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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.
I arrived in Palestine during the 2014 conflict; only a few days after the James Foley video circulated, and the moment the ceasefire was broken.