The month of Ramadan has come to a close, and it’s safe to say that my initial effort to fast was completely dependent on a group mentality. The twelve students in my program attempted to fast on the first day, but have since dropped like the dozens of flies feasting on the garbage outside my kitchen window. Needless to say, the smells of the old medina made fasting a little easier.
Despite the decision of my classmates to eat meals at normal hours after the first day, I found comfort in the fasting companionship with my 13-year-old host-brother, Ameen. On the first day of Ramadan, I came home from school with hanger and a headache without my daily dose of caffeine. Ameen sauntered in and invited me to have a glass of tea, to which I replied, “no thanks, I’m fasting.”
“I’m fasting too!” he said, and proceeded to give me a high five before leaving the room.
This became our daily interaction as Ramadan progressed; we checked in on each other every night. “I fasted today!” he would say to me, and I replied with the same.
Next came our inevitable high-five, but it barely lasted more than a week, because I tapped out relatively early in the Ramadan game.
Iftar is the sunset meal that breaks the daily fast at 7:35 p.m. It is comprised of dozens of small plates, Arabic tapas if you will, traditionally begun with dates and milk, followed by small plates various types of food that depend on the geography, season, and preferences of the chef.
In my homestay, we typically had plates of salad, sautéed eggplant with tomatoes and jalapenos, croissants stuffed with spiced chicken and cheese, an vinegar-laden mixture of potatoes, peas, tuna and carrots, and a main dish cooked in a large tagine.
Tagines are comprised of two terra cotta pieces: a wide, rimmed plate and a tall cone with a hole at the top, which lets out a small portion of air while cooking. Every night, our mother cooked a different meal; I never ate the same tagine twice. Chicken with couscous, meatballs with eggs and tomato sauce, fried fish, lamb with rice and peas, I could go on and on.
I was amazed at my host mother’s ability to cook for hours in a kitchen with no air conditioning while fasting in 100-degree heat. Those who think men are stronger than women have never witnessed this month-long feat.
On day ten, I explained to my host-mother that the temperature for the following week was going to pass 105 degrees, but my elementary Arabic textbook hadn’t prepared me to convert temperatures into Celsius yet. She slapped her hands on the table in a way that made all the tea glasses shake as she looked up at the ceiling and yelled, “God help us, everyone is going to die!”
This went on for several minutes before I realized my mistake, and continued until I stood on the couch for enough Wi-Fi to convert the degrees on my phone.
It was about this time that I decided to stop fasting. Allah help me, I thought, I don’t want to die.
Since then, I have gotten in trouble twice for eating in public on accident. Because Morocco is a Muslim nation-state, it is illegal for citizens to eat in public during the month of fasting. Explaining to a local who berated me for drinking water on the sidewalk that I am not, in fact, Muslim or Moroccan caused more harm than good. I began the habit of drinking water in the confines of my bedroom.
During Ramadan, shops and restaurants are closed until after Iftar, so non-Muslims and non-Moroccans are still forced to cope with the hanger that comes from hours without food or water. Locals have figured out that the best way to beat the heat and hanger combo is to sleep all day until roughly 3 p.m.
A Moroccan siesta of sorts, this became my excuse to nap every day after school.
On the last day of Ramadan, I tried to nap for the few hours before Iftar. I awoke around 7:15 to the sound of thunder and people rushing about outside my window.
A blanket of clouds that had hovered above Fes throughout the day had turned into a dark, angry mess. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing: thunder, lightning and heavy rain in the middle of Morocco.
Water poured down the outside of my open windowsill like a long-awaited blessing at the end of a hard month. I could see my host brothers splashing around in the street before their mother called them inside to help set the table.
I continued to watch the street with my face pressed to the iron window frame as mist rose from the hot street up to my parched skin.
Donkeys trotted by carrying makeshift palettes of gallons of water, splashing with every step in the cobblestone path. Children shouted as they finished their games of soccer in between women carrying huge trays of bread and cookies from our neighborhood’s public bakery. Groups of teenage girls hurried home through the rain with linked arms, whispering and stealing glances outside of their little circles of gossip.
By 7:25, people broke from a swift walk into a brisk jog, hoping to make it home in time to pray before dinner. I heard shouts of “Eid Mubarak!” as doors opened to let rain-soaked loved ones inside.
After a few more minutes went by, the streets were empty, except for the occasional tardy person, who ran as they held up their floor-length djellabas to keep from tripping.
At 7:33, our family was gathered around the table; each of them had finished their prayers and we were poised in eating position. It had been a very long last day.
We waited for the sound of distant cannons through the window of our medina home, which announced the official moment of dusk.
“Bismillah,” or “thanks be to God” echoed among our family members as we all reached for the plate of dates to break the very last fast together.
After 20 minutes of vigorous eating, the members of our household settled back into the couches as our hanger subsided, and I tried, for the 30th night in a row, to explain the American concept of a “food baby” to my host mother in Arabic.
For the 30th time, it still didn’t make any sense to her. “Americans are crazy,” she said.
I figured she was right, as I went out into the street to drink my water just because I knew that now, no one could stop me.