Living through Ramadan in the Sahara

When myself and my good friend Robyn decided to book a “cool” “hip” and “chic” travelling holiday two summers ago, we booked Morocco without second thought. We rocked up to Marakesh, dirham-less, and clueless, to the fact that it was Ramadan. It was 50 degrees, we were week 1 into Ramadan, and we did not know where our riad was. 

Once making our way out of the airport and into the depths of the Marrakech souk, our new home for the next week, we were baffled as to how anyone was doing Ramadan. The street market some what resembled an episode of The Wacky Races. It was unbearably hot, no one had air con, and there was no traffic lane system. I was Dick Dastardly and Robyn was Muttley but we were not in the Mean Machine, we had very much so broken down, from hunger and thirst. No normal food shops were open, no one was drinking water on the streets, and we had been tricked onto the wrong route on our very first day.

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After asking one of the kind street youths where the leather market was, he told us, he knew the way and to follow him. We were taken on a treacherously dark path, through every winding back alley of the souk, before getting to our final destination. However, on arrival at the slaughter house, we were confused. Not only did the stench of dead cows make me want to vomit profusely, but our kind new friend had run away. We were then greeted by an older man, who took us into a raw leather chopping shop, and announced we must buy an item. It was then we knew it was every man for himself in this wacky race, and it was time to run. I did not even have time to ask him if he did Mulberry.

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We thought we would learn from our mistakes of the slaughter house but loan behold, the “CON ME” tattoo on my forehead only seemed to grow bigger, as the hotter and longer Ramadan days passed by. Maybe it was the dehydration, maybe it was my lack of street sense, but we seemed to always get it wrong.

After deciding that we would like to go to the Sahara for a night to camp under the stars and ride camels, we contacted a tour company who told us they would take us there. We hopped on a 70s style minivan with 10 other strangers and set track for the Atlas Mountains. The scenic journey was going well, until I turned to the driver whom I was sitting next to and noticed he was dripping in sweat and tilting his head back and forewards. It was 51 degrees, we were driving 400ft high across a narrow mountain track, and this man had not drunk water in 9 hours. I knew then, Ramadan was serious, and this man had our lives in his hands. I then had a stroke genius, and we poured all of our water on his head.

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On arrival at the Sahara 8 hours later, we realised we were not camping out under the stars and riding camels. We were in fact visiting the Game of Thrones film set, and we had to pay $2 to enter the site where Berber mountain people were living without any form of electricity. It was interesting to see, despite the fact that I do not watch Game of Thrones (shame, I know), but the 8 hour bus back to the exact same spot in the souk was perhaps more interesting… We were back at base camp. 

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Perhaps the greatest scam of all was to come next, the henna. Once back from the Sahara we decided to venture into the town of Fes to get some henna tattoos. Again, we came across another kind youth who told us he knew of a henna house where we could get “the best ink in town.” As per, we naively followed him on a 25 minutes goose trail through the backstreets of the Fez souk. We were brought to a traditional Moroccan home, taken up two flights of stairs, and into someones living room. The door was then swiftly locked behind us as 3 older men entered the room saying “you want the henna.” At this point, getting the henna was not even a question, and like magic, a 10 year old French girl appeared with a henna pen. They stated they would do our arms and legs for a good deal, but we haggled it down to just arms. 50 minutes later, we left the premises, 250 dirham less, with the worst henna I have ever seen in my life.

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We finally rocked up at the ancient Blue town of Chefchouen, 4 hours North of Fes. We had come to the realisation if we drank water in secret, alone, we would be okay. That was assuming we could find a shop that would sell us water, and then of course endure the shame of buying water before 7.43pm which was sun set. We decided in this ancient blue town to become gypsies as no one knew us and we wanted to try it out. We also decided to commit to a full day of Ramadan.

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As we lay back in our hammocks listening to Bob Marley over the sunset of the blue town (how romantic are we..), we were so hungry, that we could not speak. How do people commit to this annually whilst doing their jobs? How can you function in a hospital or a school or an office and not eat or drink all day? I suddenly felt a new found appreciation and respect for the will power that Ramadan requires, and I have sworn that next year I will attempt it.

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