||Jan. 7-9, 1999 Rabat, Morocco
Jan. 11-13, 1999 Fez, Morocco
During Ramadan in
Morocco, breakfast takes on a whole new and different meaning. For just one month of each
year, the eating of this evening meal is literally a breaking of the day's fast. For all
Muslims, not only those in Morocco, Ramadan is an annual thirty-day religious holiday
period. A period of sacrifice and of cleansing of the mind, soul, and body. Its three
principals are spiritual well-being, compassion, and charity. It is strictly forbidden,
both by religious and political law, for Muslims to eat, drink, smoke, or think about or
have sex, from dawn until dusk.
And, 'luck' has it, our seven days in Morocco are just toward the end of the
Ramadan period. There's the old saying about "When in Rome, do as the Roman's
do", so Laura and I, half out of respect and half out of practicality (most
restaurants are closed during the day), do our best to make it through each day as the
Moroccan's do, by doing without. Success is ours for two of the days. And for two of the
others, we make it with a little cheating. On the other three days, we blow it completely
by indulging in full lunches. Oh well, hopefully its the thought that counts.
We did find, however, that for all the little inconveniences of visiting Morocco during
Ramadan, there were just as many surprises and great experiences. The best three of these
(one in Rabat, and two in Fez) came in the form of invitations to sit down in fellowship
to break bread, as well as the day's fast, with a few new found Muslim friends.
Mausoleum of Mohammed V (Rabat)
"Pardon, Mausoleum Mohammed V?" one of the three girls asked us in
French. My look of confusion then brought "Speak English?" I nodded, and she
then asked me if I could show them the way to the Mausoleum. "No, we were looking for
it too", I said. With that, the five of us were off on a twenty minute expedition to
find this famous tomb. Also from the U.S., the three of them were on a three week collage
sponsored visit to Morocco.
Time passed quickly as our travel related
chit-chat, interrupted only when asking directions from one of the friendly locals, soon
found us trotting up the white marble steps of Morocco's most elaborate burial chamber.
Once at the top, we stepped inside and met one of the guards, who upon discovering one of
our group knew French, proceeded to give us (through our companion's translations) a
complete history of the Mausoleum and its construction. The sun had started to set, so we
thanked the guard, and were on our way out, when he invited us to stay and share break
fast with him and the other guards.
"Of course!" we said, honored by
his invitation. He told us to have a seat, as one of the other guards brought over a
container and began passing out food. Dates, fish, bread (khobza), hard boiled eggs, honey
pastries (griouches), a thick peppery vegetable soup (harira), and mint tea. All part it
seems, of a traditional Ramadan break fast. The nine of us sat there, food in hand, making
small talk in French (Laura and I mostly just listened) and waiting patiently for the
mezzanine call from the minarets granting us permission to begin eating. Then it came,
floating over the land, the sunset prayer to Allah.
We sampled and shared each delicacy with
our new friends, yet exchanged few words. We simply smiled, nodded, smacked our lips, and
rubbed our tummies to show our approval and gratitude. Once everyone was finished, they
collected our cups and glasses, put their hats and belts back on, picked up their rifles,
and headed back to their posts. We thanked them, said our goodbyes, and started on our
way, stomachs full and hearts content.
The home of Abdesslame, Khadija, Samia, and Yossine (Fez)
It all started with a smile. I'm not sure who smiled at who first, but before we
knew it, we were teaching our new coach mate and her two children to count to twenty in
English. The next few hours flew by as we communicated about all sorts of things - the
best we could - with a few simple words and a lot of gestures.
was Samia. All of nine years old, somewhat quiet but quick to smile, cute as a button and
with the most beautiful deep brown eyes. Her younger, and much more animated brother
Yossine was a very mature eight year old, with a sparkling personality and obvious strong
will. Their mother Khadija was a middle-aged woman with a kind face that showed evidence
of both happiness and hardship in her past. As we were pulling into the station, Khadiji
said "Invite you, house", and slowly and purposefully wrote down her full name
and address for us. We then got the customary two-cheeked kiss from all three of them, and
parted ways at the station.
The next day we were wandering around the vast,
incredibly confusing, and tumultuous maze of 'streets' of the old town, or medina, when we
realized that it would probably be an insult to Khadiji if we didn't at least stop by to
say hello. With a little help from another new found friend, Abdelah (who lived there but
still had to ask for directions a few times), we found the alleyway she had written down
for us. Out of the darkness we heard "Laura! Scott!". We turned to see a smiling
Yossine running our way. In the almost complete darkness, he lead us down a narrow alley,
through a small door, and up a flight of stairs to his house. We walked into the light of
the tall courtyard of a simple, but spacious apartment. On either side were sitting rooms
lined with long couch/benches.
Yossine pulled us into one of them to
great the rest of his family. There was his sister, his mother, and two members of the
family we hadn't met yet - his grandfather Abdesslame, and his uncle Mohammed. After a
little small talk, we were pleasantly surprised when Abdesslame invited us to stay extra
day in Fez so that we might return his house the next night for break fast and lunch. We
still didn't know much about Muslim customs, but we did know that it is very impolite to
turn down an invitation such as this one. We accepted his generous offer, and took it as
our signal to head back, and let the family continue enjoying their time together.
The next night brought a warm welcome from
the entire family, as we gathered around their table to wait for the mezzanine call. Break
fast came first with dates, bread (khobza), honey pastries (griouches), soup (harira), and
a thick white milky banana drink. Khadija cleared the table, and we filled the hour or so
before lunch with small talk about our home, and their city; what we with our jobs (before
we quit), and their work each day; our hobbies, and their sports interests. We taught them
English, they taught us Arabic. We told them about our travels, they told us about their
Laura even got a small design in hena on her wrist. In
two shakes, it was 8:00 pm and time for lunch. Khadija brought out dish after dish,
completing the huge spread of food. There were hard boiled eggs, green peppers, tomatoes,
salad (salade marocaine), couscous with squash type vegetables and cauliflower (tajine),
and finally juicy lamb (that I watched Abdesslame pull from the bone himself and hand to
me). Oh, not to forget dessert of bananas, oranges, and tangerines. We were all stuffed!
We ended our visit by breaking out the Libretto (a wonder of technology almost beyond
their comprehension) and showing the whole family (one at a time), our many photographs
from our four months on the road. Before we knew it, it was late and time for us to go.
There were goodbyes mixed with many two-cheeked kisses and promises to write. We left our
new found friends and ended a night of incredible Moroccan hospitality.