As my days of fasting progressed hour by hour, I along with Muslims everywhere, began counting them down toward that sweet sound of the fourth call to prayer that marked the time of Fitr (breaking the fast.)
This is traditionally done by taking dates and water to replenish fluids in the body and raise the blood sugar. It also parallels the Islamic teaching that this is how the Prophet Mohammed broke his fast during Ramadan, the month in which it is believed he received the holy scriptures that are called the Qur’an. Often, mint tea is served – water and sugar in the same sip.
The first evening, upon hearing the call from our little mosque around the corner (Aouchtam #2, I’m told it is called by the locals) I reached for the glass of water and took my first precious drink in more than 16 hours. My gratitude and appreciation for this pure, refreshing liquid knew no bounds. Never in my life had I tasted water so delicious! I realized in that moment just how much I have taken water for granted throughout my life. Ramadan has shown me that water is a basic human right. I now firmly believe that to control the flow of water – to regulate it, monetize it, create abnormal weather that takes rain from one area of the world and drowns people in another place should be seen and treated as one of the gravest “crimes against humanity.”
That afternoon I had prepared a simple soup, called Bissara. It is made of dried fava beans, cooked, purred, and seasoned with paprika, salt, cumin and olive oil. It is said to be the food of children and poor people. We loved it! I was surprised to feel so full after eating only half a bowlful. The second night I drank three glasses of water before touching my dates. I felt so thirsty that day that I resorted to holding a mouthful of water for a few seconds and spitting it out. I later found that this is also a common Ramadan practice and is officially “sanctioned” in the scriptures.
I might mention here that there are categories of Muslims that are “exempt” from fasting: children, the elderly, pregnant women, lactating mothers and anyone who is ill or too weak to go without food or water. Other people do “modified fasts” for only a portion of the day, or they allow themselves some water. So the fasting has some flexibility to it; it’s not all cast in stone.
When I asked Tomas on Tuesday the 10th if we were going anywhere or doing anything important for the “next couple of days,” he said ‘No.” So I announced that I was going to fast for the next three days. He replied that he would support me to do that but he would not join me. That was fine and for the next three days, he supported me tremendously by cooking for himself throughout the day and waiting until 8PM to eat dinner (breakfast) with me. But he observed that he was eating a lot less and also not wanting a large meal at the end of the day.
However, when I suggested that we see if the rest of the people in our apartment building would like to have a communal Fitr at sundown on Friday evening – up on the roof – I was met with strong opposition. This took me aback. Tomas rarely objects to my suggestions. He said things like: “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” “I don’t think people will want to do this.” “Let the idea rest for a day and see if you still want to do it.”
I felt a bit stung – disappointed. My partner didn’t think my idea was sound. So I backed off and watched. My energy has been fickle since coming to Morocco and perhaps Tomas was helping me avoid a situation in which I wouldn’t have the energy to carry out my own vision – that of bringing Ramadan awareness to our community mates.
Later that afternoon we met Diatou downstairs. She was born in Senegal and began fasting fully for Ramadan at the age of 11. She kept the Ramadan traditions for the next 30 years. When I told her what I was doing, she commended me for my fast and was instantly supportive and enthusiastic about a Fitr gathering on Friday evening.
So I courageously sent out some email and Facebook invites to others in the building and soon everyone was telling me what a great idea this was and asking what they could bring. I decided to make Harira – the traditional soup served during Ramadan and the soup that Fatima had served us in Chefchaouen. I found this recipe in my favorite cookbook (Google) and began gathering ingredients. I left out the lamb because some of us are vegetarians. Chicken could also be used.
I kept assuring Tomas that he was not required to participate in any way and lined up another kitchen to cook in and people to help me cook. Borrowing a pot large enough to hold a double batch of Harira was also on the “To Do” list.
