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.

Ftour

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?

 

An Ordinary American

“The thought of becoming an ordinary American again scares me. We expatriates don’t like to admit it, but being foreign makes us feel special.”

Pamela Druckerman, An American Neurotic in Paris: The New York Times, 27 Nov. 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/28/opinion/druckerman-an-american-neurotic-in-paris.html?_r=1&

One of the things I really like about living in Morocco is that I feel that I like myself better when I’m here.  I like that I am more thoughtful about my surroundings, my relationships, and my place in society.  I like having frequent opportunities to speak other languages, and I like meeting people who have backgrounds different from my own.  I like hearing about other peoples’ experiences and explaining my own path to where I am now.  I like that I can meet other Americans and realize that we have things in common, but also that we have a lot of differences.
America.

America.

It’s true, though, that when we are abroad we are in many ways extraordinary, which definitely does lend a feeling of being a little bit special.  Here are some things that make the life of an expat feel remarkable.
  • Nearly every day, at least one man tells me that I am beautiful/a princess/the love of his life/a spice girl.
  • Going shopping is much more exciting.  The foods are slightly different, and it’s fun to use new brands or even just to have packaging of American brands that are written partly in Arabic.  When I find something that I have missed, even if it’s something small (like decaf black tea) it’s really exciting.
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  • Nobody forgets who I am.  A neighbor of mine whom I had never seen before helped me replace my gas, and he knew exactly which apartment I live in.  I’m easy to remember when I’m the only foreigner.
  • If you don’t fit in, you can just chalk it up to culture.  If you don’t fit in to your neighborhood, it’s because you’re the only foreigners.  Unlike in America, where we would rarely claim to not fit in based on where we are from since everyone is from a different place anyway.
  • Most people back in the US think of Morocco as an exotic and mystical land.  I don’t think there is much awareness of Morocco among Americans, so whenever I said I was going to live in Casablanca, I could tell people were imagining me having cocktails with Humphrey Bogart every Saturday night.

    The Rick's Café in Casablanca is actually just a restaurant for tourists - the movie was filmed in a studio in the US!

    The Rick’s Café in Casablanca is actually just a restaurant for tourists – the movie was filmed in a studio in the US!

  • You have to think more about what it means to be you.  For example, being American means eating turkey on Thanksgiving.  But I’ve only ever eaten Thanksgiving turkey twice, both times in Morocco and so now associate that tradition with Morocco.  So I am like other Americans in celebrating Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean that I have had exactly the same experience as everyone else.
My first American thanksgiving

My first American thanksgiving

I’m not sure when I’ll be okay with being an ordinary American again.  There are a lot of things I’d miss about Morocco, but I’ll admit that I would also miss that feeling of being a little bit special!

Insider vs. Outsider

The most important thing I learned the first time I lived in Morocco was that I am not Moroccan. It seems obvious, but it sure took me a long time to learn. I wanted to study at a Moroccan university because I wanted to have lots of Moroccan friends, participate in Moroccan traditions, and speak Moroccan Arabic.  The friends I have made in Morocco are certainly friends I never would have made anywhere else, and I’ve learned a lot about traditions, culture, and language.  However, I haven’t really made any close Moroccan friends.  But I am okay with that; just because I am not having the experience I expected, doesn’t mean I’m not learning a lot.

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One thing I have learned is how to make peanut sauce with cassava.

As I’ve mentioned before, I love living in Morocco. But perhaps not for things directly related to Moroccan culture. I originally came here to study Arabic, but now, after many hours of Standard Arabic I actually prefer to take this opportunity to learn French.  And that’s a great thing to do here, because Moroccans are not judgmental of bad French! I also have really enjoyed being part of Christian communities in Morocco, and I think being part of a minority has strengthened those bonds and made my place in the community more obvious. To give a more mundane example, I also really love tea, and I enjoy that there are many types of tea available, but I don’t really like how sugary Moroccan mint tea is. So in general, I benefit from the situation I am in because of being in Morocco, but not necessarily for the obvious reasons.

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This Moroccan mint tea set is contributing to my apartment’s Christmas decorations.

I think it is important to learn about the culture you are living in, but I also think that it is important not to forget who you are and how you may or may not fit into your host country. I’m not Moroccan…but I am so thankful for what I have learned and experienced in this country, because those things would not be the same anywhere else in the world.