Moroccans living in the UK gave a lesson in home cooking and celebrating Ramadan while social distancing.
Virtual iftars and Eid on Whatsapp video call are not new for Moroccans living abroad. Distance and borders are no barriers to family bonds, and every year millions of Moroccans meet online to celebrate the holy month with loved ones in different cities and different countries. Ramadan 2020 is no different.
According to British government estimates, approximately 25,000 Moroccans live in the UK and a further 50,000 British citizens boast Moroccan origins, and each of them find special and personal ways of celebrating Ramadan in true Moroccan style.
Morocco World News sat down (virtually) with Moroccans living in the UK to find out how they stay connected to their roots while living abroad and pick up some tips on celebrating Ramadan at a distance.
The taste of home
The flavors of Morocco are an integral part of the culture and the feeling of home. Chebakiya, beghrir, and harira came up in most of my chats with British-Moroccans. While some miss the taste of home and crave traditional family recipes, others have brought Morocco to their own kitchens.
Habiba, a blogger who lives in London, does not need an airplane to visit Morocco—it is on her dining table.
“I don’t miss anything about Morocco,” she told MWN. “If I miss it, I make it!”
Habiba can find all the ingredients she needs in London but she brings special extras home from Morocco every time she visits.
Mohammed, 26, is a teacher in London. He was born in the UK to Moroccan parents and visits Casablanca, where his parents grew up, as often as he can.
“I just love the food so much. Without harira, briwat, those little pizzas, basically everything my Mum makes, it just is not Ramadan.”
Mohammed’s mother, who is settled in the UK, has no problems finding the ingredients she needs to make those quintessential Moroccan treats during the holy month, and the rest of the year.
“She brings spices from Casa, but that’s it. Everything else she gets in London,” Mohammed told MWN.
“The thing is the way she makes it,” he said. “Even with the same ingredients and recipe, if I make it, it just doesn’t taste the same.”
This year, Mohammed is spending his first Moroccan-food-free Ramadan because of social distancing measures.
“I don’t want to risk it, so I haven’t seen my parents since the lockdown started,” he said seriously.
Despite the distance, Mohammed and his parents have broken fast together every day since the start of the holy month via video call.
“The first day of Ramadan, I set up a zoom call so I could take iftar with them. It was great once they got the hang of it.”
“Obviously, I miss the food, but, for me, Ramadan is about family so it was really important for me to be with them in any way I can,” he explained.
Like most of us in 2020, mobile phones, messaging applications, and video calls are a big part of what keeps Moroccan-Brits in touch with their families and their roots.
Tracy Khalil, a British woman married to a Moroccan who has been living in the UK for three years, told MWN her husband uses WhatsApp and Facebook messenger every day to stay connected with his family and friends in Morocco.
“Sometimes when the weather is bad in Morocco, the signal goes down,” she explained.
Even lack of internet connection does not stop Mr. Khalil from calling his Mum during Ramadan and Eid. The Khalil family go old school and use the landline for cross-border calls, passing the phone from person to person.
As anyone who has ever traveled on Royal Air Maroc or Air Arabia Maroc will know, it can be very difficult to find space in the overhead lockers for anything less important than sellou, cornes de gazelle, or Moroccan cookies.
Tracy told MWN that her Moroccan husband “misses his Mum’s cooking the most. Bread, pancakes, cookies, cakes…We bring cookies home with us and try to save them for Ramadan,” but it is not easy, she confided.
Spending Ramadan away from family and friends is not easy for all Moroccan-Brits, and some struggle with both the distance and the unfamiliarity.
Ibtissame, 31 from Fez, has only lived in London for nine months and is spending her first UK-based Ramadan on lock-down.
“I take my iftar alone because everyone is so busy and hungry at this time,” she told MWN. “After eating, I video call my friends and family or we talk on WhatsApp.”
As a relatively new UK-resident, Ibtissame struggles to find Moroccan ingredients in London.
“I miss the food we made in Ramadan at home, this year is hard for me and I can’t find anything [ingredients] here,” she said.
What Ibtissame misses most about Morocco, however, is the people and the atmosphere around Ramadan.
“I miss everything about Morocco, to be honest,” she told MWN. “I never thought I would miss it at all, but every single day I miss my country, the way people interact, the kindness, and the jokey atmosphere.”
Ibtissame explained that she is keen to get to know London better once the COVID-19 lockdown is over and she is sure she will love living there but admits that she took the community spirit and culture in Morocco for granted.
“Since I have been here I have realized that my country [Morocco] is a diamond secret, I love it, and I am so proud of it.”
Abdelragni, a 54-year-old businessman from Marrakech, has been settled in the UK for 20 years and lives in Manchester.
“This is my home and I love it here, but I must admit I miss Morocco during Ramadan,” he confessed to MWN.
“It’s the atmosphere,” Abdelragni said. “There is something in the air and an atmosphere of sharing and excitement that I just don’t feel in the UK.”
“When I can, I like to travel to Morocco during Ramadan or at least for Eid. But this year that will not be possible,” he said.
The businessman explained that he has tried several times to set up Zoom meetings with his parents and siblings in Morocco but that, unfortunately, it has not been very successful.
“I think they just don’t understand how to use it,” he laughed. “I used to sit waiting for them to join the video call—now I eat and WhatsApp call after iftar.”
From the video call pros to the expert chefs, everyone experiences Ramadan in their own way, but what unites all the British-Moroccans who MWN connected with is the love for Morocco, its food, its people, and pride in the Moroccan traditions of sharing and kindness.