Friday, October 3, 2008


My village
Me and friend, my village in lower left corner.

In Islam, there are five things (known as the five pillars of faith) that one must do in order to be a good Muslim. One of those is fasting during the month of Ramadan. The Islamic calendar is a lunar one, so each year Ramadan moves forward a little bit. This year, in Morocco, it started on the 2nd of September and ended on the 30th (other Islamic countries start and end on different days; most other countries started on the 1st). Fasting means that you don’t eat, drink, smoke, have sex, or say bad words from sun up to sun down. In my community, sunrise was about 4:30 or 5:00 am and sunset was around 6:30 pm.
For me, there were good and bad parts about Ramadan. I’ll do the good first.
First of all, the food that you break fast with is delicious, although quite unhealthy. When I eat at other people’s houses, eating a lot is always encouraged, but even more so during Ramadan. I stuffed myself on a daily basis. My favorite thing is something called fat bread. Basically a thin, circular loaf of bread is baked. Then it’s sliced through the middle and pieces of fat, spices, and some onions or peppers are put into the middle. Then the bread is cooked some more to melt the fat. I told one American friend about this and he was grossed out by the idea, but believe me, it’s delicious. Fat bread is kind of a luxury and so not always served for break fast. Going to a house and seeing fat bread was always a nice surprise. A close second to fat bread is something called bu-shi-ya. It’s basically a fluffy sort of crepe, fried in a pungent cow butter. If made well, it’s really greasy. Bu-shi-ya is a staple of the break fast. Dates are always served – you’re supposed to eat a date first. Hard-boiled eggs are often served. There’s often something called sha-bek-i-ya, which is basically fried dough soaked in liquid sugar. Ze-mee-ta is often served. It’s flour, sugar, cinnamon, and some other spices cooked lightly in oil. It’s crumbly and you eat it with a spoon. Coffee is always served and sometimes tea as well. Coffee here is about half milk and it’s very sugary. After you eat all of these things, a-ha-rir is served. It’s a soup with any combination of lentils, beans, chickpeas or pasta shreds. It often has a little meat, normally chicken. It’s a thick soup; I believe ground wheat or barley is added to thicken it. There are some spices too. It’s pretty good.
The other good part about Ramadan is that it can bring a community closer together. People eat over at each other’s houses more. For me, it was great because I got to eat at several people’s houses and meet people (women mostly) whom I’d never talked to before. There’s are also a good community feeling that comes with daily accomplishing something (fasting) that is kind of hard. People in my community loved it that I was fasting with them and it definitely helped my community integration efforts.
Bad parts of Ramadan. You would think that not eating and drinking all day would be pretty uncomfortable, but it really wasn’t that bad. I was thirsty a lot for the first couple days, but then I got over that. I would get pretty hungry every day around noon, but it would only last for an hour or two and then it would kind of go away. Not eating or drinking just means that you’re tired and lethargic for a lot of the day. People still work, but not as much.
I think my least favorite part of Ramadan was waking up at 3 am every morning to cook and eat. I live right next to the mosque and there is a call to wake up every morning that I could not ignore. You’re tired and not even particularly hungry, but you’ve gotta eat cook and eat anyways, then try and fall asleep with a full stomach. So that was difficult.
Another negative aspect of Ramadan was the increased agitation that everyone experiences. You’re fasting and you’re tired, so your fuse is greatly shortened. I felt myself getting angry far more often than I’d like. In my village, where people are normally quick to come to blows, this led to several fights, often about nothing. I was talking in a group of men and two men started fighting; their argument was about what day of Ramadan it was. Fights in my village aren’t pretty; it makes my village seem like a bunch of immature idiots. And it’s really disappointing to see fighting during a month that is supposed to be about peace and community.
All in all, I was getting pretty tired of Ramadan and I was glad when it was over. Everyone in Morocco will tell you that it’s good for your health (their explanation is that it’s like a vacation for your stomach), but I’m pretty sure it’s bad for you. People are dehydrated for an entire month. They end up eating as many (or more) calories as normal, but just in short, grease-filled bursts. However, it was a good experience and I’m glad that I fasted along with my community. Also, I miss fat bread and bu-shi-ya.

Schooling in My Community
I just found out something about my school that is pretty shitty. So there is one school in my community and it’s only for the first six grades. If you want to continue schooling after that, you have to go to Tounfite (28k away). There’s no way to commute every day, so you’d have to know someone in Tounfite to stay with. Most kids don’t go past the sixth grade. I had been told by someone that it was because they didn’t want to and that it wasn’t valued by the parents. That may be true, but I just found out another reason as well. The last two years, kids from my community have tried to continue their education in Tounfite, only to have every single kid be failed out. They’re not well prepared by their teachers here so they can’t keep up. It really sucks that those families who are willing to make the sacrifice to try and improve their children’s lives through education are being failed by the school system. I like the teachers in my school, but I have to question what they’re doing if none of their pupils can make it at the next level.

Another month has passed. It’s really rainy here now. When it rains, the mountain streams come down and wash out the road to my village. All of yesterday people were unable to get here, although the road is passable again today. The tops of the nearby mountains sometimes get dusted white with snow or hail. Winter is around the corner.
On Monday I’m continuing my oral hygiene education campaign by starting to speak to the adults in my village. Working with a local leader, I’ve split the village up into 6 groups to make group a manageable size to talk to. Basically I’m going to be telling parents they need to help their kids remember to brush their teeth. At the same time I’ll be introducing the idea of brushing your teeth to adults. I have little idea how many people are going to show up for my meetings and little idea what their interest level/response is going to be like. I think that people will be curious. Also, having the local leader with me is going to help a lot as well.
On the 20th of this month, we’re starting the training for midwives. By the way, thanks very much to everyone who gave, we’ve reached our goal. Sorting out the logistics for the training is making me busy. The training will be a weeklong. Between that and the tooth brushing stuff, this will be by far my busiest month.


maryellen said...

hey dunc, great photos! can we see your house in the picture of your town? does everyone have satellite?

love, ma

Anonymous said...

That view is really nice so refreshing.

Laby[black suit]