Since Ramadan started, my landlord’s son, eleven year-old Mohamed, consistently shows up at my door every evening at approximately six o’clock sharp, which is about an hour before the call-to-prayer that sounds when everybody breaks fast (el-ftour). Mohamed always has on his blue shorts and a blue wife-beater that says something in English on the front of it that I’m sure he doesn’t understand. He’s a dirty little kid, filthy actually. The other day, he picked up my water bottle, which was perspiring as the ice in it melt, and took a big gulp in front of me. When he sat the water back down, the outside of the bottle was covered in dirt, and I just kept thinking, “How are you so dirty? Where did all this grime come from?”
Think Pig-Pen from Peanuts and you’ve pretty well got Mohamed pegged. Because he is eleven, he’s not yet fasting (you start when you’re thirteen), so when he comes over to my house, the first thing he does is walk right to my fridge and start exploring what there is to eat or drink. Yesterday, he got his hands on a bottle of honey, tore the cap off and started sipping the honey like it was juice. I grabbed it from him and said, “Okay, see, this is where diabetes comes from, Mohamed.” I probably understand about 10% of the things he says to me. I don’t know why it is that children are so much harder to understand than adults, but I guess that’s actually true even when kids mumble English at age eleven.
On a typical day, I grab my backpack, even though it’s empty, and we head out the door to make the twenty-minute walk over to my landlord’s house with Mohamed. I don’t know why I have this obsession with totting my empty backpack around, but I guess I’m always convinced that I might buy a kilo of apples on a whim, or something equally ridiculous. I mean, it’s always a possibility. Just yesterday, after el-ftour, Ori and I, along with our friend Hassan, stopped to eat prickly pears on the street. They taste a little like a cross between a pineapple and a banana with large seeds infiltrating an otherwise slimy fruit. I’m not a fan, and honestly, even though someone else cuts them for you, they’re too much work and hardly worth it. My first time dealing with a prickly pear was in Israel, and that was before anyone told me that the outside of the fruit is covered in the needles that cover the rest of the cactus. You can’t see them, but you can feel them, and it’s quite painful – hence the name. That one bad experience was enough to sour me on them forever.
My landlord’s house is not nearly as nice as mine, which is something that has confused me for months, considering I am renting his house. During the day, there is no electricity, so usually when I show up, even though the sun is going down and almost gone, there’s still no electricity, so we begin el-ftour in the dark, and about five minutes in, someone somewhere must turn on the power, because suddenly, the room is lit up, and the table is covered in dates, chebakia, eggs caked in olive oil, honey and apricot jelly, an assortment of breads, including the traditional Moroccan bread called khobz fresh out of the oven, and a very thin, almost leaf-like tortilla of sorts that’s been drenched in what tastes a lot like pico de gallo. As the meal progresses, we all gather round a small circular table on the floor awaiting the main dish, harira, a kind of tomato soup that includes small noodles, lots of cilantro, chickpeas, and fava beans. Finally, dessert is plums, nectarines, apples, and a large melon that might be the juiciest melon I’ve ever tasted in my life, all topped off with a glass of mint tea and some orange soda (or a few nights, fresh-squeezed orange juice) that I suspect was bought specifically because I was coming. Allal’s family doesn’t have sofa’s (ponj) or couches, so the whole meal occurs atop several blankets where we stretch out watching the calls-to-prayer on television after we’re stuffed.
Then, that’s pretty much it. I sit for a little while there on the floor watching T.V., and then, I get up, announce to everyone that I am going home, giving the appropriate thank yous and “God bless your parentses” and this-and-that, and then, I walk back to my house in the dark until the next day, Mohamed shows up again in his smurf outfit, parading around my house like some explorer in a foreign land until I say, “Okay, let’s go, Mohamed,” and off we go again to do it all over. It’s like that Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day for a straight month, except it’s set in the Arab world and no one is drinking water or eating anything so long as the sun is up.
I said a lot about Ramadan last year. I think this go around, I’ll just leave it at that, just a nice little story about what life has been like here in the olive orchard the past few days and what it’s probably to continue to be like in the coming few weeks. As I approach the end of my service, there’s been this part of me that has been able to get a real taste for America, enough of one to almost make me homesick, but there’s another side of me, too, a side that has grown ever so (incredibly) slowly more sentimental for my life here, and I have these moments where I’ll stop myself and think, “This. This is something you will very much miss in just four months from now. Cherish it while you have it. This is Morocco.” I think dirty little Mohamed in his blue shirt and shorts, a table set for a feast to break fast, laughter (and occasionally silly dancing) filling a simple room that has everything in it a person could ever need (i.e. the people who matter), and those are all the very images that have etched themselves into my soul and will remain there until I get the itch again to pursue another crazy adventure in God only knows what place, whether it’s America or halfway across the world or back to Morocco. Yes, Ramadan is generous. A happy celebration within, for every reminder of how blessed and privileged we really are.