Christmas Past This is my third consecutive Christmas outside of the United States, and my fourth ever. The first Christmas abroad I spent in Prague, …
This year makes the 8th year in a row I’ve been out of the United States for the 4th of July.
Recently I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic for my Middle Eastern adventures, learning Arabic, and gorging on Ramadan sweets. I stumbled across all these old photos from Morocco and decided that’s where we should start.
What is Ramadan?
First, for those who don’t know, Ramadan is a month of fasting. Muslims do not eat, drink, or smoke between sunrise and sunset. Obviously, there are many variables and exceptions which I’m not going to get into.
If you are not Muslim, no one expects you to participate. Of course, different countries have different rules. In the UAE, for example, you can get a ticket for drinking water in public even as a foreigner. Whereas in Lebanon, tons of people smoke and drink on the street all day long.
Moroccan Culture Shock
I’ve traveled to Morocco twice. In 2010, a mere 20-year-old, I arrived with no idea what Ramadan was and little knowledge of the Middle East (or the world).
The first time I heard the zowaka (the early morning city alert that fasting was beginning again for the day), I sat straight up in bed thinking there was an air strike.
It was the first time I ever experienced culture shock. I’m glad I did though, because I’ve managed myself quite well in a host of countries since.
Morocco Part II: Culture “oops”
I returned to Morocco in July 2013 for a one-month Arabic course. I stayed with a Berber woman in Tetouan and her family. She didn’t speak any English or French so we essentially became pro pantomimes in this month.
The family was incredibly good to me. I cringe thinking about how little clothing I walked around in. It was hot. I was 23. I was whole-heartedly feminist despite the cultural consequences. And I saw no problem with what I was wearing.
I see the problem now. There’s pushing the limits and then there is just blatantly ignoring them. Part of traveling is realizing when you make a travel “oops” and try to never do it again.
The family never said anything. Even when I paraded down the hall in the middle of the night in shorty shorts and a tank top to use the bathroom (cringe).
They still invited me every evening for Iftar (the first meal of the day after sunset). In Morocco, this means lots of dates and harira, a lentil and tomato soup.
For some, fasting means waking up early, going to work or school, and carrying on the entire day as normal (without food or drink). Of course, there are others who try to sleep the day away.
The best part of Ramadan is how alive everything becomes at night. From sundown until sunup everyone is gathering on the street, having a mint tea, eating, and enjoying themselves. It’s really like a month-long party.
So here’s to all my friends celebrating Ramadan and to everyone else who indulged in my bout of nostalgia. I’m definitely feeling the “itch” to get back to the Middle East. Maybe next Ramadan.
First of all, I’m really shocked and excited about how many people voted to tell me where I should move. Thanks guys! I feel like …
Every spring, on the eve April 30th, the Czechs celebrate pálení čarodějnic or “the burning of the witches.” I celebrated three years ago near the end of my 10-month stint teaching in the country. Having written a 70-page thesis on early modern witch trials (which recently won the Gerhard Weinber Award for best article in European History), seeing this festival was a must. My former boyfriend and I had heard the celebration in Ladronka to be one of the best so we set off to the outskirts of the city.
We arrived a bit late, the bonfire had already been built and the witches already burnt. The “witches” constitute small cloth-made witches which are tied to the pyre.
Other times, one large central witch is placed in the center
Then the bonfire burns. After that, it seems like a pretty typically “Czech” festival except that all the children were dressed like witches. They even had brooms. There was a stage with some music, lots of beer and food stands, and people building smaller fires to roast sausages which they brought from home. People from all over the country set up little stalls of crafts and jewelry. I bought some clay-fired heart earrings which I still own and wear on a regular basis.
Why Burn Witches?
Traditionally, it is believe the witch burning festival began with pagan rituals celebrating the spring equinox. Later, the date became associated with the date witches are most attracted to attend the Witch’s Sabbath (beginning in the 14th century until the late 17th century, witches were believed to fly into the woods at night where they would dine on rotting food, boil babies for their fat, copulate in orgies with the Devil and demons, and pervert anything Christian). It is most likely due to the pagan origins of this celebration that those not following the rules of Christianity in the 14th century would perform rituals in the woods on this date, which later became thought of as “witchcraft.” With time, communities began to gather on hills and light large fires to “ward off evil witches.”
It is also likely this festival originally celebrated fertility. The next day, May 1st (May Day), Czechs will visit Petřín Park which is covered in blossoming Cherry Trees. It’s considered a day of love. Couples kiss under the trees. Legend says any girl not kissed under the trees will “wither and die” within the next 12 months. So obviously I drug my boyfriend there ASAP and let’s just say I neither withered nor died…
Image 1: www.stratov.cz
Image 2: www.prazskypatriot.cz
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