The last two weekends I have been fortunate enough to take advantage of Morocco’s beaches. The first I visited with Jon, Emily (who happened to be doing some errands in Rabat) and Nadiya. Skhirat Beach, just south of Rabat was great for swimming, and a bit over-crowded. By contrast, KaHf l’Hammam (or “Paradise Beach”), south of Asilah, was empty when we got there, and had a rougher surf. Asilah itself was cute, decorated with murals from an annual festival that took place just before we arrived.
In Asilah our group consisted of all PCVs, using our Holiday four-day weekend for a break on the beach. Coincidentally, Ramadan also started last weekend, which means a major-shift in schedule for Morocco. Food is harder to come-by in the middle of the day, since Muslims fast during daylight hours. Although I was planning on fasting when I got back to my site, I didn’t want to start while on my mini-vacation. Fortunately the little food-shacks at Paradise Beach were happily catering to tourists and didn’t have an issue with preparing a delicious tajine for us. I guess it is okay to be a tourist now and then.
I came into this country a lunar year ago, during the month of Ramadan. The specific smells and atmosphere of this special month bring back memories of those first weeks. I keep thinking of my first host family, whom I recently visited during my trip to Ain Leuh.
I remember my host mother sitting on her kitchen floor, patting out the milawi (flakey pancakes) or heating up the bgharir (cross between a pancake/crepe) and slathering them with butter and honey. I remember tending to the fish frying on a pan balanced precariously on a gas tank burner, or the warming milk on the stove; the dates that break the fast and the harira that follows; the sticky shbekiya, the grainy zmita. I didn’t attempt to fast while dealing with the whirlwind of other changes, so when l’ftor came around I didn’t exactly have an empty stomach to take in all the calorie-rich foods.
A year later and here I am again, a whole other person, yet not. This year I am going to try to fast for part, if not all of Ramadan. This was a common question asked amongst PCVs leading up to it, “Are you going to fast this Ramadan?” Everyone has reasons for or against fasting, and I do agree it must be a personal decision. I’m not Muslim, but I am open to another insight into the culture I’m currently living in. I feel more prepared this year to handle the physical strain I might endure. Of course, I won’t go so far as to put myself in any real danger health-wise, and am prepared to drink water if the day proves too long and hot.
I am on my third day of fasting, and have been doing all right so far, despite a head cold I’ve been working through. I am embraced by the warm smiles that appear when I answer, “Yes, I am fasting.” L’ftor is shared with friends and neighbors. Although I could probably take on the calorie-rich foods in stride this year, I’m trying hard to drink more harira, and have a healthy meal later in the evening. That is the one major issue I’m encountering right now. When exactly should I eat that second meal? I love to wake up early, and don’t take a lot of joy in the late hours of the night. Waking up at 3:30 the first night to take a meal before the fasting began for the day (a little after 4am) didn’t make it easy to get back to sleep. I ended up not really sleeping at all until the next night when I stayed up until 1am to get in the second meal with enough time (and exhaustion) to sleep through to morning. Even without an alarm it is difficult for me to stay asleep past 7am. I think my days will just have to be a bit long. Amazingly though, they seem much shorter.
I am currently serving in Peace Corps, Morocco, as a small business developer working with artisans since September 2008. I have a Master of Fine Art, in studio art from Washington University in St. Louis.