Egypt vs. Morocco series, part 1: Ramadan traditions

July 18, 2011

Egypt, Morocco, Photos

Ramadan in Cairo Egypt

Ramadan in Islamic Cairo. It's me on the far right!

As you all know, I have traveled throughout the Middle East and lived both in Egypt and Morocco, all while studying abroad during college. Today I will share with you one of my journal entries throughout that time, dated Sept.8th.2009, a day I wrote about nuances between Egypt and Morocco: Two completely different countries. While their populations may speak Arabic and they are both deemed part of the Arab world, not only their language but also their backgrounds are starkly different. Here, a little taste of my experience, having lived in both countries during the holy month of Ramadan.

ramadan in Cairo hussayn square

Ramadan in Hussein Square, Cairo

Cairo during Ramadan is an experience one must NOT miss in this lifetime. During the day, regardless of the chaotic traffic, you notice a slower pace of life, sparked by flash discussions due to sensitive tempers. Many businesses have odd hours, while others do not open at all. Then, as iftar gets closer, the chaos increases…until it suddenly halts by the end of the sunset call of prayer. The city is motionless. Silence dominates the atmosphere. It’s crazy to see how a city of 20+ million becomes a ghost town for about an hour…then how it slowly becomes alive again. And more…and MORE!! Colorful lights lining the buildings. Twelve-feet-long banquet tables under random bridges overflowing with food (and people). Hordes of people trying to get through narrow streets. Non-stop shopping up to four in the morning. Loud music and laughs everywhere you go. Honestly, I am unable to find the right words to describe the energy and feeling one experiences. It’s a banquet for the senses: The bright colors of the decorations; the aromas emanating from the shishas; the feeling of pita bread and its overflowing baba ganoush between your hands; the strong, spicy flavor of fuul ala iskanderiia; the ethnic sounds of darabukas (Egyptian drums) inside a random ahwa (coffee shop) at 3 in the morning. Ahhhh, PRICELESS! Unfortunately, I have yet to see this in Morocco. As a matter of fact, a Moroccan friend of mine doesn’t want to take me on a trip to her hometown Marrakesh until after Ramadan because “it [Ramadan] will ruin it” O_O Any feedback on this?!

Moroccan bread Ramadan

Moroccan bread, photo by Flickr user kochtopf

Hmmm, by the way, talking about the feeling of pita bread and its overflowing baba ganoush between your hands PLUS the aroma of shisha…bread is different here (in Morocco). Regular pita bread as we know it back in the states, and even in Egypt, is definitely NOT the norm. It is some other form of thick bread, like a fusion of soft European bread in circular form, remotely resembling pita. It is similar to the bread found in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem. [click image for larger view]

Now to a touchy topic for me: I was told shisha (hookah)is basically illegal in Morocco!? o_O (that is, face of disappointment). As told by the Director of the Int’l Students kaza kaza (etc. etc.) office: “It is an Egyptian thing.” Huh!? Not that I’m a chimney of sorts, but seriously, shisha was part of my, umm, experience and even connection to the Arab world.

Shisha hookah in Dahab, Egypt

Hookah time in Dahab, Egypt

Another reason why I can’t help but to keep comparing Morocco and Egypt. I have a vivid image of dozens of ahwas lined up in random narrow streets of Cairo, with hundreds of tables and shishas on top of them. It was lovely to walk through and inhale the different scents, or flavors, coming out of those wonderful water pipes. Not in Morocco! Because “it is an Egyptian thing.” My teachers have always told me to never use Wikipedia as a source, but I’ll have the atrevimiento (boldness, audacity) to do so today: Search Hookah or simply click the picture above. I wonder if I could find a clandestine ahwa somewhere in the maze of streets of Marrakesh when I finally go? Hmm…

I guess that’s it for now. I could only point out 3 major differences between Egypt and Morocco today (Ramadan, the bread, the shisha). However, there’s many more I will include in a future entry, along with some pictures (let me get some traveling done first!). For now, make a comment about your thoughts on Morocco if you have ever been there!

Stay tuned tomorrow as I will make a post about some positive Moroccan encounters and more details about Moroccan Ramadan. I feel like this entry will leave a lot of you thinking that I did not enjoy my time in Morocco, when that could be not further from the truth! Both countries, as I mentioned previously, are starkly different and I will write more about those differences in future posts (can’t fit them all in one!). Have a wonderful day and please don’t forget to comment! =)

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