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

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.

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.

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.

ImageSee, I didn’t make this up.

Why I Like Living in Morocco

Yesterday we had a tea for just the ladies, and the seasoned expats told us about their experiences.  Some experiences were quite negative (catcalls, etc.), so at the end, they each explained what they do like about Morocco.  I’ve only lived in Morocco for a total of about six months and two weeks cumulatively, but I definitely also have an answer to that question.  After all, I did choose to come back here…just six months wasn’t enough!  So here is my own list.

  • Friendliness: for the most part, Moroccans are willing to help.  If you are lost, you can ask for directions and someone will walk with you to your destination.  Or if your gas tank runs out, your concierge will bring you a new one so you don’t have to carry it up two flights of stairs.

Image I bet this camel would help me out.

  • Religion: Morocco is a Muslim country, but it is very accepting of other faiths and other cultures.  Most Moroccans seem to have an interest in learning more about religion (whether it is their own or another), and consider it to be an important part of life.  This often brings people together in discussions or allows people to share their culture in a positive way.
  • Language: Arabic is a beautiful language, even if you might say that Moroccans don’t really speak it!  Moroccan Arabic is pretty fun to speak anyway, because it’s basically all consonants.  I also really love French, but cannot understand the French accent.  Morocco is the perfect place to practice speaking and listening without being ridiculed.  I originally came to Morocco with the intention of learning Arabic and came out with more French, but I’m always happy to be learning languages.

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 The tram is a good place to learn how to say things like “the following stop is…” in Arabic and French.

  • Diversity: Morocco is diverse in culture, geography, and traditions.  There are Berbers, Arabs, Africans, and Westerners living just in the city of Casablanca.  There are Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and several sects within each of those that are strongly represented.  There are beaches, deserts, mountains, and ski resorts.  There is always more to see and more to learn.

ImageSnow covering the beautiful town of Ifrane

  • And last but not least, I had a great experience here last time.  I met wonderful people, traveled a lot, and learned more than I could have imagined.  And like I said, there is always more to learn.

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