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Semester in North Africa – Ramadan and the Family in Morocco

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Editor’s note: A junior at Boston University, Katherine Lochery is spending her fall semester in Morocco, studying Arabic; Women, Islam, and Politics; and Post-Colonial Aesthetics and Politics. Born in Britain, raised in the U.S. and in possession of a passport that has seen more action than most anyone of any age, she is consumed with a desire to leave the world a better place than she found it. This is the first entry in her chronicle for Where2Now of her experiences during the course of her semester.

September 17, 2009 – Greetings from Morocco! As a stunning faraway country, home to a caring and diverse population, Morocco has provided me with an enjoyable, albeit challenging adventure thus far. While the initial days of my semester in the capital of Rabat were marked by what I think one can refer to as sensory overload, I am now growing accustomed to the sounds, smells and striking tastes characteristic of this diverse city surrounding me. Unlike the average tourist, I have yet to see many of Rabat’s popular historical sights or visit its splendid beaches but my knowledge of Moroccan culture has grown immensely in such a short time.

Living with a family in the Medina, the city’s oldest neighborhood, I have acquired illuminating insight into the daily lives of a traditional Moroccan family. Before I introduce you to life at home here, I should mention that the experiences I have encountered thus far have all been taking place within the context of Ramadan, Islam’s most significant holiday.

Spanning a month, Ramadan translates into fasting all day and inviting members of the extended family to spend the thirty days together. In my house, my mother, Mama Hafida, and other female members of the family, spend most of these Ramadan afternoons preparing the Iftar or rather, the traditional breaking of the fast. A meal consisting of dates, harira (traditional Moroccan soup), figs, boiled eggs, bread, and sometimes, in my house, rice with small portions of meat, the Iftar takes place just after sunset and lasts about thirty minutes. Although the meal doesn’t sound huge, my family enjoys encouraging me to eat and eat and eat! Full of harira, bread, and dates, I often have to gesture to my stomach and use Moroccan Arabic to explain that I am truly full.

1.	This is the traditional Iftar meal that signifies the breaking of the fast each day. It's both delicious and rejuvenating after a long day of fasting.This is the traditional Iftar meal that signifies the breaking of the fast each day. It’s both delicious and rejuvenating after a long day of fasting.

There is a bit of a break that then follows, but shortly after, I am bombarded with pastries, Moroccan sweets, and coffee. I usually have to explain that, unlike them, I do not fast throughout the day and thus do not need to eat as much in the evenings. This explanation seems to mean nothing to my Moroccan mother as she just laughs and adds more food to my plate. A true Moroccan Mama if ever there was one! To all those who know my tendency to be a bit of a minimalist at mealtimes: I can only explain the recent hike in food intake by reporting to you that the generosity shown towards me at meals here is unparalleled!

3.	This is where I sleep! Except for an entrance flanked by a curtain, the entire perimeter of the room is made up of couches such as these.This is where I sleep! Except for an entrance flanked by a curtain, the entire perimeter of the room is made up of couches such as these.
If you were to look down from the terrace of my house, this is the market stall that you would see! Selling spices, beans, nuts, dates, and various herbs, this is a popular stop for Medina women preparing the Iftar.Look down from the terrace of my house and this is the market stall that you would see! Selling spices, beans, nuts, dates, and various herbs, this is a popular stop for Medina women preparing the Iftar.

In addition to preparing food, the women in my house are usually cleaning, washing clothes, or talking amongst themselves as they watch TV. Because Ramadan means they are up at midnight to eat dinner and 4 a.m. to eat breakfast, most members of my family sleep a lot during the day. Sometimes, if I can muster the language skills, I sit and talk with them…we usually end up laughing at each other’s hand gestures or at our other substitutes for broken speech. Sometimes my seventeen year old sister and I go to the beach at night to play soccer with her friends and other study abroad students. If we are not up for sport, we occasionally meander through the Medina or sit and talk by the breezy ocean.

This is the cemetery that lies just outside of the Medina walls. With a gorgeous view of the ocean and a serene sense about it, this cemetery is the desired resting place for the majority of the Medina's residents.This is the cemetery that lies just outside of the Medina walls. With a gorgeous view of the ocean and a serene sense about it, this cemetery is the desired resting place for the majority of the Medina’s residents.

As most young people have spent their days fasting, sleeping, or going to school during the day, the streets are quick to come alive during the nights of Ramadan. Unlike the youngsters of Rabat, the older women in the household, except to pray at the mosque, rarely leave the house. When I ask them about their day, they often reference Ramadan in explaining their current lifestyle. Aware that this is not the usual, I am curious to see how the daily routine changes as the month of fasting comes to a close. In the meantime, I have a sneaking suspicion I will continue to enjoy acquainting myself with my new home, my new family, and of course…my new mother’s delectable Moroccan fare!

Top photo: The road that runs along the Medina Wall is called Hassan II. Much like any major road in a capital city, Hassan II is known for becoming quite clogged during the late afternoon rush hour.

Read parts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of Katherine’s adventure.

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