Ramadan information… part ONE!

Ramadan is the holiest month in the lunar calendar, which can also be referred to as the Islamic calendar. While those that follow the Gregorian calendar know it to be 2013, those who follow the religion of Islam know it to be 2013 AND 1434 A.H. The Lunar calendar follows the moon’s cycles which creates 354 days in the year, approximately. This means that the lunar calendar is about 11-12 days shorter than that of the Gregorian calendar. It takes about 33 years to realign with the solar calendar (or Gregorian calendar). Which means that for those living in the Northern Hemisphere, it has been about 33 years since the amount of daylight hours have equaled 14 or higher. It is quite the feat, fasting from approximately 33o am until about 730 pm, especially in the heat of 100 degrees or higher. But when inquiring about whether people prefer summer or winter fasting, I usually hear summer. The answers vary to the preference for free time (with no school and sometimes less work) to the extreme heat actually making easier to fast (during the summer the body naturally eats less). Regardless of the season though, I most often hear that Ramadan is a favorite holiday.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five Pillars of Islam. During this time, it is believed that the gates of Heaven are open for the entire month and the gates of Hell are closed. With this belief and many others, it makes Ramadan a time for celebration, family and remembrance. Fasting is purposely one of the most difficult things to do, it is intended to remind people to be closer to God, to express their gratitude and remind them of those who are living in poverty. It is is also more than abstaining from food and water, it is abstaining from all sins. Violence, anger, greed, lust (yes this does mean no* sex during daylight hours), profane language, gossip, addictions (specifically, smoking and/or drinking)… the list can go on and on. It has been told to me that during this time, harassment towards women is ***doubly shameful.

It is customary in Morocco to wear traditional clothes in Ramadan, be more intentional about praying in Mosques and spending time with family. It is also normal for the work hours to change. Normal work hours are from 830-12 with a break for lunch and people return to work from 2 until 6. During Ramadan, however, many many places do not open until 11 or 12, close at 7 and do not open again until 10 or 11 pm, this is even if a place is open at all during Ramadan.

Morocco is one of the only countries to still go by the actual moon- some started on July 9th- but by the moon we go, so July 10th was the start of Ramadan. Other countries are more diverse in Muslim and non-Muslim citizens as well as fasting and non-fasting Muslims. But as it appears, Morocco is more homogenous and even has been known to sentence jail time for those that break the fast more than three times in public.

As a volunteer, this can be a time to really integrate into one’s community. Breaking the fast (also called lftur) with members of the community and even sharing in the pains of fasting- white tongue and all (who knew that not drinking or eating would give someone a white tongue!). Because we live in a larger town (and maybe also because we are married), we  are not often invited to lftur at people’s homes. Last Ramadan, this was heartbreaking to me, because I knew of many many other volunteers, even married couples, to be invited to someone’s house almost every night. However,  it is important to remember to not compare sites with anyone else as well as anyone else’s experience. When we are invited, it is a special treat and we enthusiastically accept the invitation. Last Ramadan, I also felt listless and anxious because we were not doing very much. This Ramadan, I wouldn’t say that I am any more active, but I feel good about the time-using it to catch up on my reading, watch tv shows and movies, and thinking about other projects/ our last TEN MONTHS in country! It has also helped that my schedule has had more to do with teaching yoga (more on this later) than anything else, which is pretty freakin’ wonderful!!!!

So there you are! I hope I was able to share some of the ins and outs of Ramadan!! As I learn more… so will you!!!

Ramadan Karim!

*** not sure if doubly is a word… but sometimes there is just not another word that can be as accurate as made up words!


Holllyyyyyyy Ramadan!!!!

Literally, it is the HOLY MONTH OF RAMADAN!!!!! Ramadan Mabroke! (Congratulations/ or more loosely translated: Happy Ramadan!)

Yes, you guessed it! We are now in the THROES of Ramadan!!!! Going outside today was a little like walking through a ghost town. We thought that we remembered that things were up and going around mid-day but by 11:30, all of the cafes were closed (of course) but so were many hanoots (stores!). Also, Wednesdays are usually our best souk (market) days but today left a little to be desired.

So here we are Ramadan…. its you…. and me (cue* old Western movie music)

Ramadan : are you yella?

Me: No I’m not yella- give me all you got!

Ramadan: I’ve got lessons…. lessons you’ve never dreamed of!!!!

Me: What you mean, lessons? I don’t need to be taught nothin! I’ve seen you around these parts before… you don’t do nothin but cause trouble!

Ramadan: At dawn, in the 8th month…. you’ll see!

(cue* old Western music)

Well, obviously I have had a face-off with Ramadan… closed stores, slower schedules, hard travel etc. etc! But* it is important, just like many holidays, to find and hold true the deeper meaning. What is it about Ramadan that  is so special and oftentimes, a favorite holiday of many?

I guess Ramadan was right, I DO* have a lot to learn.

Ramadan goal:

write a blog post every day!!!!

Highs and Lows

We have officially been in Morocco for 4 months! So far, it has been very interesting!! It has been mixed feelings, missing home, struggling with language, having a laugh with a Moroccan, feeling as though a student has learned something and the list goes on and on. Obviously, life while not living in a foreign country has its considerable highs and lows. I guess it is just blog-worthy because this roller coaster is unlike any other Tyler and I have been on, one which we are still trying to navigate. But I wanted to highlight some of our highs and lows during the past month or so!

