Why Did It Take So Long?
That’s probably not a productive title. I should probably say, “after years of research and in depth personal discovery, I have conquered my thinking.” But that’s just not the way it is inside this brain. It takes time to ruminate, ponder, plod, reconnoitre, and discover until one day, all the evidence I have gathered gets put into a pot and boiled, and BAM – out comes the result.
All this to say, I think I have figured out Ramadan. I mean, not in the theological sense. Good Lord I’m not that ambitious. But I think I have finally, 4 years on, come up with a thoughtful approach for getting through Ramadan in a way that will be positive and exciting.
“How” you ask? I’M GOING TO IRELAND! Ha. Actually that’s only 8 days of it and it’s a month long experience.
You see Ramadan moves forward by a month every year. So my first year in Morocco it occurred in July and I was in Canada and it had no impact on my other than to relate to friends who were fasting and working and tired and finding time to pray and visit family. But I was at a distance.
The next year it was in June. That year, mostly out of fear really, we did a Ramadon’t tour of Croatia, and London and Copenhagen and Berlin. Travelling the entire time and loving it. Not a single ftour (breakfast) to be had and again, no impact aside from the above compassion for a friend.
Last year I was here for a large part of it, only to leave after about 3 weeks and go to Canada. It was a troubled 3 weeks. I didn’t handle it well. I ended up eating very poorly, changing my diet to accommodate ftours on many occasions, cooking tagine into the night and then eating normally during the day, and it was honestly just poorly planned and not a good experience.
You see, Ramadan is a thing that takes over Morocco. It has to. Fully 98% of the population is Muslim and of that the majority observes the holiday. Those who don’t observe and are happy about it are children. The others are pregnant women, those who are menstrating, ill, or travelling. But the guilt that those people bear for not observing is on the Catholic end on the guilt scale.
So when you are here during Ramadan as a tourist, its pretty ok. Restaurants are open. Many people feel enormous guilt being served by Moroccan waiters or cooks or guides, but the truth is, they like to fast and take pride in it. It’s not new to them and it’s not a surprise. They are well versed at how it goes and if they are working, they do not feel “hard done by”, so don’t feel guilty if you go to a restaurant and you are served by someone who is fasting. It’s ok.
DO feel like a complete and utter asshole if you stand in the middle of the street in booty shorts, chugging from your giant water bottle with a cigarette in your hand. You my friend, have no respect whatsoever for the place you are in or its people, have not used Google for good, and care only for your own enjoyment. You my friend, can F*CK off back to where you came from. (Wow, that’s what I might call “an outburst”).
You see Ramadan and the fast is a very holy time and its a time of leveling off and restraint. Devout Muslims will spend as much time as possible in the mosque praying. They fast from food and water yes, but also they fast their eyes. They do not look upon members of the opposite sex during the fasting period. They don’t smoke, mindless surf social media or do other distracting things. Devout Muslim spend the month in thoughtful reverence of their Deity. For 30 days leading up to Ramadan, all drinking stops in preparation. Liquor stores are closed, except to Europeans who can show ID from another country and liquor is often off the menu in many places. Its a very respectful time, and to be honest, it is a beautiful time.
Aside from the ones who lose their minds because they can’t smoke all day, and can’t drink and have no water or brains and they break into fights and start yelling. But that’s just a small group of grumps. Focus on the good people.
So assimilating into that as a Western immigrant who does not follow Islam, or any other organized religion, it can be difficult. Last year I set about reading the Quaran to gain a better understanding. I will continue that this year. But last year I also had a lot of problems finding a positive role to play for myself. I didn’t think it enough or soon enough and to be honest, I didn’t try hard because I knew I was going away.
This year however, aside from a girls trip to Ireland, I’m here and working and need to find a positive way to be.
So this is my plan. I’m going to fast 16:8 which I sort of loosely do at times throughout the year, but this time I will do it with intention. The plan is 6 days a week I will eat only in an 8 window from 12 to 8. One day a week I will TRY to do a 24 hour fast from dinner to dinner.
This is genius for a number of reasons:
- It allows me to enjoy the health benefits of fasting.
- It forces me to think carefully about what I eat during the 8 hour window which will help me to avoid the whole ftour thing. More on that in a minute.
- It will allow me to workout at 10:30 or 11:00 in a fasted state which is SO much more fun.
- It will provide me with structure and focus for good which is similar to what is happening around but with my own twist on it.
- It will allow me to go my favorite western (read: Australian operated) restaurant for lunch as I am wont to do, and for dinner.
- This allows me to maintain my social connections with my western friends who eat wildly during this time.
- It allows me to join in the ftour period with my friends at the appropriate time as my last meal of the day.
Really its a plank across all things. I am happy to walk it. Also I am going to focus on my meditation practice which I have been trying to build but have failed at, mostly because I can’t get my shit together to make the time. I am looking forward to many things being stripped away for one month to allow me space to form some habits.
Back to the ftour thing. So during Ramadan, you have to be really careful planning food as a western person because all normal food options go away and Ramadan things are put in their place. So while I have a lot of trouble getting to the grocery store (15 minutes walk away) and feeding myself on a regular day, Ramadan is worse. It’s like Christmas in the west where the stores are filled to overflowing with cranberries and turkey and special treats and cakes and loaves and things.
Here everything is fried pastry (ARGH), yogurt and milk drinks (I’m non-diary) and fresh squeezed juices (the lemon juice is a TOTAL score!), and then cookies. A load of cookies. And this delicious crushed almond, anise, seeds and spice dried crumbly substance called Sellou. And loads and loads of very high carb harira soup, and dates. So essentially the fast is broken with a carb fest and if you aren’t careful, which I was not last year, you end up eating carbs at 7:30 pm to break the fast because it’s the sociable thing to do, but it’s not good for you when you eat normally the rest of the day. At all. I need to manage that and I will do this much better this year.
At this point it is important to discuss the one landmine of Ramadan that has to be navigated with great care and respect. Chebekia.
Its a pervasive, evil crack like cookie that comes out in MOUNDS at Ramadan. A few years ago in El Jadida, my friends and I went from one stand to the next getting a handful of the hateful cookies and trying to see who had the best. We found him. It was the stall that had the horde of Moroccan women gathered in front. Clear winner.
Chebekia, you see, is served with a bowl of harira soup and a hard boiled egg. During Ramadan if you want to order food for delivery the menu is literally that. One item. Harira, egg and chebekia. It is found in 4 ft tall mounds in the medina. It is a delicious cinnamon-y pastry, made of dough, then twisted, fried and soaked in honey. The drippier the better.
So you see, I can plan all I want to maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet 335 days a year, but when Ramadan comes along – all bets are off on the Chebekia.
Wish me luck.