I don’t remember that first Ramadan with him, except that he fasted through the short days of winter while I awaited the arrival of our first child. In fact I don’t remember much of the first years save for a memorable argument here or there. I know it was all new and I had a lot to learn. I wanted to do things right, just like I think most newly married women do (and maybe men too). I knew he was a long way from home and I felt whatever I could provide would barely hold a candle to what he was used to. How could I recreate this important Muslim holiday month in the middle of the Midwest?
One year, I can’t remember which, I learned enough to know what the traditional foods were. I spent hours researching, procuring ingredients and in the kitchen making things ahead of Ramadan. Silky harira soup, crispy briouats stuffed with ground meat and onions, cheese, and seafood, and cookies the likes of which were nowhere to be found for purchase and no Toll House wouldn’t cut it. I made the flaky msemmen breads, thick avocado juice, and stocked our fridge and pantry for pre-dawn breakfasts. It was through this compulsion to make things “right” I hoped to achieve a smidge of what he’d left behind.
Everything he’d left behind for me.
Ramadan came and went every year. Some things became second nature. Some things were added as Ramadan moved closer and closer to summer. Fresh fruits and salads replaced fried foods. Less meat appeared in favor of healthier options. Of course we had the staples because it wouldn’t be a Moroccan Ramadan without then. But they weren’t the focus. I put up lights one year, we always tried to invite non-Muslim friends to celebrate with us, and we went to our mosque for potlucks and hosted iftars but that feeling still weighed heavy above me.
Something was missing.
I never felt whatever it was my husband did. I couldn’t make the special connection. Feel the spirituality. All I felt was hungry and crabby. I didn’t get the bubbly joy so many friends proudly proclaimed. I didn’t look forward to this time at all. But for him and for our kids I kept on trying in my own way to make it special. I also couldn’t escape hearing “oh, in Morocco it’s so wonderful. There’s a special feeling. It’s the best.” So I came to the conclusion that was what I was missing. It must be the place that adds to the excitement.
Fast forward 10 years to our first Ramadan in Morocco. This year. I waited for the cannon that signifies the end of the fast only to learn we can’t hear it where we live. I waited for the lights to go up or the holiday feeling to fill the air. Nothing. I anticipated an iftar table with special dishes. What I discovered was maybe it wasn’t so. After the first day of fasting my husband took me for a ride around at midnight. I waited to see people outside, visiting and sharing with neighbors enjoying the evening. What I saw was mostly empty streets and business as usual. I couldn’t hold it in any longer, I blurted out;
“For 10 years I attempted to make this special for you, to make it even 1/10th of what I imagined it was like at home. I’m so let down!” It was utter disappointment. I felt sick to my stomach. I let myself feel terrible year after year for not being able to capture the “Muslim world Ramadan experience” only to learn there’s nothing special that was missing!
For two days I thought and struggled with my feelings. I confided in some close friends and realized maybe I hadn’t wasted all that time and effort. I was making things special for my kids, my family. Even if the holiday wasn’t the same as my husband remembered, or thought he remembered. My time and effort would be a real memory for our children. I’m still disappointed and not sure when or how I’ll get that “Ramadan feeling,” but one day maybe it will show up. For now, I’m okay with keeping up the traditions we started ten years ago, because now they’ve become special to me.
About Amanda: Amanda is curious, world traveling mom of 2 boys. She currently lives in Marrakech, Morocco with her husband and kids. Amanda is the publisher of MarocMama a blog about raising multicultural kids, food, and travel. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.