“Are you sure?”
“It is not obligatory for you!“
After several minutes of back and forth chatter, my host parents’ worry finally shifts to understanding and assurance:
“If you’re hungry come home and we will cook for you!“
It’s the night before the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that is marked by daily fasting and nightly feasts. In Morocco, a Muslim-majority country, participation in Ramadan is obligatory, with a few exceptions: children, the elderly, the sick, and foreigners. I, of course, fit into the latter category, so unlike Moroccans, I do not risk being arrested for eating or drinking in public. However, I have decided to take part in the fasting and feasting alongside my Moroccan friends.
A few short hours of fleeting sleep after this dinner conversation, a gentle knock knock came gently at my bedroom door.
It’s 3:15 AM, about 45 minutes before the melodic call to prayer that will echo throughout the empty streets, signaling the beginning of fasting for the day and ushering a flood of men, including my host father, into the streets on their way to mosque.
Barely awake and extremely disoriented, I pile dates, Moroccan bread, cookies, and fruit onto my plate and into my stomach before the call to prayer. My host mother and roommate do the same, while our young host sister stays asleep in the room next door and our host father prepares for the mosque.
The next morning, at a more acceptable hour, I wake up and go about my usual activities (minus breakfast, despite my host mother’s final offers to cook for me). Initially, I assumed incorrectly that the fasting process would be easy, still full from the early morning scramble for food and surrounded by other people fasting. But as the sunset hour crept closer, I became more and more anxious to quench my thirst and hunger. That evening, we indulged together finally in an endless, heaping feast. Into the night, friends, professors, and family members shared in conversation and tasted every Moroccan food I had ever enjoyed. Tasty dishes in massive quantities were prepared for the ftour that ended our first day of fasting.
Today is my third day of fasting. After stuffing myself a little too much at last night’s ftour, I decided to forego the early morning breakfast much to the dismay of my host mother, who three days in still insists that I can eat at any time. Although fasting during my last few days in Morocco, which overlap with the start of Ramadan, is not required, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience solidarity with the people that have made this country feel like home for the past four months. Instead of eating in secret in my home, I am excited to unabashedly stuff my face full each evening, surrounded by friends and family at the endless feast. Despite the fatigue, the thirst, and yes — the hunger — that have come in waves the past few days, the evening call to prayer which echoes and flags the end of fasting and the beginning of feasting has been all-the-more rewarding to share with friends and family. What a profoundly intimate experience — to know that we have all been through the same food-less, water-less days and may now share in the fast-breaking together.