Is it difficult to travel in Morocco during Ramadan? Should you schedule your holiday for another time? What exactly goes on? The View from Fez takes a look.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the year, and is considered holy because that's when the Angel Gabriel gave the Prophet Mohamed the Holy Qur'an. During this month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset - nothing must pass their lips, meaning no food, no water and no smoking. Exempt are pregnant or breastfeeding women, small children, those travelling and the sick and elderly.
The day starts before sunrise when Muslims get up to have breakfast before the first call to prayer. Then they go back to bed for a bit more sleep. Therefore shops, offices (including banks and post offices) and schools start a little later during this time.
The next breakfast, known as f'tour in Moroccan Arabic (iftah in Modern Standard Arabic), is taken after the call to prayer at around 17h30. This meal starts with dates and harira soup with chebakiya (a sweet, pretzel-like cake), and is followed by milk or milkshakes, eggs dipped in cumin, various breads and mint tea.
Ramadan evenings are festive affairs, with families out for a stroll, an icecream or taking their children to the funfairs. Dinner will be served much later in the evening, probably around 22h00 or 23h00. The month ends with a three-day Eid celebration.
HOW DOES RAMADAN AFFECT THE VISITOR?
The answer to this is, not a lot. In fact it's a very interesting time to visit Morocco and get a peek at one of the most important aspects of the culture and religion. Here are a few points to note:
*restaurants catering to visitors stay open during the day, though Moroccans, of course, do not frequent them at this time. Many cafes become sweet pastry shops, tables piled high with deep-fried sweet pretzels, samoosas and sausage-shaped rolls filled with almond-dotted sesame paste dripping with honey. You'll notice large plastic buckets hanging above the displays which you can buy to take home your purchases.
*do try f'tour, even if you're not fasting yourself. Best of all would be an invitation to break the fast with a Moroccan family, but you can also try it in a local restaurant (in Fez, Cafe Clock will be serving f'tour, and there are some wonderful hole-in-the-wall restaurants on Boulevard Chefchaouni near the park in the new city, where f'tour will cost around Dh15 per person.
*most restaurants in the new city close for the month to give their staff a holiday (though Maison Blanche in Fez will remain open this year).
*the opening hours of banks and post offices change. They open later, and close earlier to allow staff to get home in time for f'tour. This means that the hours posted outside these offices will differ.
*trains and buses run to the usual schedules, but it's impossible to find a petit taxi from around 17hoo to 18h30, when drivers are at home breaking their fast.
*the alcohol sections of the supermarkets and the alcohol shops in the new city and bars are closed from three days before Ramadan to three days after. As a foreigner, you can still get a drink in the hotel bars, though many of these run out of some drinks towards the end of the month.
*out of respect for the local population, it's a good idea not to wander the medina streets munching on a sandwich or drinking from your water bottle. Try to do this in private. As it's such a holy time, dress is even more important than usual. Bare shoulders and shorts or mini-skirts should be avoided.
*The Eid celebrations at the end of Ramadan last three days. Shops and offices close and public transport is often full as people go home for the holiday.
*Wish everyone Ramadan Mubarak (a blessed Ramadan) at the beginning of the month, and Eid Mubarak at the end!