Religion is an intrinsic part of life and culture here in Morocco. It permeates through language, down to the structure of daily life, focus on family and community, and the inclusion of studying the Quran in schools. It is nearly impossible to separate religion from discussions on culture as more than 99% of Moroccans adhere to this faith.
There are five main pillars of Islam – one of which is Ramadan. Ramadan is celebrated for a full month every year according to the lunar calendar. During this time Muslims fast, or abstain from eating and drinking (including water), from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan is a time to reflect on one’s self and one’s faith and all Muslims are encouraged to read the entirety of the Quran throughout the month as well as participate in alms giving and charitable acts. This year Ramadan is expected to begin on June 28 and then culminate with the celebration of l’3id sgir on July 28 (depending on the moon).
Living in Morocco affords me the unique opportunity to witness and experience Ramadan firsthand in a country to which religion is everything. A country which quite literally transforms for one month, together, to fast and dedicate their thoughts to Islam. One of the most crucial aspects of my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer is to participate as actively as I can in order to learn about the lives of Moroccans and truly integrate in my community. For this reason I have decided to fast for Ramadan this year.
My decision to fast will certainly pose challenges for myself and my work in July. Firstly, I live in one of the hottest regions in Morocco. Temperatures will likely reach or exceed 140 degrees Fahrenheit. I am currently drinking 3-4 liters of water per day (minimum) – so the transition to no water during the hottest parts of the day is a very real concern that I have. Additionally, I will have a considerable amount of work to do during Ramadan. I will be working at the Dar Chebab for several hours each evening teaching classes and leading activities, as well as hosting an aerobics class for women. I will also be spending most of my time preparing for a major project I was selected to co-lead (more details to come soon!) in August. I am very happy to have these activities to keep myself busy but I am unsure how much motivation I will have to stay driven and work hard each day amidst hunger pains, dehydration, and extreme temperatures. Lastly, I have never fasted before (not even for one day). This means that I have no idea of what to expect or how the effects of fasting will manifest in me and my well-being. Despite all of these challenges, I am excited for this opportunity to bond with my community and share in their culture.
One of my favorite aspects of working for the Peace Corps, as opposed to other service-oriented programs, is the belief that volunteers should live as members of their community do. I am just as effected by power and water shortages as my community, I buy seasonal foods every week at the local market (souq) just as they do, and I am equally as far away from a hospital as they are. I live in the same neighborhood as my students and attend the same weddings and ride the same buses. These are the realities of their lives, and now they have become mine. Ramadan, too, is an integral part of life here and I feel deeply compelled to participate.
UPDATE 7/30/2014: A version of this post, including a deeper reflection on fasting for Ramadan, was published on the official Peace Corps blog! Check it out here.