Friday came quickly and I learned that two more people had been invited to join us – people that Tomas and I had wanted to meet for a couple of months. Amin and Amelia are a young Korean couple who have made Morocco their home for the past two years. They have learned quite a bit of Moroccan Arabic along the way and have been practicing Muslims for some years, even before they moved here. I was delighted they would be coming, as their participation would enhance the cross-cultural atmosphere I hoped to create.
About 3PM Diatou told me that she had invited the Moroccan family that is vacationing for two weeks in one of our apartments (yes, we’re renting to tourists now.) She told me that they “would LOVE to join us.” Upon hearing this, I began to get nervous. Would there be enough food? Would I make some faux pas and offend them, even accidentally? Would we be able to talk to them? I had heard that the husband spoke some English but mainly they spoke French – not my forte.
I was actually thrilled that they were coming, as this was exactly what I have envisioned in being here – that we will indeed foster greater understanding between cultures who have been deliberately “pitted against one another” by those on our planet who profit from fomenting chaos and war. And we will do this by meeting one another and learning about each other as fellow HUMAN BEings.
While I was cooking, my dear husband quietly went up to the roof and swept the whole area where we would have our party. Then, he pulled apart an entwined pile of spare furniture that occupied most of the upper central stairwell, in order to put down two mattresses and make a cozy corner for people to sit. For the first couple of hours the beds were used as trampolines by two young boys who quickly became friends, easily bridging Norwegian and Moroccan cultures.
Tomas even thought to bring up our Berber carpet to make more of a “living room” effect. When I came up for air from cooking the Harira, he was rigging an electrical system that would allow us to have real lamps AND music at our party, rather than using candles in water bottles or flashlight apps under them for lighting. There would also be a beautiful full moon overhead. Lighting was handled. Our friend Tom supplied music that provided a gentle ambiance, perfect for relaxing and conversing.
So much for not participating, Tomas. But then, my husband is never one to miss a party when EVERYONE else is attending.
We began to gather about 7:30. By then we had changed into our party clothes and we were looking quite festive. The “simple” meal I had suggested had turned out to require three tables. We had a date and water table, a soup buffet, a salad buffet and a fruit section. Tony brought Pasta Primavera and bread and olives completed the menu. Each of us contributed to a grand Fitr.
The Koreans and the Moroccans arrived and “fell right in.” We used whatever words in whatever languages we knew to get the communications across. And when words failed, we resorted to smiles and hand gestures. It was a gracious, mellow mixture of food, faith and FUN!
Diatou made a grand entrance carrying a plate on her head that held a pot of mint tea, ringed with tea glasses. All highly breakable items to be transporting across a marble tiled floor on one’s head but she does it so elegantly. She took over the hostess duties and made sure that everyone who had been fasting was served FIRST and got seconds, if they wanted.
I was so full of gratitude and pleasure that food (for me) was a non-event. I again drank three glasses of water and downed a tea before I ate even one date.
Salwa, a Jordanian/Palestinian who grew up in Kuwait and recently joined us in Aouchtam from Canada, made a special Fitr dish of chopped dates, cooked in butter with just enough flour added to stick it all together. This date mixture was then pulled off with your fingers and dipped in plain yogurt. YUMM! It was an instant hit and disappeared rapidly. Winnie, another recent arrival from Canada made a wonderful potato soup that vanished along with Salwa’s dates.
The Harira was so thick it was more like stew but everyone said it was the best Harira they’d had yet in Morocco. Everyone, except my Moroccan guest, who said it was good — just not what he was used to. I completely understand. There’s always a standard for measuring these things and it’s usually “MOM’S recipe.” I appreciated his candor and noticed that he did take seconds.
Julian Robles photographed the gathering and it is his magnificent art that is gracing this post. Thank you Julian; what a gift you have and ARE. Please visit Julian’s Blog and support him at his online Store.
Today is Sunday, Ramadan 15 and we are now halfway through this month. Tomas and I have simplified our meals to two light ones a day and I am beginning to think that one of the reasons that my energy has been “fickle” is that I’ve been eating too much.
Ramadan Kareem – Abundant Ramadan
Enjoy some more delicious moments, as captured by Julian.