I really enjoyed getting to know more people at my site, and the food, during Ramadan. I was lucky to be invited to break fast with different families every night, sleep over, and spend the next couple of days with them. I was even offered pajamas! But normally I was too sleepy after iftar so I politely declined. Moroccan hospitality is amazing!
Moroccan food is the pride and joy of the culture. Many hours are spent carefully picking out vegetables and fruits from the souq, preparing food, and eating it, especially during Ramadan. If I don’t try everything on the table my hosts get offended, and then the multiple cups of Moroccan mint tea (made with green tea) keep me up at nights. It’s hard learning to be a good guest and continue successful integration into my community! Hahaha.
I have also learned some tricks in the kitchen. I made several kinds of bread, tagines, and couscous with my next door neighbors. Fatima and Majid are in their 40s and they have 3 children: Mohammed (22), Ibtesam (21), and Abulzack (15). Fatima is a stay-at-home mom and Majid’s extended family owns a restaurant in the center of town so cooking comes more naturally to all members of the family. Mohammed dropped out of school when he was 15 to work at the restaurant and Ibtesam also dropped out of school at that age to help her mother around the house. They say she is going to get married soon. I am excited to attend the wedding! Abulzack is still in school. During Ramadan everyone was in the kitchen making different dishes for the iftar meal and talking, laughing, singing, and dancing. They are such fun people! After we made couscous we passed out from eating so much and watched TV for a bit but afterwards had a dance party!
Normally Muslims break the fast with a date and milk because of the natural sugars in the date. Other foods on the crowded iftar table (7:30-8PM) include:
- Shebakia– sesame cookie coated with honey. Here’s a recipe: http://moroccanfood.about.com/od/dessertsandcookies/r/Chebakia.htm
- Sellou- sweet made of sesame seeds, almonds, and flour (Also served during Aqiqa- see blog post “Moroccan culture: Aqiqa”) http://moroccanfood.about.com/od/dessertsandcookies/r/Sellou_recipe.htm
- Hard boiled eggs sprinked with salt and cumin
- Soups- The traditional Ramadan soup is harira hamra http://moroccanfood.about.com/od/moroccanfood101/a/Harira_Soup.htm but there are also: belboula (barley grits) with tomatoes (hssoua belboula hamra) or milk (hssoua belboula), dchicha dyal zraa (cracked wheat) and smida (semolina soup with milk, anise, and honey). I love hssoua belboula! I think I might start having it for breakfast instead of oatmeal.
- Juices- All types but the ones I most see most often at my site are apple and banana, avocado, and beet.
- Salads- The traditional Moroccan salad has tomatoes, peppers, and onions, but I have also tasted potato, okra, and eggplant salads.
Tagine, couscous, rafissa (bread, lentil, and chicken dish), or meat or fish balls are served a couple hours after the iftar at around 12AM. I only made it to a couple of houses to taste those. For suhur at 2AM my neighbors and friends ate leftovers from iftar and suhur and made sure to drink lots of water to stay hydrated through the hot summer days. When I was fasting they sent me home with lots of food and at one point I got totally confused as to whose bowls and plates belonged to whom.
After this Ramadan I feel more integrated into my community. I have spent a lot of time with community members doing what they do naturally during this holy month- cooking, breaking the fast, sitting and talking, and watching TV. I feel like I understand better the culture in my site and especially the culture of summer and religious holidays. In summer I have learned the heat slows everything down. Also religious holidays are a time for family, friends, and rest, and not work. I stopped English classes at the dar shebab during Ramadan at the request of my students and started American children’s movie screenings (Peter Pan, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, etc) every Wednesday afternoon, but not many people came. Instead I planned lessons for English, American culture, and art classes in September, organized the books in the library at the dar shebab, and prepared for the children’s summer camp after Ramadan.
I was hoping that I would understand Islam more after this Ramadan but I’m not sure I do. I still know what I learned in college courses but as a non-believer I can’t attend prayer at the mosque. Also I don’t know what to ask about Islam, and I am afraid that people might think my curiosity means I am going to convert. People rave about how the last PCV converted to Islam, married a Moroccan girl, and now lives in Marrakesh. I am going to resolve to observe and listen.