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A Royal Setting for Ramadan Dinner

Majida Bargach’s family home, built in the 1920’s, is the site of a very special break the fast dinner for Semester at Sea students.(photo by Russ Bryant)

Majida Bargach was born and raised in Morocco and is now a UVA professor in the Center for International Studies, a lecturer in the French Department, and she directs the UVA program in Morocco. Bargach has taken two weeks out of her busy schedule to be the interport lecturer on the Summer 2012 voyage to help prepare students for their experience in Morocco, especially during the time of Ramadan.

In addition to her on board mentoring, Bargach has planned to spend the first day in port leading a group of students through her home town of Rabat, Morocco’s capital city, and hosting an evening of cultural gastronomy with a break the fast dinner in her family’s palace.

After a day of exploring Rabat, we pull up alongside what seems to be a pretty typical building. As we enter the front door it quickly becomes clear that we are in a very special place. The walls are covered with inlayed tiles that get more and more intricate and colorful as we walk down the long hallways of the reception home. The hall opens out to a big beautiful courtyard, the sky is saturated with a blue vibrant color that is electric and calming all at the same time.

The open air courtyard at Majidas family home, is framed by a large rooftop molding that is like a picture frame. The nights cool breeze and fresh air moved through the courtyard as students ate dinner and talked about Morocco. (photo by Russ Bryant)

This home was built in the 1920s by Bargach’s grandfather who was the mayor of Rabat until 1944. She explains that “the rugs here have seen lots of interesting and important people of the world” including Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nixon. It took 10 years to build, and you can easily see why when you examine the stone walls covered with individually placed mosaic tiles, hand carved cedar ceilings, and meticulously crafted marble stucco designs.

There are strict rules for this home; only owners may use it. It is never rented or loaned to anyone who isn’t an owner. Lucky for our Semester at Sea students, Bargach is an owner and willing to host us in this amazing setting for a magical dinner.

Bargach, second from the left, introduces her Moroccan and student guests before dinner begins.She introduces us to her Moroccan guests who mingle and mix with the students. These 10 guests have a wide range of backgrounds from filmaker, to French teacher, to human rights delegate at the Ministry of Justice. (Photo by Russ Bryant)

We all sit down and wait patiently for the citywide call to break the fast. As the sound fills the nights sky, hands all around the table immediately reach for one of the overflowing dishes of dates, sweet sesame crunchies, and fried filo filled delights. Glasses are filled with water and fresh squeezed peach and orange juice. Servers arrive with a traditional soup and the table goes silent as this delicious food meets fasting mouths for the first time in 16 hours.

The first of many many dishes that fill the table for this break the fast dinner during Ramadan. (photo by Russ Bryant)

As the evening progresses there is a constant display of deliciously beautiful cuisine and the air fills with conversation; the sounds of English, French, and laughter dance around the courtyard.

One student is having a discussion with Prof John Cerone and the co-author of the UN periodic review report of Morocco’s human rights issues. She is currently taking Prof John Cerone’s course on human rights law and has been reviewing this report to present to the class. The opportunity to have such an intimate experience gave this student deep insight to the topics they had been discussing in class.

Students talked and ate late into the evening. (photo by Russ Bryant)

When it’s all said and done, the table is cleared and we retire to the sitting room. We look up to see the only photo in the reception house; it’s of Bargach’s grandfather. We relax on what seems to be an endless sofa and take in the exquisite display of fabrics, architecture and history as the conversation continues into the night. This experience was one that filled our stomachs, our minds, and our hearts.

The evening concludes in the sitting room. (photo by Russ Bryant)
  • Culture
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