|< previous | next >Letters Home: Kelly Benvenuto in MoroccoContents | NCPR Home|
Time for another Moroccan update. This past week has been relatively quiet, but there are a few experiences I'd like to share with you. Last Monday, Caroline and I walked out to Agdal, which is the really new portion of Rabat. There are wide streets, and European and American brand stores out there. It's like experiencing a mini culture shock just going out there, it so little resembles the medina where we live.
Anyway, during our conversation, Caroline made a comment, saying that the experience of study abroad was "one big extravagance." That idea has really stuck with me; it's something that I've been experiencing, but have never been able to put into words so well. There is so much privilege involved in being Western students here. I'm not going to generalize about the economic status of the students on this trip, but any one of us is materially better off than most Moroccans. The conditions here are not extravagant by US standards; most people in the US don't use Turkish toilets, or bathe with a single bucket of water, yet we know that by Moroccan standards, we are living a pretty good life. I certainly don't have anything to complain about, my family is so welcoming and generous and I'm very comfortable here. It just makes me recognize how much I have and how lucky I am.
The other night my father asked me if my computer was expensive, and I said "yeah, it's really expensive," even by American standards. My family here doesn't have a computer. Most people don't. Afterwards I sort of felt bad; I shouldn't feel ashamed of what I have, but it just brings this whole other consciousness of how privileged we are as Westerners. Last week, I wanted to do something nice for my host family, so I decided to make banana bread, or banana cake, as they called it. I couldn't find chocolate chips, so I chopped up a chocolate bar. It turned out relatively well, considering I didn't have measuring cups, and their ovens here don't get as hot as ours. One of the best parts was opening the oven and smelling it cook. It smelled so good and reminded me of home. We ate about half of it with dessert, and they told me to take the rest in to share with my American friends (all of whom enjoyed it immensely).
So, many of you may know that it is currently Ramadan. Everything in society changes during this month; businesses have different hours, there are Ramadan promotions, people stay out in the streets later, not to mention the change in eating habits. This is also the month when people watch the most television and television advertisements cost the most. Our academic directors liken Ramadan to Christmas, with lots of conspicuous consumption. 40% of annual consumption takes place during the month of Ramadan. In preparation for Ramadan, they frequently renovate their houses; one friend's family redid the parlor, another's family purchased 50 new cushions, I saw houses and doors being repainted. They spend huge amounts on food (yeah, if you thought they eat less, you were wrong).
So speaking of food, you can't eat between the sunrise and sunset. Once the sun goes down, the family breaks the fast with a meal called f'tor. In my house, it consists of milk, dates, harira (soup), shbekkia (honey spiced cookies), hard-boiled eggs, fried tomatoes and peppers, these mini English muffins stuffed with meat and cheese, sometimes mini quiches or pastries stuffed with meat, bread. Following that we have café au lait, chocolate cake, pastry, another thing called rife, which is some kind of bread, which has been folded many times and then is cooked on a griddle. Then anywhere between 10 and midnight, the family serves dinner, which is generally a meat and vegetable tagine to be eaten with bread. I consider myself lucky in that my family usually doesn't serve dinner (I don't really need to eat 4 meals a day, I consider f'tor my dinner). Some of my friends are made to stay up and eat though.
Moroccans also eat again around 4 in the morning, before sunrise. At this meal they serve tea and things that resemble pancakes with honey. There are lots of rules surrounding Ramadan (no food or drink during the day, no smoking during the day, no alcohol -- well, that's always a rule, but some only observe it during Ramadan), and I only know a few of them, but the group of students here have started to say, a bit facetiously, "Oh no, you can't do that. It's a Ramadon't." And with that, I bid you all adieu. Until next time.
Much love, Kelly
2005 North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York 13617-1475