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Cultural Sophistication: Advice for Those Celebrating their 1st Ramadan in Quarantine

Cultural Sophistication: Advice for Those Celebrating their 1st Ramadan in Quarantine

This year, newly arriving families and teachers to Morocco will be celebrating their first Ramadan from within quarantine. 

“Ramadan is a beautiful and special time, and even if you are not participating in the holy month, you can feel its effects around the city. Shops and restaurants close early only to reopen during the night. People change. The days seem much quieter. My first Ramadan in Morocco was June of 2017. I was finishing up my sophomore year at GWA. I had an eclectic group of friends that came from various cultural groups. We all came together frequently to celebrate Ramadan with our Moroccan friends. We had many f’tours, jumping from house to house or occasionally to Chili's Mexican Grill. The best f’tours were at the beach. Each person would bring a dish or two, enough to share around, and as the sun would start to set, we would build a fire. We would sit there for hours as the sun melted into the horizon, leaving us with only the light of the bonfire.” 

The above vignette comes from Charlotte Menard, a 2019 GWA graduate; and now, GWA nursery teacher.  Her words illuminate what it is like to have an inclusive and culturally authentic Ramadan experience.  This year, newly arriving families and teachers to Morocco will be celebrating their first Ramadan from within quarantine.  It’s hard enough to experience quarantine in general, but not being able to partake in or experience such an important month for the majority of Moroccans deprives new-comers of the ability to develop ‘Cultural Sophistication’.  Last week’s article on ‘Cultural Sophistication’ summed up the benefits of deepening one’s cultural empathy in its final sentence:  “Besides, it makes the people in GWA’s community more interesting and more fun.”  Since many new teachers and new families get their first taste of chebakia (a traditional Ramadan cookie) and harira (a traditional Ramadan soup) at a fellow GWA family or co-worker’s home, there will also be a lack of cultural exchange and community building this year.  

IB Coordinator Mason Grine has had four Ramadan’s in Morocco.  He reflects that “I spent Ramadan 2018 and Ramadan 2019 both in Dar Bouazza. I ate an average of three out of seven dinners a week at my Moroccan friends' houses. Each Ramadan, I learn more about Islam, as I spent time studying the Qu’ran with my Moroccan friends. It is a special time and I feel bad for those who are experiencing their first Ramadan in confinement.”

Upper School Math Teacher, Dr. Meika McDonald confirms that “the Moroccan teachers and staff at GWA do an excellent job of reaching out to foreign staff, welcoming them, showing them the Moroccan culture.” 

GWA high school student Allison David has experienced a couple of Ramadans in Morocco as well.  In her first year in Morocco, she recalls being invited to multiple f’tours, and “those were really helpful. We got to learn a lot about the culture and what the foods mean to Moroccans.”  She advises new teachers and families experiencing their first Ramadan in quarantine to “ask Moroccans any questions you have because they will be more than happy to answer them. Ramadan is a special holiday that brings family and God closer to them and in my experience, local friends are happy to share this holiday with you.”  

In this day in age, we will never truly be cut-off from developing cultural sophistication because our internet connections eliminate any excuse to not research or exchange questions.  There is little excuse to not try making harira yourself at home or picking up a kilo of chebakia goodness from your local hanout/market.  Perhaps an online f’tour with a Moroccan family would be a welcome substitute for a real-life event.  Cultural sophistication is a worthwhile endeavor and a personal responsibility.  There is still over a week left of Ramadan before the 3-day celebration known as Eid al-Fitr. There is still time to attempt a day of fasting or organizing an online f’tour.  

We wish all GWA families a warmer and more communal experience next year.  We wish them a Ramadan full of beach f’tours such as the ones Charlotte Menard describes, where “someone normally brought a guitar and we would sit and sing together, enjoying the pureness of each other's company.”