered what he thinks of white missionaries in Africa or in his own country.  I was a bit surprised to hear that he is very much in favor of missions.  He explained to me that he thinks that if you have a good experience with the church and feel that God has guided you in life and has given you support, both within yourself and because of a religious community, then it is natural to want to share that experience with other people who have not yet had the opportunity to be exposed to it.  For some people, that experience of personal fulfillment and the sense of community centers on a church, the bible, and word of God.  And for others, it centers on Ravelry.com, Weekend Knitting, and being warm in the winter.

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My personal calling in the world of fiber arts is that of a model.