Ramadan: Food for thought

If I go for more than two hours without consuming food or water I become angry, easily irritated, and over-dramatic – making claims that I am probably going to faint soon.

For one month of the year, Muslims participate in a tradition called Ramadan. We happened to be visiting Morocco during this particular cycle of the moon.

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Muslims gather at the mosque in Marrakesh during Ramadan.

During Ramadan, beginning at the crescent moon, adult Muslims must fast between sunrise and sunset. This means they cannot smoke, eat, or drink anything, including water, during the day, and can only break the fast once the sun has set. At this time (around 8:40pm) they usually enjoy a feast with their family and friends. From what the locals told us Ramadan is the holiest month of the year and its purpose is to practice mind-control, gain good health (detox), and to develop empathy and show support for those who starve on a daily basis. For a more legit, probably more religion-sensitive explanation, see Wikipedia or something.

I’m all about being compassionate, but for a big eater like myself the idea of starving myself sounded like absolute torture. Nevertheless, I thought since I was in Morocco at the time I’d give it a whirl. It couldn’t be that hard, I thought, and if anything I’d lose a little weight.

The particular morning Ash and I decided to try Ramadan we were walking though Marrakech searching for a new hostel. The combination of 40-degree heat and an empty stomach was making us sweaty and irritated. We decided to ask a random guy, who looked like Kim Dotcom, if he knew of anywhere to stay in the area. It turned out that he owned accommodation just a two-minute walk away so we followed him to his fancy (most likely 5-star) riad and plonked our bags down.

Within five minutes of arriving, Kim Dotcom had his staff bringing us traditional Moroccan mint tea and biscuits. We felt rude declining the welcome gift, so mauled it, meaning we broke Ramadan at approximately 11:30am.

I’ve never really been good with commitment, especially when food is involved.

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Kim Dotcom’s accommodation where Ramadan was ruined for us.

 

Another day at the beach, we went without water for three hours, and I seriously think I stopped producing saliva – my mouth felt like the Sahara Desert. I felt guilty eating and drinking, so made sure I was sneaky and tried not to eat in the sight of locals.

Locals we spoke to had mixed feelings about Ramadan. Many said the first few days were difficult but after a while the body gets used to it, while others found the whole month to be a huge challenge.

This month can really affect certain lifestyles. For example, we met some passionate surfers who couldn’t surf during Ramadan incase salt water accidentally entered their mouth. We met some guys who had returned from England and Canada to their hometown in Morocco because it was too difficult to do Ramadan where they were living due to the constant food advertisements and people eating and drinking around them. One guy was still working for 18 hours per day without food or water. We met a chick on the train who was in her fifth year of studying pharmacology and had to study for and sit her major exams during Ramadan. She said she’d had to break Ramadan a few times while studying because she had no energy and simply couldn’t focus.

People can choose to break Ramadan for various personal reasons or if they are pregnant, on their period, or travelling, but they must make up for the day(s) they missed once Ramadan is officially over (when the moon is full).

The locals told us that if the police find you eating, drinking, or smoking during Ramadan fasting hours, you can face a hefty fine or end up in jail depending on the circumstances.

The streets lack energy throughout the day with most people inside or in the shade, resting and escaping the heat. It is a complete contrast once the sun has set, with streets buzzing and food smelt sizzling.

Fasting in the heat for the whole day can be a serious health hazard. We saw a few people faint on the streets, and heard of women fasting through pregnancy and losing their baby. We also witnessed quite a few conflicts, a memorable one was a small old lady throwing a plastic chair at a man and yelling at him. We were told fights were fairly normal during Ramadan as people have a shorter temper due to the intense heat and hunger.

I’m sure if I had a deeper connection with the Islam religion I would find Ramadan easier. I have mad respect for those who participate in Ramadan and I can understand how it provokes compassion and generosity. I felt privileged to have learnt a slice about how another culture works, and found it an eye-opening time to have been in Morocco.

 

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