While I’ve traveled to Muslim countries before, I hadn’t traveled to one during Ramadan. As timing would have it and my desire to visit winemaking regions in North Africa was strong enough, I ended up going there with winemaking friend Albert from Priorat who is involved with a new project in Morocco. We flew from Barcelona to Fez on the way to Meknes right in the middle of this holy period of Islam.
Maybe you’re not familiar with Ramadan as I wasn’t fully upon arrival. Based upon the context of understanding poverty (which whether you believe it or not is one of the key tenants to Islam) for one month, people who observe Ramadan can neither eat nor drink anything from sunrise to sunset. I knew about the no food part but the no drinking part was news to me as it included not drinking any water. Anyone who understands basic human physiology can quickly see a problem in that as Islam is most dominant in very hot countries. Tied in to this is that Ramadan follows the moon calendar and so it shifts 11 days back each year making it take place from June 17th to July 17th in 2015.
Let me sum up Morocco in the interior during the month of July: fucking hot. While I was there it peaked at about 42C. It’s also dry. There’s also the chergui, this insane wind that comes up off the Sahara and can heat it up to 60C during the day. And so during all of this, you can’t drink any liquids during the day when you need them the most.
The workaround to this is that children, the elderly, and the infirm are excused from and in fact are supposedly required not to observe Ramadan. For everyone else, you’re very thirsty and hungry the whole day. Nothing can really happen during this time. Sure, people still go to work but they seem to do about 5% of what they would normally do as they’re incredibly weak. People sit around in the shade or AC if they have it and just stare off in to nothing most of the day. I didn’t see a lot of meditation on the plight of the poor in the world, just a lot of really unhappy people who were thinking mostly about sunset.
This of course raises an important question, what exactly is sunset and sunrise. It’s easy to define as you get near the equator as it doesn’t change throughout the year and you have 12 hour days and nights. But what about Muslims living in Sweden where, during the summer there is neither sunrise nor sunset? Well, then you just say “sunset” is at 22:30. Oh and sunrise for some reason is defined as 03:30 in the morning. So what you basically saw in Morocco were people sitting at restaurants in the evening, gorging on the ftor, then eating again at say 01:30 before going to sleep. Ftor by the way is the oddest combinations of food with a pile of sweets, fruits, hardboiled eggs, croissants, a glass of milk and orange juice, and then some soup. It’s like a hyper-sweetened breakfast, for dinner.
Given that everything is pretty much closed up, how does someone like me survive these days? At first I thought this would be solved due to Albert and I staying in an international-style hotel. This in theory should have been fine as they cater to people who are not observing Ramadan. The problem is that due to the staff being very weak as the day rolled on, they stopped all food service by 15:00. We two boys from Spain rolled in from visiting the winery at something like 15:30 to discover that there was nowhere to eat.
“We’re going to McDonald’s!” declared Albert although it was then up to me to muddle through my very, very shitty French and explain this to a taxi driver who nearly delirious from not having eaten or drank anything since the night before. But we did eventually find a McDonald’s right next to the Ibis Hotel. Other foreigners had found it as well. They were open as was their outdoor seating which just seemed like the cruelest of jokes in 42C.
I ordered a Big Mac, Albert a Big n’Tasty. As I sank my teeth in to that Halal and most definitely pork-free burger it tasted incredible. It warmed my soul and filled my empty stomach and throbbing headache. It was easily the best Big Mac I’d ever had which I realize doesn’t say much given they taste like a mound of puked-upon dirt in the US these days. Probably due to the fecal counts being too high…
On many levels I felt like an utter dick as I knew the people working there weren’t eating while I was piledriving calories in to my mouth. Naturally if I find myself in this situation again, I’ll buy something at the market the night before because as much as Ramadan seriously needs to be re-understood for Modern Times, keeping your very different beliefs to yourself when amidst another people is a touch classier.