Of all the expectations I had for my study abroad adventure, I never expected to be eating a hearty meal of couscous and flan at 3:00 in the morning with my host family. But that is the reality of Ramadan, a holy month in the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims fast from dawn until dusk. In other words, no food and no water from around 3:30 AM until 7:30 PM. It’s a tradition I knew very little about, but living with a host family gave me the opportunity to fully experience it.
When my roommate, Gina, and I said we wanted to fast, we were met with skepticism from our host mom, Umi. “That’s okay,” she said. “You eat.” But we insisted that we at least try fasting. We wanted to experience our family’s Moroccan culture to the fullest extent possible; after all, that’s why we were there. So, on the first day of Ramadan, we woke up extra early to get one final bite to eat before the first call to prayer signaled the beginning of the fast. That was how we found ourselves eating couscous and flan in the wee hours of the morning—a bizarre experience to say the least.
For the rest of the day, we resisted the temptation of eating, and we drank only minimal water (baby steps!). Speaking for myself, I questioned my decision to fast almost immediately when I woke up for the day. Seldom do I miss a meal at home, and I was not prepared for the hunger I would face just from skipping breakfast. That, I think, is the beauty of Ramadan. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam; by fasting, Muslims are meant to appreciate what they have, and recognize what the less fortunate do without. At first, I equated it to Thanksgiving, but this goes far beyond a simple feast. Ramadan requires discipline, sacrifice, and empathy.
By 7:00, we were really feeling the hunger, and Gina and I waited restlessly for Iftar, the meal where we would break the fast. At 7:30, a cannon sounded in the distance, and the final call to prayer began, informing us that it was time to eat. We devoured a vast spread of dates, tagine, bread, peach juice, and chebakia (my favorite Moroccan dessert). It was an incredible meal, and one I enjoyed more because of the experience of fasting with my new family. Before we began eating, our host brother, Mohamed, took our forks from us. “Tonight,” he said, “you eat like Moroccans.” We accepted the challenge, eating with our hands like our family was doing, embracing Moroccan culture as much as we could. After all, that’s why we were there.
The world awaits…discover it.