Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ramadan Diary ~ 2015 ~ Day Four

Ibn Warraq continues his musings on Ramadan...

Fancy a Big Mac for Iftar (ftour)?

It will come as little surprise to most people that one of the main topics of conversation at Ramadan is not about religion, but about food. On a trip to the delightful town of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun today, I ran into a couple of American Peace Corp volunteers. It is their first Ramadan and it was obvious that they had adapted well because our conversation turned immediately to food.

"McDonald's in Morocco isn't the same as in Idaho," said the male Peace Corp volunteer.

He is right. In Morocco, McDonald's is an exotic experience and a social meeting place. It is not about the food, but about the image, oh, and of course the free Wifi.

It is an odd fact, but there are actually more McDonald's in New York than there are on the entire African continent. Trust me. In Africa there are around 286 McDonald's restaurants, while there 354 McDonald's in New York City and 655 in New York State.

I suggested that 286 McDonald's in Africa was 286 too many, but that failed to have any impact.

"They are so rare here in Morocco, that when we find a good McDonalds we buy a bunch of burgers, take them home and freeze them."

Each to his own, but it did get me thinking. Why so little McLove in Africa?

In 1992 McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in Africa in Casablanca. “Conquering Africa”, as the move was then dubbed, gave McDonald’s a presence on all continents except Antarctica. Two years later, in 1994, Egypt’s capital received its first taste of the world-famous fast-food chain, followed by South Africa in 1995, after the fall of apartheid.

Since 1995, however, McDonald’s has not spread to any other country in Africa.

Now, my inner food critic would argue that it was simply that Africans have a better developed sense of taste. While my inner-economist would suggest that a Big Mac is an expensive over-indulgence. Whatever the reason, there are those who would say McDonald’s absence, given that it has an army of critics who consider its food dangerous junk, is a blessing. That, however, still doesn’t answer how Africa became “blessed” by McDonald’s absence.

To run a chain of fast food restaurants requires a few basics.  First must be economic and political stability, followed by an understanding of a country's daily caloric intake and finally, food security.

When you look at Africa, few countries fit the bill. South Africa, Morocco and (until recently) Egypt But much of the rest of Africa is a bleak prospect for fast food.  A majority of countries consume less than 2,250 calories per day. The average for central Africa is only 1,800 calories per day – slightly more than one Big Mac menu.

In Europe, North America and Australia, the average daily intake is about 3,700 calories. The three African countries in which McDonald’s is present – Morocco, Egypt and South Africa – have an average daily consumption of calories of between 3,000 - 3,500. Much closer to Western countries.

Maplecroft’s International Food Security Index (2013), which takes into consideration such measurements as water security, energy security and a comprehensive mix of resource security measures ranks few African countries as "medium" - among them Morocco, Egypt and South Africa.

Ah, but it is really about the size of the fries! Of course, I am only partially joking. I was recently told that McDonald's explored opening a location in Nairobi, but that they were unable to source potatoes of a sufficient size to meet their pre-determined standards. Now that is a crying shame.

Preparation for a non-traditional Iftar (Ftour)

Okay - confession time. No, not that I broke my fast, or snuck a little shisha before the cannon blasted away the day's hunger. No, I confess to having a non-traditional Iftar.

Instead of orange juice, boiled eggs, dates, milk, harira and the normal fare, I had a plate or three of delicious Thai food at the Maison Moi Anan restaurant. However...while the food was fabulous and the company sensational, what I missed was the build up to the cannon.

Watch Moroccans waiting for the cannon. They have been seated around the table for at least fifteen minutes. With five or so minutes to go, they start peeling their hard boiled eggs. This doesn't do much to use up the time as Morocco's national egg peeling record is 12.6 seconds. (The secret is rolling the egg briskly before commencing to peel).

So there are still four minutes to go, so date selection and placing takes a second or two as fat sweet dates are placed on the plate in front of you. Then, select the bread, check your watch, pour a glass of milk and, last of all, pour your glass of chilled orange juice. Orange juice is always last as all Moroccans understand the scientific principal that the large jug of orange juice holds its chill longer than a single glass.

Check watch again. Two minutes... It is then that your host signals to you.

"Come, lets go to the mosque first. We can eat later."

Thai Iftar

Don't get me started!

Today I experienced my first “mremden” moment.  Trying to buy some fruit, I asked the stall holder if they were all good. He looked at me as if I was mad.

"Go away if you don't like them," he snapped.  A perfect mremden response.

Being “mremden,” or being very unpleasant to people for no apparent reason, is one of the few negative behaviours you can see during the month of Ramadan. Some people take fasting as an excuse to start shouting and insulting because they are in “lack” or “need” of food, caffeine, or tobacco.

One of the extreme stages of being mremden is behaving aggressively towards everybody and fighting whenever the opportunity arises. You will be amazed by the amount of energy that people can have to fight. And don't get me started on mremden taxi drivers...

Just a reminder - this is traditional

Not so random acts of kindness

Amidst all the wonderful craziness and joy of Ramadan are some beautiful moments of sharing and giving.

Today I witnessed a wonderful act of kindness. My friend, Rose Button, organised a special visit by a veterinary team from the American Fondouk in Fez to Moulay Idriss Zerhoun. Their mission, which took Rose a year to organise, gave donkey owners free access to medicine and expertise. Shukran Rose, you're an angel!

Rose Button ~ a Ramadan gift 

Careful with the Barbecue, Nordeen!

A word of warning - things are a bit dry at the moment, so if you are firing up the BBQ to have an Aussie style Iftar - careful with the fire starters!

Things are heating up in Fez!

Another of Hamid's moderately funny jokes...

A Muslim Aid Charity realised that it had never received a donation from Abellatif, the Medina's most successful entrepreneur.

So a volunteer paid Abellatif, a visit in his lavish office.

The volunteer opened the meeting by saying, "Our research shows that even though your annual income is over forty million dirhams you don't give a dirham to charity. Wouldn't you like to give something back to your community?"

Abellatif thinks for a minute and says, "First, did your research also show you that my mother is dying after a long painful illness, and she has huge medical bills that are far beyond her ability to pay?"

Embarrassed, the Muslim Aid volunteer mumbles, "Uh... No, I didn't know that."

Abellatif adds, ''Secondly, did it show that my brother, a disabled Veteran, is blind and confined to a wheelchair and is unable to support his wife and six children?"

The stricken volunteer begins to stammer an apology, but is cut off again.

'Thirdly, did your research also show you that my sister's husband died in a dreadful car accident, leaving her penniless with a mortgage and three children, one of whom is disabled and that another has learning disabilities requiring an array of private tutors?"

The humiliated volunteer, completely beaten, says, "I'm so sorry. I had no idea."

Abellatif says, 'So, if I didn't give any money to them, what makes you think I'd give any to you?

Saha Ftourkoum!

See Ibn's Ramadan Dairy

Print Friendly and PDF

1 comment:

Jamal Morelli said...

"Why so little McLove in Africa?"
The GMP of New York is $1,287.7 trillion. You could fit most of Africa in that economy.