Before we went to Marrakech, we spent a lot of time thinking about how our experience was going to be…Ramadan back home in Indonesia meant that shops were closed, people stayed in, and nights were busy. Because of our responsibilities as students, however, the only time we could go on a vacation for a long period of time was in June. Incidentally, this year, it fell on the month of Ramadan.
For those who are not familiar with it, Ramadan is a month where the Muslim community fasts from sunrise to sunset. This means no food and no drink at all, excepting children, pregnant women, the sick, the elderly, and those who are traveling. After the sun has set, the first meal of the day is called iftar. Throughout the day, there are five prayers. It is a month to seek and give forgiveness, to distance oneself from worldly pleasures, and a time to celebrate with loved ones.
We talked to a couple of Moroccan friends, who assured us that Marrakech would still be busy, since it was a major tourist destination. Shops would in business, they said, museums would be open. Tourists would still eat and drink during daytime. We could not help doubting their words, but decided to trust them anyway.
And it had been one wonderful, unique experience. Shops, museums, and restaurants were open, but the hours changed (and it was an adventure trying to find out what they were with the help of the receptionist of our hotel). We had to always keep in mind that people are fasting, so to respect those who did, we would eat and drink in inconspicuous places. If some people were short-tempered during the day, we reminded ourselves to be courteous and polite.
At night, everyone came together to celebrate. The Jemaa El-Fnaa main square came alive with songs and laughter and the smell of food. Everyday was a different celebration; it felt new, it felt amazing. The festivities would last well into the night, with the glow of the lamps and lanterns flickering like fireflies.
Precisely because it was Ramadan, we got to witness firsthand the discipline of the locals. We saw their kindness and thoughtfulness. Daylight hours in Marrakech during this time was fifteen hours, but people went about their daily business without complaining (our driver on our Sahara Tour drove up to eight hours per day in the desert; to answer our inquiries, he said that he was used to fasting). We had shop owners offer us tea during daylight hours, as a symbol of their hospitality. One night at the Jemaa El-Fnaa, a man shouted at a little boy…I thought he was angry because the boy was eyeing his food, but it turned out he wanted to give him a piece of bread. A girl dropped her apple, picked it up, and went running; a woman left her shop unattended to run after the little girl to wash her apple.
So if you find yourself asking, “Should we go to Marrakech during Ramadan?” we say, go. The experience will be unlike anything you have ever come across before.
Alysta Lim & Athena Lim