Low: During Ramadan, the slow schedule that we have adjusted to in Larache, has become slower with more unknowns—like when the stores, post office and other places will be open. These unknowns also pertain to travel- which might take 2-3x longer than normal, with the expectation that you are fasting along with other Moroccans.

High: This past Sunday we went on a day trip to a beautiful city near us called Assileh. We were able to visit another volunteer and walk around the old medina (medina means city in Arabic)! It was absolutely amazing!  But as previously mentioned, the travel was a bit more difficult, especially on our return trip. We arrived at the taxi stand hoping to get home by sundown, but we again learned that it is futile to have any expectations here. We ended up getting home 3 hours later BUT* during our wait, which happened to be during break the fast time. A store owner kindly shared his thermos of harira (a traditional soup), dates, bread and water with us! It was a completely unexpected act of kindness. Also, while waiting for our grand taxi to fill up (with the required 6 people) we had great conversation with the other men. It was an interesting experience when our taxi driver broke a different kind of fast– his fast from a lady called Mary Jane. We definitely didn’t expect all of this when we decided to visit Assileh!

Low: An aspect of Morocco that has been especially difficult for Tyler and I, has been the different view on animals, specifically cats and dogs. I am proud to wear my cat-lady nametag, so seeing some members of the beloved feline family suffer, yanks on my heart stings. After a couple of months, I have learned that some cats are okay! Families or store owners sometimes feed them and the animals know where to get food and who to stay away from. However, the heart wrenching moments still occur when seeing kittens. And obviously, we cannot help them all, nor do all of them want to be helped. And, even if you do try to help them, like we have, we find that the medical help that is readily available in the states for things like worms or fleas, isn’t as attainable here.

High: The high of this aspect is when we can help kittens and can see a noticeable difference in them! When we first started taking care of Henry, we honestly didn’t know if he was going to live or not. I know this may sound a bit dramatic, but when Tyler first saw him, he had mistaken him for a piece of trash. Now he is a lively, sometimes too lively, cuddlebug! And our newest addition, Layla (picture posted soon)! Just a week ago, she had a funny scab on her nose, wanted nothing to do with us and was covered in fleas! I am happy to report that I have not found a flea on her in two days and her and Henry are becoming best friends! Making a difference for even one or two cats, makes it worth it. It really is* about the small victories!

Low: Often times, with the language, it is an everyday struggle. Whether it be someone trying to speak ANY other language than Arabic to communicate to us (French, Spanish… throw some Chinese in there!) or someone speaking French to us repeatedly, even though we have told them that we don’t understand it. Luckily, we have some helpful people that encourage us to keep trying! One of these people is our tutor Rachid. We had a little trouble at first but now I feel like our sessions are bursting at the seams with new information!

High: Tonight, while teaching my English class (I teach the advanced level), I was teaching them that the word “thrown” had two different meanings. I didn’t know the word for thrown (chair of royalty) in Arabic, but one of my better students explained what it was. Always on the lookout for new words, I asked him to repeat the word. They think that it is hilarious when I attempt to speak Arabic or repeat what they say.  I then decided to take that moment to, possibly, make a giant fool out of myself (carpe diem, right?) .  I attempted to write the word in Arabic letters. Wouldn’t you know it, I not only spelled it correctly BUT I used the right letters!!!!!!!!!!!! The feeling was unbelievable, and I had to run to get Tyler in another room to show him! They thought it was hilarious, of course, and then wanted me to try other words (which were a little harder). So I have a feeling this might be a new game of theirs—which is fine because it helps me practice!

High: Although, teaching English is not my first choice of activities, it can definitely have its rewards. When you feel like your students are learning something new or when one of them finally gets a concept, it is absolutely incredible!

Low: However, something that I have not done a great job of is teaching culture along with language. I have learned, while learning Spanish before and now Arabic, that language and culture may seem like they are mutually exclusive….however this is not the case. A word may contain a light feeling for some, but have deep meaning for others. An example of this is: “inshallah”. A cultural word for Moroccans which conveys their belief in God, that if he wills it, it will happen. It also seems to be a comfort for some, that if God wills it, it was meant to be. However, for us, at times, this words conveys frustration. Personally, I believe if I say, I will see you tomorrow, I am definitely going to see you tomorrow. Or, if I say, I am coming back to buy this fridge- I AM* coming back to buy this fridge. This low, is probably the most extreme for me. This evening, one of my students (who speaks English well) blurted out a word that, culturally, contains a weight I still don’t know how to explain. This is a word that conveys hatred while simultaneously containing a history of oppression and persecution. I have stopped asking, how these kids learn these words, and attempted to tell him that the word is far from funny. After class, I had him stay after and tried to explain to him the weight of the word. I also encouraged him to research the word on his own, so he might understand why, but, sadly, a large part of me knows that my words have fallen on deaf ears.

This last low, has affected me deeply. I cannot change every Moroccan man, obviously. Their views are deeply ingrained.  So if a student wants to learn English to harass women in the future, ultimately I cannot decide what he does with his own knowledge. However, I can try my best to impress upon them the importance of treating people equally or that all American women (despite what the media portrays) do not ask to be touched because of what they wear or even to be yelled at incessantly. I can attempt to show them that the color of someone’s skin does not automatically assume something about their character or personality. How will I do this? Well, I really have no idea! But I will let you know when I do!

Hopefully in the future, the highs will continue to not only balance out the lows, but supersede them! 🙂