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8/12/10 Mbruk Ramadan!

Ramadan has started, stirring up a host of emotions.

I miss breaking fast with my host family each evening, racing the setting sun across town as I hasten to get there before the moghreb prayer call announces the end of the day of fasting.

I miss the food that the women of my village serve for l-ftor, the fast-breaking meal: dates that my province is justly famous for; olives from the south; cookies (shebbekia and store-bought cookies and whatever else they'd concocted in their kitchens); sweet, herbed, milky coffee (the only time in my life I've drunk coffee without gagging on it); assorted nuts; crepes and pancakes and other bread products, served with honey and jam and oil; and the piece de resistance, fatbread. Mmmmm, fatbread. After you're stuffed, the hostess brings out the second course: harira, the delicious and distinctive creamy Moroccan soup with tomatoes and lentils and short noodles and beans and a dozen other tasty bits. Oh, and the drinks: milk and banana milkshakes and beet juice and fresh-squeezed orange juice...

I miss my large family crowding around a small table, hands and arms reaching past each other as everyone grabs bits of their favorite foods. I miss Ama ladling out a special serving of harira for me, since I'm the only one in the room who doesn't want a bit of meat floating in my bowl.

I miss the constant invitations from everyone in town to share their l-ftor meal. (You get extra brownie points if you share the meal.)

I don't miss the long, hot, thirsty afternoons without water.

Or hanging out with PCV buddies who aren't fasting and who therefore make it that much harder for me. (Let alone the PCVs who try to sneak food in public, to my abiding embarrassment.)

I don't miss the stepped-up efforts to convert me to Islam. You're fasting? And you pray? Praise God! You're practically Muslim already! Just repeat after me: 'There is no God but Allah...'

I don't miss people assuring me that it's healthy to starve all day and then gorge on cookies. (For the record, shebbekia, while delicious, are basically less-puffy glazed donuts. Make pie crust dough, twist it into a pretzel-like knot, deep fry it, dip it in liquid sugar, and then (if desired) sprinkle it with sugar or sesame seeds. Really NOT the best thing to jump-start your intestines with, after a long, dry, hungry day.)

So here I am, in America, after observing Ramadan - ie, fasting and then breaking the fast - for two years. And this year, I'm not fasting. Ur da-tazumagh. Which I feel sporadically guilty about, knowing that the migrating lunar calendar** means that this year is even hotter and harder for my observant friends than last year was.

I'm keeping an eye out for Ramadan foods, but haven't found them yet. My best lead - a restaurant owned by a Moroccan! - went out of business a few years back.

But I'm keeping hope alive. I *will* find fatbread before the month is out. Somewhere, somehow...

** Ramadan, like the rest of the Muslim calendar, uses lunar months, which don't align perfectly with the solar years of the western, Gregorian calendar. This means that each year, Muslim holidays come 10-11 days earlier than they did before, when scheduled on a western calendar. So my first Ramadan filled the month of September, last year's was late August to mid September, and this year's is early August to early September. Etc. In the next few years, Ramadan will continue to march backward through the summer months. Imagine maintaining a pure abstention from any water or any other beverage through the heat of a 130*F desert afternoon...

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