Friday, July 19, 2013

Ramadan Diary ~ Nine Days into the Fast and the talk turns to Taxis and Television

Nine days into the month of Ramadan and not everyone is happy. Of course there are the usual flare-ups with hungry, thirsty people suffering mood swings in the heat. But that's not the main grumble. Ask anyone and they will tell you that Ramadan is wonderful and they are happy to be fasting and contemplating their faith. What they are not so happy about are television and taxis - as we discover in this episode of the leaked "Ramadan Diary"

Lets start with the taxis. The effects of fasting and particularly lack of water on a human being is the reason that airline pilots are forbidden to fast during Ramadan. A lapse of concentration in the street is one thing, but a lapse at the controls of an airbus could have major consequences. Sadly the same logic that bans airline pilots from fasting does not apply to people driving cars.

For the record, after not seeing a traffic accident for several weeks; two days into Ramadan a driver of a private car and a taxi had a minor bingle on a main road in Fez. A day later and I had witnessed three more accidents.

As Hamid, a taxi driver for the last three years, told me, "People don't concentrate as hard when they are fasting." At this point he is driving fifteen kilometres over the speed limit on a main city street. As we swerve to avoid a pedestrian who has decided that crossing against the lights is a good idea, he shakes his head. "Totally crazy! You get my point?" I get it and at the same time wonder if I would have been better off as a pedestrian myself.

"And the passengers?" Hamid shakes his head again. "They argue about the fare, they change their mind about where they want to go and they even criticise my driving." I grip the side of the seat as we take a roundabout at full speed and just make it through some lights that are blinking orange.. I say nothing. "And they complain about everything."
"Like?" I venture.
"Like the fact this year Ramadan coincided with the holidays and so people all think they have made the wrong decision. Do you go on holiday while you're fasting? Or do you fast and wait until Ramadan is over? And the lucky ones have escaped to France where nobody cares about fasting and feasting."
"And you?"
He looks at me as if shocked. "Me? You think I can afford a holiday?"

As the taxi pulls into the supermarket, the mood is on the lower end of convivial. Getting out of the taxi is made more difficult by the fact that five middle-aged Moroccan women, laden with shopping bags, have decided that this taxi is theirs. The driver shouts that he can only take three people and then asks them politely if they can stop fighting long enough to let me out of the cab. I finally make it to the pavement and walk away quickly while the women discuss the fact that four into three is not a viable proposition.

The plus side of these minor explosions of human temperament is that they are like fire-crackers rather than volcanos. A heated argument erupts and then ends just as quickly. Few have the energy to prolong a conflict.

Next to a more major issue. Television. Last Ramadan there was a national TV survey which showed that despite the time and money put into providing Moroccan programmes for Ramadan, more than 50.5% of Moroccan viewers watched foreign channels, with only 36.7% watching 2M, 8% Al Aoula and 3.9% Al Maghribia. And the reason? The programmes are boring and the jokes unfunny.

Moroccan TV show Bnat Lalla Mennana is an exception and the audience response is positive

"Most Moroccan series broadcast by the national television channels are weak and underestimate the intelligence of the Moroccan people," 22-year-old student Samira Semmar said.

Moroccans waited a whole year, hoping to savour Moroccan artistry for the July 10th start of Ramadan, but the quality comes nowhere near the mark, said public sector worker Larbi Mellakhi. "Why do producers make comedy programmes when experience shows that humour is not Moroccan artists' strongest suit?"

"The jokes are old and unfunny," he added. "It's a great disappointment to us."

"Comedy is a difficult genre, requiring lots of time and research," art critic Salah Chennoufi said. "Most of the programmes are characterised by amateurism, and it is clear that the failure lies in the scripts."

It is time to give young artists an opportunity to bring new ideas, he added, noting that many young actors have come out well in talent search programmes.

Given viewer's disappointment, many have turned to Arab satellite channels, with their unrivalled range of Ramadan television programming.

"Shows on the foreign channels are worlds away from those on the domestic channels," 32-year-old Siham Bahri said. "From hidden camera shows to sitcoms to made-for-TV films, the quality fluctuates. There are very few home-made programmes shown during Ramadan which are good enough."

The simple lesson to learn from all of this is: if you want, excitement, distraction humour and road thrills...don't expect to get it from television - instead, take a taxi at around five in the afternoon. You don't need a specific destination. After all it's the travelling that's the buzz.

See all the Ramadan Diary excerpts - RAMADAN DIARY

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