Ramadan Corona and Lockdown what a combination. 7.25 this evening and I am sitting in Fatma, my landlady’s, kitchen, waiting for the first notes of the call to prayer. There are five of us women and three little girls. Allahu Akbar sounds from the minaret near our house in Imlil and we all scoop up a date, murmur bismillah (In the Name of God) and bite into the juicy sweetness. It tastes so good and immediately I begin to revive. I’m like a cartoon of a wilting flower being given water.
We are all really subdued because we have just heard the news that lockdown is being continued for another 3 weeks until the 10th June. Our lockdown has been very strict. One person in the household is allowed out for essential shopping with a signed piece of paper from the local authorities. You are also allowed out if you are a key worker, including agricultural which is the main industry apart from tourism here, and for medical emergencies. Apart from that, you stay indoors. There are roadblocks and no inter city or inter area travel is permitted.
It’s really tough. We have been in our houses now for nine weeks but the upside is that Morocco has only recorded 192 deaths in total, and the population is half that of the UK. I would definitely rather face another three weeks of confinement than play Russian roulette with the population and see the virus rampage through the country.
Fasting for Ramadan has added a whole new dimension of difficulty to being locked down for me. I am not a Muslim but I live in a family compound where every other adult is fasting. I want to fit in, which is something I think most people who are transplanted out of their own environment can relate to, and I also want to show the deep respect I feel for this community who have taken me in and given me a home here.
These noble feelings, however, do fade by about 3pm every day when my energy is gone and I have started clock watching and swearing a lot in my head. The thing is, it isn’t just about the physical discomfort of not eating or drinking anything between the hours of 4 am and 7.25pm although I wake up thirsty and stay that way and my tummy starts to yell at me by mid-afternoon, it is about the mental stress. There are two things that are hard. The first is the lack of energy and ability to concentrate which mean that the ways I have been escaping confinement by writing, pitching ideas, giving online talks … have all become very difficult. Likewise doing my exercise sessions with YouTube. Try doing a HIT session when you haven’t drunk for 15 hours and you’ll see what I mean. Secondly, there is nothing to break up the day. No stopping for a cup of tea, or looking forward to lunch. The days are endless.
But, there is a massive consolation. My home is in a compund, so even though I am isolating, I am doing it with 25 people: three brothers and a nephew and their wives and families. The great Grandfather, Al Hajj, is in his nineties and the youngest, Yasmine, is just 2 months old. I’m in almost the opposite situation from most people in the West. They have access to freedom in the outdoors which I long for but I have company.
Every day, the children, who are studying remotely using WhatsApp and video and audio lessons from their schools, bang on my door after school time and demand that I come out and do sport with them. Even though my tongue feels like a mattress, I can’t resist their pleading eyes. Yesterday, I taught them how to do the Gay Gordons and I whooped while they stomped and whirled and tripped over each other as I yelled, ‘one two three, turn!’ at them like a mad banshee.
Every night, I break the fast with Fatma and her family. Usually we eat in the stone-built room at the back of the house. They have set up charcoal braziers so that everything can be cooked the old fashioned way because it tastes better. Bread is baked in the traditional clay oven. The men eat separately upstairs so it is just us and the kids. It is so comforting to be part of a family and to be welcomed in and made to feel of some value. I’m always learning too. I take down my little notebook and write down new words in tashlaheet. Ramadan has been really hard for everyone during the Corona lockdown. The mosques are shut and friends and family can’t visit. Usually, after iftar (breakfast) everyone is full of life and goes out and about, Marrakech’s main square, Jema El Fna, is mobbed, but this year everything is silent.
I love my adventures and the high days I have out in the mountains and desert and I miss them! But there is a quiet beauty about the way I am living now. I thought that walking across the Sahara was an exercise in stripping away but I think this Ramadan Corona lockdown has been even more so. I would never choose it, but I hope that I will come out of it with some new strength and insight.
I can’t do much to help during this crisis but I can offer you lots of free content – some moments of escape from the daily reality. There are more blogs here
I have a podcast, Alice in Wanderland, which is on all major platforms or here and covers my adventures (episodes 4-10 are live from the Sahara Expedition) and Corona lockdown life now.
If you’d like to buy any of my books, that would be great. Check them out here. They are all on kindle/ereader as well as in print. Bike across Africa with me in Dodging Elephants, delve behind the scenes on my TV show in Morocco to Timbuktu, or zoom round Morocco with me from the Atlas to the Sahara, from Marrakech to Essaouira in Adventures in Morocco.