Tuesday was my birthday. Donn wanted to take me to an Italian restaurant that a friend had pointed out. This restaurant is even open during Ramadan, he’d said, so we knew for sure it would be open in the evening. We walked over to the area he’d pointed out, and then spent the better part of an hour looking for it. We went up the street. We went down the street. We went back up the street. We asked several different people, none of whom knew anything about it.
Finally we gave up and went to Pizza Hut. I hate American chain restaurants, so the idea of this being a birthday treat was unusual. But when we arrived, we noticed a cute little restaurant right next door. Voila! I had a very nice birthday dinner at about 9:30 p.m.
We heard fireworks, so I asked the taxi driver if Ramadan was over. Yes, was the response. The moon had been spotted. Wednesday would be a holiday.
The kids had 3 days off school for the feast. We’d planned to meet some friends at the seaside town of Mehdiya, which is just north of here. They rented a 3-story apartment building for our several families; each floor contained a 2-bedroom apartment, furnished, and with minimally-stocked kitchens.
We headed downtown in 2 taxis around noon. The day was bright and sunny, and the taxi drivers happy. Mine chuckled when I told him, “Eid Sayeed! M’barack!” and I don’t think it was just my accent. (Happy Feast! Congratulations!) We bought tickets, 5 first-class for about $15 total for the 30-minute train ride.
The train was packed with joyous people in new outfits, crammed in, carrying cakes in boxes and carrier bags jammed full of goodies. We didn’t get seats until about the 3rd stop. We arrived in the city of Kenitra, grabbed our cases, and went out onto the bright, windy steps of the station. Our friend picked us up and drove us through the town, down by the river, and along the Atlantic. We passed an ancient Kasbah, in more disrepair than the one here but just as fascinating, and arrived at the apartment building, where we unpacked and headed down to the beach.
This is the outside of the apartment building
By this point it was getting on for 3, and we hadn’t had lunch. Everyone was hungry, and some were inclined to be whiny. The waterfront was lined with restaurants, some of which had people sitting in them. We went off to find food, on this first day after Ramadan, when food can once again be purchased and consumed in public.
The feast day is somewhat akin to a Western Christmas. It was understandable that people would want to be with their families that afternoon. But nothing was open, although several of the restaurants showed signs of being open soon. We finally found a hanut. The bread was stale, the eggs unappetizing. In desperation we bought a bag of potato chips and some yogurt. That would tide us over till supper. Many others had similar ideas; the hanut had a steady stream of business.
We went back up to the apartments, where I discovered that I hadn’t brought Abel’s swimsuit. “I can just swim in my clothes!” he said. I’d brought 2 pairs of shorts for him; he proceeded to fill one with sand and salt water, and tear the other on a bit of metal that was sticking out.
Here is a view of the interior of the apartment.
This was the view from the kitchen window. There were awnings, which was nice. The weather was perfect–sunny, but not too hot, and with a refreshing ocean breeze. In case you’re not sure, that’s the Atlantic Ocean.
That evening, 10 of us (including kids) went out to eat at about 7. We walked a block or so from the apartment building to the row of restaurants. Lots of people were out, and the sidewalk tables were full of chattering families. We walked into the first restaurant. A waiter greeted us, ushered us upstairs and out through a large picture window onto the terrace. He and another man spent ages getting four tables put together, making sure they all matched each, bringing tables in and out of the restaurant to make sure it all looked perfect. We gratefully sat down and looked at the menus, which were extensive, several pages long. This restaurant even had a children‘s menu, which is unusual. The waiter warned us that they had no beef, but we were able to make selections of chicken.
He came back and took our order, then disappeared into the back, only to reappear a few minutes later. There was no chicken for brochettes. We tried to come up with second selections but he regretfully shook his head several more times. He was full of apologies. The restaurant had just reopened after Ramadan, and the kitchen wasn’t restocked yet. We understood, but we left.
The restaurant next door had a large neon sign that read “PIZZ” so we thought, “Let‘s try some of that!” (it was actually pizzeria but only part of the sign was lit). Donn went in to see if we’d have any more luck there. No, the waiter said, no pizza or couscous or fries, but he would happily run out and get us entire roasted chickens! We walked on.
After circling round the entire row of restaurants with no luck, we came back to PIZZ. We found tables upstairs again, overlooking the black and silent sea. The waiter asked how many chickens we wanted, which sounded promising. He took Elliot with him downstairs, we thought to the kitchen. After a while, Elliot reappeared. “He said he’s getting three chickens,” he reported.
This cheered us up enormously. By this point it was about 8:30 and we were all hungry. But we sat and sat, making jokes about chickens being plucked, about how they’d just stopped running around after their heads were cut off.
Finally the waiter reappeared and mysteriously beckoned to Elliot again. The two disappeared down the spiral staircase. Abel followed them. We sat a few more minutes. Then everyone came back, shaking their heads. No chickens could be found. The restaurant had no food. They could offer us ice-cream and coffee, suggested the waiter hopefully. He, too, was full of apologies.
We left, wandered disconsolate in the street. What to do? We were starving, and Mehdiya is a sort of resort town with restaurants and go-carts and vacation rentals but no real grocery stores, just the little hanuts.
It was then that I had the brilliant idea of driving back into Kenitra, where I’d seen a McDonalds earlier. They were sure to be open. So another woman and I drove the 20 minutes or so back into town.
The McDonalds was hopping, jam-packed full of young people and families both, with people spilling out into the street. Crowds pushed each other in those curiously fluid lines that are so dire to the orderly American heart. I can handle them now, though (this was hard-earned so I’m proud of it), so I pushed my way in with the best, and only let one small child who wanted an ice-cream cone get in front of me. We ordered copious amounts of food. My server spoke English to me, which seemed appropriate, somehow, even though I started by ordering in French. He was very bright and quick, even if he didn’t put ice in the Diet Coke.
We shoved our way back through the crowd, and drove back to the apartments, where we all crowded round a table and gorged ourselves on hamburgers and fries, passing round packets of ketchup (normal) and Dijon mustard (different).
It was the first time I have willingly eaten at McDonalds since I was in high school. I don’t like fast food, in general. But given the choice between going to bed hungry, and filling up with warm, greasy hamburgers and fries, I’ll squelch my scruples anytime–even if we did discuss the movie Supersize Me while we ate. Plus, I’m pleased to report that at Moroccan McDonalds, the basic hamburgers are much tastier and come with more things then the American ones. (pickles, onions) Even the warm Coca Light (local version of Diet Coke) tasted good.
It was an odd feast. I thought of the families in the buildings around us, celebrating the end of a month of fasting with a sumptuous feast of lamb, rice, vegetables, special cakes and pastries. But feasting has more to do with company than with food, I always feel. We went to bed that night full and happy.