It's now nearly three weeks since the end of Ramadan. Years ago, my husband took it in his stride, but each year as he ages it becomes harder. What astonishes me, observing from the sidelines, is how ordinary Muslims discipline themselves so rigorously for four full weeks every year. No consumption of food, liquid, toothpaste or medication, from sunrise to sunset every day. Even this year he was worried about having his second Covid jab during it, but an instruction from the mosque stated that as it wasn't nourishing it should be taken.
One Muslim friend calls it 'the best of months'. Another says, 'Gillean, every morning I try to be joyous about it'. I understand why they do it. To attempt to empathise with the plight of those who have nothing. In practice, it throws all your normal living patterns out of kilter and, ironically, focuses all your attention on food.
Several times a week this year, my husband would come home with gifts of full meals and plates of home-made cakes and pastries. There was even a large watermelon wedge, more appropriate for 40 degrees of heat than an autumnal summer in Scotland.
'When are we going to eat all this?' I moaned ungratefully, annoyed at having my own meal plans disrupted.
Part of him is pleased. It reminds him of home and the comfort food his mother used to make. He misses that and is unable to refuse. It's kind and generous of his friends, but it's too much.
'There are just the two of us in the house. We can't eat our way through all these mounds of food,' I explain to them.
'Oh, if you can't manage to eat it all, just throw it out.'
But it's good food. I can't throw it out with a clear conscience. Then again, it's not always what I want to eat. Besides, after a year and a half of on-off Covid restrictions, I could do with eating less. Instead, our fridge bulges with extra supplies.
When I first stayed with my husband's family in Morocco during Ramadan they would break their fast when the recorded call to prayer at the local mosque sounded at sunset. The men would depart for prayers, then return to a family table glowing with colour. Tomato red harira soup, suffused with lamb or chicken, enriched with rice, lentils and chick peas, served in terracotta bowls. Glasses of freshly pressed orange juice. Slippery white hard-boiled eggs dipped in cumin. Dates and figs. Warm bread just out of the oven. Sweet cakes shaped like tiny fat envelopes drenched in honey. Croissants or speckled square pancakes glistening with butter. A mixture of sweet and savoury, providing nourishment and energy after the day's fast.
Afterwards people might go out, taking advantage of the usually good weather, or friends would come round to chat over mint tea and more sticky cakes. Food is like a currency in Morocco. People like to feed you, proud of their culinary skills, keen to share what they've made, to make you happy if they can. They love socialising, abhor loneliness. Hospitality is inbred.
Some people might go to bed then, but only for a short while. About two in the morning drumbeats from the street outside would waken you, followed shortly afterwards by a man blowing a long shrill trumpet, signalling it was time to get up for the main meal of the day before sunrise and the beginning of the next day's fast.
Last week, my husband was asked by two younger compatriots to accompany them on a peace mission. A 20-year-old marriage was on the point of breaking up. The couple live with their two school-age children in Wishaw, a long way from Morocco. The husband knew one of the young men years ago when they worked in the Emirates. The husband is a chef by training. His wife is university educated. He is currently unemployed. My husband wasn't exactly sure of the circumstances. Covid has closed hospitality venues but also the couple may not have the right to work. It was making the husband angry and he was turning his anger on his wife. She'd told him she'd had enough and called the police.
My husband's two young friends wanted him there to provide some gravitas. When he retired a few years ago, one of the first things he did was to go on Haj to Mecca. It was one of several years when there was a disaster. The year his mother went, a fire broke out in one of the tented communities. When my husband went, the area around the Kaaba was being reconstructed, surrounded by exceptionally tall cranes. One of these fell. There were fatalities. My phone never stopped ringing during the following days with every member of his family seeking reassurance. Fortunately, he was all right. Having left in a group from the UK had helped. But several Moroccans were among the dead.
I'd watched him as he'd set off along the departure corridor at Edinburgh Airport. The one journey in the world I could not experience with him. When he eventually returned, armed with water from the sacred ZamZam spring, perfume, soft dates enrobed in chocolate and black abayas for all his close female relatives, he was a real Haj. I used to call him Haj anyway, familiarly, as a nickname. Since then, however, I am fascinated by the respect he has now acquired. His compatriot friends all call him Haj. Women kiss his hand. And so his friends had asked him to help them out on this peacemaking mission to Wishaw, a town he had never visited. He would be late, he told me, so not to worry.
The mission seemed to be a success, but it took several hours of intensive discussion, trying to bring the couple together again. The wife had prepared an ample afternoon tea for them all. Food again, you see. She agreed finally to retract her complaint to the police and her husband promised to calm down and not take his frustrations out on her any more. Like so many, they had experienced one of the most disruptive years mentally and economically they had ever known. Their migrant status hadn't helped. They still needed each other and their children needed them both.
Would the peace hold? The effort was made, for now. One might ask the same of the Israeli-Hamas ceasefire. But, as the BBC's Middle East correspondent, Jeremy Bowen, said, unless some radical change emerges from it, this unending cycle of violence will simply break out all over again.
Gillean Somerville-Arjat is a writer and critic based in Edinburgh