Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Official Ramadan update:

Ramadan is the official holy month of fasting and prayer. Its important to note that this is not just abstention from food but water too. It lasts from sunrise (around 5am) to sunset (about 6pm). As a foreigner I am in a bit of a cultural lurch. I am certainly not going to prayer, and have no higher reason to hold a month long fast. That said, I am keeping to it while I am in my town. If I am traveling, I do not feel any real problem with moderate consumption in privacy. Some pacific take the fasting very seriously, and some do not do it at all. It often depends on the relationship they have with their town.

In my case the relationship is still developing but I think is more than on its way. Many of adults seem happy that I am fasting more or less in solidarity. Many children think it is very odd that I would want to fast but am not being made to do so. Some people both old and young think I should go pray, as I seem to be taking the first steps in conversion.

In practice this is (about) how the fasting works. In a small town like mine, people naturally start their day rather early. Ramadan does not seem to significantly change this, though in larger cities the opening of shops and generally all activity can be delayed in the mornings. All activity is done just a bit slower, often into the afternoon work can grow very slow. I have noticed people taking naps all over town. It is not uncommon to lay down in front of your house for a quick 45mins. Sleep and a lack of energy are a natural bodily response to a lack of food and water. Card playing has become a huge pastime, and I suspect if someone wanted they could find a game being played somewhere in the streets of M'ssici at any time during the day. This really helps to pass the time until sundown, which is what everyone is waiting for.

The day "starts" now at sunset with a call from the mosque, which is the signal to dig-in to breakfast. I have had breakfast with some different families in town and each is a little different. Interestingly, people do not chug back water. Often a variety of juice, and coffee are available. Hard boiled eggs are pretty much universal, but no fast breaking would be complete without dates. Also popular is "berber pizza". This goes by different names but "agrum bootori" seems to be most common. Its basically bread stuffed with onions, peppers, spices, and is very greasy. Also are any of a variety in sweet fried and sugary foods. The favorite is chebecia. Really its fried dough with a sweet glaze. The main attraction though is a thick soup. There are a lot of ways to make this, and Ive had it with noodles, various beans, tomatoes, and/or veggies. It is the best for fixing that pain of hunger from not eating all day. If I am eating by myself, I usually just eat fruit and peanuts and drink a lot of water.

This is only the first meal. Later in the night, a real dinner is served. Its pretty normal. Now in my town the power cuts off around 10pm (when it existed) and people went to sleep. But not for long. Somewhere around 3am and 3:30am the power it flipped back on and/or a call from the mosque megaphone wakes everyone up. Its another meal. In larger cities people often stay up all night socializing until this final meal. This final chance to eat lasts until we hear the mosque call (or you fall back asleep). But, if you are still awake, its time for the first prayer of the day at around 5am. If you are inclined, no better time to make a quick prayer of thanks or just a little personal reflection than those first moments as the sun lightens the sky and warms the air.

So that is Ramadan in a nutshell. One interesting observation. In the Wester tradition all holidays are pretty well known. With a little time you could easily nail the exact day of the week for Christmas in 3546. But because Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, it is a bit more flexible. In theory it moves up around 11 days a year. But, in asking people even just two weeks from its start they could not tell me what day exactly we would start the fast. It was up to the moon. This extends also to the end of the holy month, with the holiday of Laid. We wait until the start of the new lunar cycle, but no one can tell me when that will be exactly. We know its next week, but Monday? Tuesday? Not sure. I thought this was honestly just my town being small and not having a local astronomer around. But, even my boss in Rabat could not tell me the exact day. If the US wants to do a little diplomacy, we could get NASA on the case. But, there is something kinda nice about not knowing.

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