A Poem Inspired by Eid al Adha

This year, I had the opportunity to witness the Moroccan Eid al Adha rituals in their entirety, including the slaughter and butchering of a sheep. On Friday, my student invited me to his house to celebrate the holiday with his family. The images of that day were to me simply beautiful, and they inspired me to write this poem:

Eid Morning

Quiet streets,
Dawn breaks.
Rubbage rustling,
Soft stirring wind.

Donkey carts still.
Young men waiting,
Waiting
For the call.

White robes shuffle down streets,
Father and sons.
Elder’s hand guides the young,
Fuzzy bronze heads under fezzes.

Warm light shines
Through great grey masses,
Illuminating pink plaster walls.
All hear the call.

Men gather outside:
Neighbors form neat rows,
Kneeling on plastic mats,
Wheelchairs first.

Red fountain,
Pools on dry mud.
Knife cuts,
Giving and taking life.

Here my hands
Hold your innermost possessions.
Meticulous work:
Nothing is wasted.

Eid is the end,
Eid is the beginning.
From dust
to dust.

We say
Thank you.

The Ramadan Custom That Fills My Heart – and Belly – With Joy

One of my favorite things about Ramadan in Morocco is the custom of sharing food with your neighbors. This week, my neighbor has shown up at my door with delicious food 3 times! It’s amazing that even on nights when I am not invited for ftour (breakfast meal) at someone’s house, people still manage to feed me. Today, I decided to return the favor! I made tortilla española and brought a few pieces to my neighbors downstairs. They were happy to receive it! (Above is a photo of food from my neighbors: a Moroccan soup called harira with a type of pancake called baghrir and homemade sweets).

5 Reasons Why I’m Fasting on Ramadan

“You’re fasting?” My twenty-something student shot me an incredulous glance before diverting his eyes back to the road. He had offered to drive me to Marjan, a sort of Moroccan Walmart which sits on the outskirts of the city. We set out at 4pm in the afternoon, just a few hours before ftoor, the meal in which Muslims break their Ramadan fast.

“But you don’t need to fast. You are free to do what you want!” he insisted. I knew what he meant: I was a foreigner and a non-Muslim, meaning that I was exempted from the long list of Moroccan social norms, to which religion is closely tied. Among the most important of these is fasting on Ramadan.

“I am doing what I want.” I insisted. “I want to fast. I enjoy it.”

My answer did little to alleviate his confusion. Fasting is hard. How could I possibly enjoy it?

His reaction was one I encountered often from my students and colleagues when I told them I was fasting. So far, no one has been able to understand why I – a Jew and a foreigner – am fasting on Ramadan. Thus, I will now take this opportunity to explain: here are 5 reasons why I’m fasting on Ramadan.

  1. It makes me feel grounded.

One of my favorite things about living in a foreign country is adapting to a new culture. By changing my daily habits, customs and even social mannerisms, I am able to better integrate into my community and society. Fasting during Ramadan is part of this: it helps me feel at home and grounded in my surroundings.

  1. It simplifies daily life.

During the month of Ramadan, daily life undergoes a drastic transformation. People stay up later and wake up later (I even have a class that ends at 11:00pm). At night, what was once a quiet time when people stay at home becomes an lively hour when people go out for ice cream or hang out downtown.

Fasting during Ramadan simplifies my life because it means that I am on the same schedule as everyone else. I don’t need to figure out when I’m going to take a furtive lunch break or struggle (as a morning person) to adapt to my late-night teaching program. It also means that I can relish the fun of evening activities to their full extent!

  1. It’s a mental challenge.

There’s no denying it: fasting is hard. It makes you feel weak and light-headed. When I’m fasting, I must keep a quiet and focused mind in order to go about my daily activities. As a yogi, I enjoy this mind-over-matter exercise.

  1. It helps me be present with my students.

Six of the nine classes and clubs I teach are scheduled in the daytime. This means that my students are studying while fasting – a difficult feat. For better or for worse, I have chosen to attempt that feat with them. Why? I want to fully empathize with them. Does it make me a better teacher? Logically, it probably makes me a more spaced out and scatterbrained teacher. However, I do think an important element of teaching is understanding your students’ perspectives. By fasting with them, I’m taking a step toward understanding where they are coming from.

  1. It brings peace.

Ok, maybe not world peace. But fasting does make me feel peaceful. There’s something subtle about the way fasting changes my daily life. It’s in the little things: from going to the sweets shop shortly before ftoor for some traditional Ramadan treats (see above photo) to sitting down to eat just as I hear the twilight call to prayer soaring through my open window. All of these things bring peace to my daily life, and I savor them as a special part of this unique month.

Overall, fasting during Ramadan is not for everyone. Even among Muslims, there are certain exemptions (women on their period, children, diabetics, etc.). However, I do think it’s a great exercise for foreigners to try in order to experience the culture and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

The Moment I Realized That My Neighbor Was a School Dropout

After work, I went to my usual neighborhood hanut (convenience store) to buy some bread. I finally worked up the courage to ask the preteen boy who works there, Hamid, if he was in school. He told me that he wasn’t. “Why?” I asked. “I left school.” “But why?” He was silent for a moment, hesitating. “Is it that you don’t want to go?” “Yes,” he said. I don’t want to go.”

Despite my questions, I already knew why he wasn’t in school. I saw it everyday: he worked with his brother, Mustafa. It was how they made ends meet. His family probably couldn’t afford to send Hamid to school. His brother needed him.

I wasn’t sure what to say after that. Suddenly, I had an idea: “At the American Center where I teach, I have this- ” (I struggled to find the word to describe it, but we shortly agreed that the French ‘groupe‘ worked just fine)- “club where we talk about Global Politics and how we can help the community. It is totally free, kado (I used the Moroccan word for a ‘gift,’ also adding ‘gratuit,’ the French word for ‘free’).”

“I have some students there who are working on a project about kids who drop out of school. They would love to meet you. My Arabic is not good, but they are Moroccan, so they can speak darija with you! You are invited next week- marhaban bik.”

Hamid seemed happy to receive my invitation. I had the feeling that people rarely acknowledged him as someone other than Mustafa’s brother who works at the hanut. Yet, he is Hamid: a person with a future. A person with a right to an education.

My invitation was spontaneous. Did I give Hamid a false hope that we could find a way for him to go to school? I worried. I had no plan on how my students would be able to help him.
Nevertheless, I’m glad I did it. I have a good feeling about it.

 

 

What I Learned About Headscarves

After leaving the hammam (bathhouse), the matron put a scarf over my wet hair so I wouldn’t catch a cold. In the west, headscarves have a strong religious and political connotation. However, in Morocco, they are ubiquitous and serve many purposes: from shielding a lady from a sandstorm to adding a cute accessory to finish off an outfit.

While walking home with my scarf on, I ran into my neighbors, the bakery ladies, who see me almost everyday. Even though I never wear a scarf, they recognized me instantly. I was worried I would have to explain myself, but they didn’t comment on the scarf at all. I gathered it wasn’t such a big deal after all: scarf or no scarf, I’m still me.