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As it so happened, we visited Morocco right in the middle of Ramadan – a month-long time of fasting for Muslims all across the globe. We had debated quite a bit whether this would be culturally appropriate, or whether it would be a hindrance to our travels – either for us as or for our hosts. We went back and forth quite our bit with our local guides in the country, and after much reassurance, bit the proverbial bullet.
As it turned out, not only was our experience flawless, it was in fact a unique time to visit the country. Yes there was some discomfort – both physical, as we hunted for open restaurants especially during lunchtime, which was right in the middle of the fast; and emotional as we were chugging bottles of water and munching on food while our hosts persevered.
Lunch was truly a problem, and we survived on the rare restaurant which would be open (tourist-driven of course), and the scattered McDonald’s outlets where only tourists and kids were seen munching away happily. Dinners, on the other hand, were a feast.
But it was the time of iftar, during dusk, that was surreal to experience. Right around sunset, each city we visited would suddenly become a ghost town. There would be no shopkeepers, vendors, porters, drivers, pedestrians on the streets, just an eerie emptiness.
Sometimes shopkeepers would just leave their shops open and unattended. As if the country was bequeathed to us to experience in its entirety. As if we were immersed in a dream. Complete silence.
And suddenly that silence would be interrupted loudly by a million Adhaans. Some in a flat poetic drone, some singing really tunefully, while others who could do with basic vocal training. This would last maybe a minute or two. And then slowly but surely, the hum of the cities returned.
Our last day in Morocco also happened to be Eid al-Fitr. We happened to wake up very early that day, as we had to make the arduous journey from Ouarzazate at the edge of the Sahara, through the Atlas mountains to Marrakesh airport, from where we had to take a flight into Bordeaux. There wasn’t a minute to waste as there were strict timelines to meet.
As we drove through the barrenness of the Atlas range, we could see flocks of people headed for Eid prayers. We could see the glimmer of festivities in their eyes. We could see smoke from the chimneys in the anticipation of a celebratory feast. And we couldn’t stop and soak it in, as we had a plane to catch.