[All photos by Joshua Tartakovsky (C) All Rights Reserved 2017].
17 June, 2017
I just returned from a trip to Fez, Morocco, taken during the month of Ramadan.
For all those of you who would like to visit a place where old shirts or shoes can be fixed in the old, traditional way, where newspapers (and in French) are still cherished and read as an intellectual pursuit, even while the streets of the mother-country or former colonizer, France, are packed by Parisians and/or tourists bumping into each other while their numb minds are occupied by the flickering notices on their flashy smartphones, where you can sit in a cafe and watch the living theater of people passing by who are actually engaged with their surroundings and where niceties are exchanged between people, I would recommend visiting Morocco, particularly Marrakech and Fez.
Strangers and tourists are welcome and will not be attacked for eating during Ramadan (while I was physically assaulted once while smoking a cigarette in Hebron/al Khalil). Moroccans are very hospitable. In the streets of the city, one can witness secular couples, girls with and without hijabs, traditional and secular people, and, interestingly, colored students from all over French and Arabic speaking African lands.
But what impressed me most, was the spirit of community. At the end of the day, as the fast time is over, after the mouzzein’s call from the mosque, people hand each other dates, sweets or fruits. (Dates are particularly nourishing after a fast day as is sugar-cane juice.) Moroccans then break the fast together, inviting their friends or strangers, even tourists who ate during the day. In our system of western capitalism, where the system’s laws encourage and dictate, by its internal functioning, clear cut pursuit of self-interest and individualism and the impossibility of any community, it was pleasant to encounter spaces where a communal spirit exists and where strangers reach out to each other in generosity without expecting or demanding anything in return or coldly calculating what they can get out of it. (At the same time, of course, Ramadan is also the time people go shopping in the colorful market, an activity which everyone enjoys all across the world, and where I am yet to encounter a single country where it does not exist). In fact, it reminded me of the communal spirit I knew since my childhood in Jewish Jerusalem. Perhaps Islam, due to its communal nature, in some aspects can be seen as an anti-capitalist or at least a non-capitalist experiment.
So how does the fast work? The fast day ended at around 7:30 in the evening (the signal being the muezzin call). People eat a date or two, drink a few glasses of water, have a delicious soup named harira and some yogurt. Those who wish also have chicken or meat but from my own experience a few dates, harira and some yogurt is enough to feel satisfied as the stomach grows smaller during the day and there is less of a desire to over-consume. Then a few hours later, people eat a few sweets, or fruit and drink water. Of course people smoke and have coffee during the night. A narguile café I went to was packed by youngsters who heard a female singer signing joyfully traditional music. Cafes are open until about 2:30 or 3:00. Then at around 3:30 the call of the muezzin is heard again, and the fast begins. People wake up, if they are not working, at around 11 or 12, and those who work leave their employment at around 5 in the afternoon. Fasting from food was really not that difficult, but not having water was quite a burden, especially for the non-accustomed person. Restaurants were open for tourists in the old city of Fez (the medina).
Generally speaking, despite the close proximity to Spain, most people in Morocco besides the north speaking French due to the former French rule. The existence of French colonization has had many positive effects. People are more open to the world, speak French, appreciate intellectual pursuits and experience French influences in fashion (coupled by the already-rich and colorful Moroccan fashion). Of course due to the ascent of high-technology and post-modernity, the upper classes have lost the appreciation for the noble and beautiful things and are glued to their smartphones, but French culture is still prevalent among the middle class and working people, due to the lack of so-called ‘development.’
Needless to say, my experiences were not all perfect. I got ripped off a few times by some cabbies, while given exact change by others. (But such is life, it comes with the good and bad in one package. And, arguably, the bad could not exist without the good and vice versa.) The sun is incredibly strong (due to global warming or since Fez is smack in the heart of the desert), and wearing sun protection is highly recommended. But nearly anything needed can be bought easily there (besides perhaps high quality birth control gadgets).
The Medina (old city) is beautiful and charming. Though one should be careful of voluntary uncalled for tour-guides. In the mellah, I visited the Ibn Danan Synagouge which was protected by Moroccan police but had a very relaxed atmosphere, and encountered a Moroccan Jewish elderly man living in the city who guarded the place. I also frequented the ancient Jewish cemetery of Fez, once a prospering Jewish city, and encountered there Hebrew-Speaking Moroccans who cordially communicated with a group of Israeli visitors of Moroccan origin. In the new city of Fez I passed by a Jewish center that serves the current Jewish community. My impression was that the community was living very peacefully and their existence was seen as perfectly part of the tapestry of society by fellow Muslim locals.
I recommend visiting Morocco. Thanks to the wisdom of the blessed King Mohammed VI, the country is cordial and open to people of all religions as well as to citizens of different religions who reside there. Nearby countries have turned into a failed states (note Libya where the country, post-Gaddafi, is Daesh-land and where slavery is omnipresent) thanks to the disastrous ‘Arab Spring,’ but Morocco remains an island of stability and safety. (There were protests in Rabat during my stay against corruption, but locals explained to me that the protests were directed against the elected government, and not against the popular king). Incha’Allah, Morocco will remain this way.