The Breaking of the Fast: A View of Ramadan from the Outside
September 26, 2007
North Africa Page: http://canciondelvagabundo.googlepages.com/northafrica
A large and simmering clay tagine dish full of chicken and vegetables was placed down in front of me at a quaint little sidewalk restaurant in the Moroccan city of Meknes. As the westerner that I am, I quickly assembled my silverware and made preparations to begin my assault of the good, warm meal that tantalizingly sat before me. But, just as my gluttonous attack was about to commence, I was quickly stopped short by the sideways glances of the be-robed Muslim men who were sitting all around me. They also had delicious meals sitting on the table in front of them awaiting their oral splendor, but their faith decreed that they had to wait for the evening prayer before they could dine. For it was Ramadan in Morocco, and the Breaking of the Fast is an event to be celebrated, revered, and cherished- it was not something that I could thoughtlessly plunge into.
So I reluctantly lowered my silverware, un-cocked my gastronomical artillery, retreated to the back of my seat, and was awakened to the scene around me. The little sidewalk restaurant was full of Muslim men, who were all sitting one to a table, nobody was talking, and everybody seemed to be in the midst of quiet, spiritual introspection. The scene was austere and almost melancholy. As I became increasingly aware of the mood of my surroundings, I too assumed the quiet, introverted posture that permeated the atmosphere. Another man quickly rushed in to the restaurant and was seated right next to me at my table, but we did not greet each other or make any other friendly advances- he was simply there to break his fast and nothing more. So we all sat there with our hands in our laps awaiting the religious wails from the loudspeakers of every Mosque within earshot to announce that it was time for us to eat. During these waiting moments we all seemed to be entranced in our own little worlds; completely lost in the continuum of our own thoughts and meditations. A man in a long white robe and little white skull cap was sitting at the table in front of me. He would occasionally give me long sad glances from time to time and then go back to staring at his food. Why were these men alone during such a festive, family oriented season of celebration? Why were they not inside of a warm home before a great feast with their relatives talking and joking about the events of the day? Why did they seem so downtrodden, so weary, as they sat slumped in their chairs at a restaurant during this beautiful holiday season? Even more pertinently, why were they un-wittily sharing their evening repast with myself: a foreigner who had not a friend or acquaintance in the entire country?
I could not answer these questions as I sat there idly poking at the lumps of chicken that floated in my quickly cooling clay dish. My own isolation seemed to reveal itself all the more vehemently in the company of these men, whose language I could not understand and ways I could not interpret. I suddenly began dreaming my way across the sea, to a family that I have out there somewhere, and to a girlfriend who was probably dreaming about me having romantic adventures in Morocco. I all of a sudden began to fell not so adventurous, and, in this moment, I was able to sympathize with the lonesome, be-robed Muslim men who had not a family to share the joys of this great Ramadan celebration. We were all, for what ever reason, caste away into the lonely seas of ourselves.