Change the clocks, again…this time for Ramadan

IMG_1181Here’s the thing about Morocco.  It has two Daylight Savings Times.  The first one is like most other countries have.  The thing is, it is interrupted by a 30-day second daylight savings time.  This second change is due to the biggest holiday on the Muslim Calendar–Ramadan.  During the 30 days of Ramadan, all Muslims are suppose to fast during daylight hours.  That means no water or food between 5:30am and 7:45pm.  I consider this level of fasting to be a bit dangerous and excessive so I will not be partaking.  But there are several cultural changes I will experience in the days ahead.

  1. First and foremost, I must maintain the appearance that I am fasting.  Eating or drinking during daylight hours is considered very inappropriate whether you are Muslim or not.  Imagine not drinking water for 12 hours and seeing a person walk through the street drinking out of his water bottle.  So, for the next thirty day I will be hiding my water bottle and eating my meals inside
  2. Breaking Fast is the new cultural integration.  I have been told that most Peace Corps Volunteers will be invited to break fast with several families over the course of Ramadan.  I’ve already been invited by one man in this town and my tutor back in Sefrou.  I am excited to eat more Moroccan food over the next month.  It’ll be a good replacement for my own meals.
  3. Daylight hours means ghost town.  Since people need to save energy during the daylight hours, many will stay inside or sleep.  Several towns turn into nocturnal villages–with many people staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning and not waking up until noonish.  This will be an interesting experience.  Since it’s 100 degrees or more every day, this is probably a good thing.
  4. A third clock change at the end of Ramadan.  I feel like I’m never going to know what time it is if they switch the clock four times a year.

I am excited and kind of antsy to experience this holiday.  The thing is, Morocco is 99% Muslim.  By comparison, the US is only about 70% Christian.  In Morocco, this is something that everyone in the country does together.  It is a very community-based event.  I’ll keep you updated as I continue collecting the experiences.

Hiding or Fitting In?

Swearing In Ceremony

It’s been a while since I’ve updated.  The end of Peace Corps training is rather intense.  The studying mixes with the goodbye.  The goodbyes mix with finding out where you are going to spend the next two years of your life.  Anticipation mixes with anxiety.  Anxiety mixes with insanity.  Because every time I find myself realizing that I’m in Africa…I think to myself, “This is insane.”  Whether I’m frustrated or genuinely enjoying myself, being a part of Peace Corps is crazy.

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I’ve been in my final site for 36 hours.  It’s already been more than I could ever have anticipated.  As I walked toward my Host Family’s house, a random man started walking with me.  His English was pretty good so we started talking.  It took less than a minute before he asked me if I was Muslim.   I stumbled.  I knew this question was coming.  So few people in my training site knew English that I never had to deal with the question.  Suddenly I was dealing with it.  I said no, which brought up the inevitable follow-up question: “Are you Christian.”  Unsure of how to respond, I said, “Yes.  In America.”

 

It was my first act of hiding myself.  Many of my encounters involves simply not talking about certain aspects of myself that wouldn’t be culturally appropriate—like a dating life.  But this is different.  I will get this question a lot.  I have been advised by Peace Corps Volunteers to simple state that I am Christian.  Although I’ve been Agnostic all my life, now I have to hide it in a way that I’ve never had to in America.  Sure, it wasn’t always something openly accepted in America….but I never felt like I had to hide it.  Now I’m not entirely sure.

 

After by encounter with the stranger, I stopped at a park and tried to figure out the map I’d been given.  A few minutes later, my nine year old host brother found me and brought me back to my house.  It’s quite a nice house.  The older brother speaks English.  The mother is an amazing cook.  The father is a Headmaster at a private primary school.  All this in a beautiful mountainside town.

 

I spent yesterday exploring Bhalil.  I found the place that I’ll be teaching English.  I explored random road and forced myself to get lost.  In a town of 15,000 or so, I feel the need to explore every side road—it shouldn’t be too hard.  The town is amazing and I’ve already had plenty of random coversations with strangers—in broken English and broken Moroccan Arabic.

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Conversation Recap:
Stranger: What is your name.
Me: My name is Rachid.  What is your name?
Stranger: My name is yours.
Me: Your name is Rachid?
Stranger: No.  My name is Isyers.
Me: Oooooo

 

I’ve been in country for 75 days.  I’m already starting to feel comfortable in my own skin here.  A lot has changed on the homefront.  I’m having a hard time staying in contact with my friends.  Relationships are changing with those I felt closest too.  It’s all a very complicated process.  I don’t that will change.  With time, however, I’ll feel like 800 days is doable.   Right now, 2015 feels like a long way off.  Which could be a good thing or a bad thing.  I’m doing my best to turn it into a good thing.