In this story I tell you about our experience fasting during the month of Ramadan, in Morocco. If you want to know what Ramadan is and have some tips for traveling to Muslim countries during this holy month, youcan read it in the guide I wrote on the subject clicking here. Having clarified this, we go on with the story:
When I found out that one third of our trip to Morocco coincided with the month of Ramadan, I knew little about it, but it sounded like a great opportunity to experience this special time for Islam, being in a Muslim country. We are not Muslims, but we are explorers of the world, and as such we like to get to know and experience even the most distant cultures to our realities. That helps us understand a little more about the world.
We arrived in Morocco only two weeks before the beginning of the holy month and as the days passed the word “Ramadan” was mentioned more and more frequently.
I was fascinated, I wanted to learn everything I could about it, take notes, interview and compare opinions of the people we met. It was a new world for me and I had a lot of enthusiasm to discover it. It seemed incredible to me how faith could achieve going trough such an effort and I was anxious to see how local people lived it, what it meant to them.
With Omar we did not know when or how but we knew we wanted to try fasting, at least one day, to see what it was like, we felt that only then could we understand the locals and have a deeper experience.
We arrived in Fez a couple of days before the beginning of Ramadan and we stayed at the home of Niema, a friend of Intrissar, who was also a friend of Abdel, who had hosted us for couch-surfing in Tetouan (experience that can be read by clicking here). Niema did not speak any English and we did not speak Arabic or French, so during most of our five-day stay at her home, her friends Hamza and Yazid, who spoke perfect English, were our translators, tour guides and friends (although by the age they had, they could have technically been our children!). With them we spent the days in Fez, waiting for the arrival of Ramadan and learning a lot about it.
The night before Ramadan Niema, who almost did not speak to us if it was not through her friends-translators, asked us in English “are you going to fast tomorrow?”. We had thought that we wanted to try fasting during the month of Ramadan, but we had not decided what day we would do it and now she was asking us if we wanted to do it tomorrow, just like that, tomorrow! We looked at each other with Omar and he said “yes, why not?” And I realized that yes, the beginning sounded like a good time to try it and also the fact of doing it accompanied by our recent friends and thus be able to share the experience with them sounded like a good adventure. We said to Niema that, yes, we would fast the next day. After that we ate and drank all the water we could and went to sleep.
Of course I had never done anything similar in my life. The closest thing had been a twelve-hour fasting before I donated blood, but of course, that’s during the night while you’re sleeping! Now we had to be awake, with thirty degrees of temperature and with the consciousness of being hungry and thirsty. I remembered the feeling I always had before donating blood when I wondered if by chance I had woken up during the night and eaten something, by mistake, without realizing it and thus ruining the fast. Now I was wondering what it would be like to be awake, would it be possible for me to “forget” for a second the fasting and drink or eat something by mistake? I hoped not, because in that case all the effort would be ruined and I would have to start over the next day.
We woke up at 9 in the morning, with heat and thirst. First impulse to repress: no water. Luckily hunger had not yet appeared. We had planned to have a pretty sedentary day, with little physical effort, to not waste too much energy. So we spent several hours drawing, translating, editing photos, writing. Time was flying and, at the same time, it was amazing how much “extra time” there was. All the hours that we used every day to buy the ingredients, prepare breakfast, lunch and snacks were now free and that was a novelty for us.
Time went by surprisingly fast. Occasionally we thought about eating or having a drink, but it was nothing compared to what we imagined it would be. It was not so difficult for us. Normally we never skip a meal, but now we had skipped breakfast and lunch, without even drinking a drop of water and there we were. It was amazing. It was also surprising how little hunger we had. I think many other times in my life I felt more hunger than that day fasting, even on the days when I had eaten only a few hours ago. More discoveries: on the one hand, the sensation that we confuse many times with hunger is psychological and on the other hand, the mind is very powerful. As we knew that we had to wait for the sunset to eat and drink, as we were mentally prepared for that, that feeling of “hunger” became much more manageable and almost did not bother us (this is one of the fundamental objectives of fasting during Ramadan, exercise of self-control).
A few of hours before sunset, we left the comfort of the apartment and got into a taxi to the medina of Fez, which was about seven miles from home. Once in the medina, we walked more or less a kilometer, at a very slow pace and with a lot of effort, looking for the Nejjarine fountain, one of the most beautiful ones in Fez, where we were going to record some clips for our video about Ramadan. The feeling of hunger had been left behind, but now that we were walking and on the street, what was noticeable was the lack of energy, the tiredness.
Once we finished recording the clips, we had almost two hours left before the breaking of the fast and we still did not know where we were going to do it, because we were waiting for instructions from our hostess to do it together. So, in that moment we did not know what to do. It was too hot to spend two hours on the street, we were tired and needed a place to rest during that time. We were ready to take refuge somewhere, but we could not do what we would normally do in that situation that is “having a drink”, because we could not “have” anything.
So it occurred to us to go to a place we loved in the medina, the Medina Social Club, an old Riad (a traditional Moroccan palace with patio or interior garden) converted into a restaurant / bar / hostel, ask for something to drink, have it waiting on the table for two hours and then drink it when it was time, when the sun sets. It seemed like the perfect solution, it could not fail.
We were welcomed by a Muslim waiter girl, who of course was fasting. She brought us the menu and for some reason, we told her our master plan: we were fasting and we wanted to buy a drink just to be inside the place, but in reality we were not going to drink it until sunset, until the hour of iftar (which means “breakfast”).
Her first reaction, accompanied by a surprised expression, was to ask us if we were Muslims, which was quite a logical question considering that we did not look like her nor did we wear typical clothes. We said that we were not, but that we were fasting anyway because we wanted to experience the experience of Ramadan first hand and share this special day in that environment with the local people. Our response seemed so incredible to her that she could not contain his joy. She congratulated us and thanked us immensely and sincerely for what we were doing. She also asked us if were feeling good and she let us stay in the place, without buying anything, for as long as we wanted until we defined our plans.
A while later she told us that they could also serve us the same iftar the workers were having there, and so we agreed to have it there, where they had treated us so well since we entered, and where we spent our last two hours of fasting, divided between the patio of the building, in which we could spend an eternity only listening to the sound of running water in the fountain; and the terrace, with golden hour views of the sunset over the medina of Fez.
In most cities or towns in Morocco (and throughout the Islamic world), the time to break the fast is announced by the call to prayer, which continues to give us goose bumps like the first time, even after having listened to it so many times already. On top we had the great luck of living the first day of Ramadan in Fez, where just before the call to prayer there is a tradition to fire a cannon that announces that it is time to eat. I had the great fortune of being on the terrace of the Medina Social Club, when in the middle of the deepest silence of an expectant medina, the cannon shot sounded and a second later the call to prayer began and with it, the medina breathed again and continued living.
The break-fast that we were served was really spectacular and incredibly abundant (or did it seem like that after so many hours without eating?). Dates, milk, fruit smoothie, boiled eggs with cumin, harira (typical vegetable soup), bissara (typical bean soup), ricotta and leek pies, Moroccan crepes, jam, spreadable cheese. Sweet, salty, everything mixed, there were no rules, the party had started, the Ramadan nights in Morocco had begun…
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