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8/23/09 Ramadan Night 2 – SouqTown

Tonight, some PCV friends and I broke our fast in SouqTown. We’d ridden up on the last transit of the day, which leaves Berberville at 2:30 and gets into SouqTown between 6 and 6:30. I’d hoped that the ride would distract us from the growing rumbliness of our tummies; since we never eat on transits anyway, we might not notice that we couldn’t eat. Or something.

It worked, more or less, but we arrived in SouqTown a few minutes before 6, meaning that we had over an hour to wait before we could eat. We ended up hanging out in the hotel, not surprisingly, all the usual hangouts (cafés, restaurants, etc) being closed.

A few minutes before 7, we headed out into the street. The internet claimed that the moghreb prayer call would come at 7:05…but that’s the time for Rabat, which is over 100km west of us. So I figured the call would come sometime right around 7, but didn’t know quite when.

Our hotel has a restaurant inside it, but I rarely eat there. As we walked by, though, we were struck by the tableau: nearly every table was taken, nearly every seat filled, nearly every place served – served. Already. Every patron sat in front of a bowl of soup, a pot of tea, a basket of bread … and they just sat. No one ate. No one reached for a drink. No one clinked silverware against a dish. They just … sat. Frozen.

We continued down to my favorite sandwich guy. There, too, every patron sat in front of untouched food. After placing our orders – tea, soup, and sandwiches - we struggled to articulate what we found so bizarre. “It’s like The Truman Show, with everyone waiting for the day to begin.” “It’s like a surrealist painting.” “It’s just … weird.”

As we waited, we heard the call. Allahu akbar! echoed across the city. Faintly. “That was it, right?” we asked each other. “Yeah…? I think so.” We listened again, but a passing unmuffled motorcycle drowned out the faint call. After it passed, we heard the same faint cry. Just then, the tea and sandwiches arrived. By the time Natalie poured the tea, everyone around us had dug into their own fast-breaking food, so we dove in as well. (It’s traditional, though not – I don’t think – required, to wait until the end of the call before eating.)

The café now appeared normal, filled with happily munching folks, but the street still looked bizarre. At 7pm last week, the street overflowed with shoppers, loiter-ers, coffee-drinkers, and passersby, all going about their business in front of the dozens of shops that line the street. At 7pm tonight, the street was empty except for us. Massive steel doors shuttered the usually-bustling shops. Pharmacies, convenience stores, soda fountains, cafés, and yet more convenience stores (SouqTown has dozens) all sat silent. It felt post-apocalyptic…abandoned.

At least until everyone broke their fast and the night came to life.

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