Following 36 hours of airports, planes and baggage claims I finally arrived in Casablanca; and furthermore, on schedule and with all of my luggage (not all of the students could say the same). After arriving in Casablanca and meeting up with another student from the U of O and her new French-speaking friend from Cote d’Ivoire, myself and the others waited for Driss, the on-site coordinator for our study abroad, who took the train from Fes to Casablanca so that he could accompany us on the ride to Fes. The train ride was five hours, but I slept almost the entire time, waking up periodically to find new passengers across from me puzzling over which language to use to greet me… “Bonjour?” “Halo?” “Hola?” My Spanish proved to be far more useful than English, and I was able to communicate well with an Argentinian pair seated near me who could then translate to French for the Moroccans around us.
We arrived at our hotel by the late afternoon, and were greeted by cool marble floors, intricate mosaics and dark hallways saturated with the smell of cigarettes. The other student and I shared a room for the following two nights until we would leave for our host families. The room was quaint, but had hot water and air conditioning, which made for two happy travelers.
Being in an Islamic country during Ramadan means that stores and restaurants adjust their hours so that they remain closed for several hours midday as well as in the evening during Iftar – the breaking of the fast. Stores do not open until 10:00 am, close for several hours around 1:00 or 2:00 pm, close again at 7:00 (Iftar is at 7:30ish), and then open again at 9:00 or 10:00 pm. Most restaurants only open for the night beginning at 9:00 pm since the fast lasts all day. This being said, finding meals on our first few nights was quite a feat, and resulted in our first official meal in Morocco taking place at none-other-than McDonald’s. (Side note: McDonald’s is not thought of as “fast-food” here. On the contrary, it is a relatively nice sit-down restaurant, although the menu is nearly identical to that of U.S. McDonald’s.)
Once shops were again around 10:00, Driss, the other student and I walked along the main street of Ville Nouveau (the new part of town), along with seemingly every family in Fes. The street was filled with delightful chaos: children driving battery-operated cars through the plaza and playing in the LED-lit fountains, teens and young adults chatting and eating desserts bought from street vendors, and parents and grandparents watching the spectacle from benches along the main pedestrian walkway. This same scene is repeated every night of Ramadan; with the festivities consistently lasting until the early hours of the morning.
The following morning the other student and I woke early and went for a walk around town. After having experienced the city at its liveliest, walking the deserted Sunday-morning streets in broad daylight was shocking. There was complete silence except for the occasional car, and the only other noise consisted of half-hearted greetings from merchants (of which there were few at this hour).
On my 3rd day in Morocco, I moved in with my host family. The family consists of my host mom, Leila; host dad; host sisters Shayma (who doesn’t live with the family, but comes to visit with her husband often) and Rhanya; and host brother, Ryan. Leila is one of the warmest and most welcoming people I have ever met, and immediately made me feel at home. She is loud and silly, and loves teaching me phrases and tongue-twisters in local Moroccan dialect.
On my first night with the host family we broke the fast together with Iftar. The meal consisted of crepes, honey-drenched super-fluffy pancakes, dates, hard-boiled eggs, various honey-covered desserts, strawberry and beet juice, and Moroccan soup. The Iftar meal varies slightly each night, but for the most part includes the same dishes every night of Ramadan. The family typically eats Iftar while talking and enjoying each others’ company as the Ramadan specials play on the television. Iftar is both a restful and lively time, and every family member’s spirits are high because they are finally able to eat after fasting all day.
Unfortunately, the new environment and new foods caught up with me and left me with an awful stomach bug for the entire night and most of the day. Luckily it passed quickly, and after a 12-hour long night of sleep I was feeling back to normal just in time for school to start.